Print 32 comment(s) - last by Oregonian2.. on Dec 3 at 9:02 PM

Scientists at the University of Leeds have found a way to break biofuel byproduct sludge down into clean components

Biofuel is one form of alternative energy touted as a clean and renewable resource: a great alternative to petroleum fuel. But not everyone agrees. Hydrogen fuel is another popular alternative, as Honda recently demonstrated. Dr. Valerie Dupont and her team at the University of Leeds have come up with a way to make both more appealing -- and more importantly, cost effective.

The often unknown byproduct of biodiesel fuel production is glycerol, a sugar alcohol. While glycerol has many uses from food sweeteners to health care products to explosives, disposing of the low-value crude waste is becoming a problem. The process developed at Leeds turns this waste into clean hydrogen, water and carbon dioxide.

Dupont's separation process involves mixing glycerol with steam at a controlled pressure and temperature. This acts to separate the glycerol into base molecules of hydrogen, water and carbon dioxide, and leaves no other byproducts. The carbon dioxide is filtered out with special absorbent material, leaving the hydrogen and water.

Dupont explains, "Our process is a clean, renewable alternative to conventional methods. It produces something with high value from a low grade by-product for which there are few economical upgrading mechanisms. In addition, it’s a near ‘carbon-neutral’ process, since the CO2 generated is not derived from the use of fossil fuels."

The new process could be another step closer to a hydrogen economy. Creating an infrastructure for such a fuel system would be quite costly, but as more inexpensive methods to create the key element surface, the far-reaching idea is starting to look more plausible.

Comments     Threshold

This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

Not really cleaner...
By dflynchimp on 12/1/2007 2:30:51 PM , Rating: 1
well lemme need steam for this process...which requires boiling large amounts of water.

So we're going to have to burn natural gas or other conventional fuels...just like a regular powerplant, thereby spewing all this CO2 into the atmosphere...then use that energy to produce yet more CO2...I fail to how this is any cleaner for mother earth...

RE: Not really cleaner...
By Talcite on 12/1/2007 2:59:47 PM , Rating: 1
If you need to produce steam, there's several alternatives to burning fuel. You could heat it using electricity generated from solar or hydro or wind.

Aside from that point, even if they burned fuel to generate heat, it's much easier to capture at a central location. Have you heard about all the clean coal plants popping up all over the place? They have CO2 scrubbers installed along with various other scrubbers.

I'd say it's much better than having waste from biofuel build up. This is pretty much the epitome of recycling.

RE: Not really cleaner...
By Ringold on 12/1/2007 3:55:03 PM , Rating: 2
You didn't really help your cause with that one, I don't think.

So we're taking a food source, turning it in to a biofuel with questionable energy gains, and then taking the byproduct of this process and expending more energy on it to get this hydrogen. I don't really care about the CO2, since for me that's got nothing to do with if its viable or not.

You noted the heat could come from solar or wind, but those are both intermittent, and hydro or other sources have an opportunity cost in that they could be powering cities rather than this process, so that energy being fed in to the process isn't just free even if its renewable.

Perhaps its a good move in the right direction, but I guess we'll know if by itself it's enough if whoever provides the hydrogen for shuttle launches tries to license this to replace either their current natural gas or electrolysis source. If it were significantly cheaper I'm sure they wouldn't say no -- unless they have a cost-plus contract, in which case, I bet they use electrolysis.

RE: Not really cleaner...
By Talcite on 12/1/2007 5:06:14 PM , Rating: 2
Ahh I wasn't talking about the viability of biofuels. I'm not sure if they're the best option out there, I haven't done enough research on it. There's definitely a lot of issues with using food as fuel for cars and whatnot.

What I am sure of though, is that if biofuels every get adopted for one reason or another, we at least have a method of recycling the waste.

There's a LOT of use in industrial chemistry for hydrogen, not just shuttle launches. Ammonia fertilizer is simply nitrogen and hydrogen really. And the typical way of producing hydrogen right now is though methane formation, which evolves a lot of CO2 unfortunately. Electrolysis isn't nearly efficient enough. I would definitely keep an eye on this technology though.

RE: Not really cleaner...
By Ringold on 12/1/2007 6:39:19 PM , Rating: 2
Okay, yeah, no disagreement from me then.

RE: Not really cleaner...
By LogicallyGenius on 12/1/2007 11:57:44 PM , Rating: 2
Another load of crap from proponents of bio fuel farms (a threat to food security and world wide forests)

instead this is the real deal "Microbes churn out hydrogen at record rate"

RE: Not really cleaner...
By LogicallyGenius on 12/2/2007 12:16:06 AM , Rating: 2
RE: Not really cleaner...
By StevoLincolnite on 12/2/2007 1:10:06 PM , Rating: 2
Or even create energy for it using Hydrogen, If it uses even half of the amount of hydrogen as it makes, its still worth it, is it not?

RE: Not really cleaner...
By masher2 on 12/2/2007 1:13:23 PM , Rating: 3
Have you heard about all the clean coal plants popping up all over the place? They have CO2 scrubbers installed along with various other scrubbers.
No. There are no coal plants at present that sequester CO2, nor does the technology yet exist to do so on a large-scale, cost-effective basis.

RE: Not really cleaner...
By JohnnyCNote on 12/1/2007 7:03:02 PM , Rating: 2
As I see it the answer couldn't be simpler or more obvious:

You use existing fuels to create a stockpile of H2, then you use the H2 as fuel to create more H2 and phase out the more polluting fuels.

RE: Not really cleaner...
By djc208 on 12/2/2007 8:57:33 AM , Rating: 2
That assumes the H2 generation process creates more hydrogen than it consumes, which would be very unlikely as you would in essence have a perpetual motion machine.

The steam however is really pretty easy, aside from the normal thermal sources (renewable and non) there's waste-to-energy plants, they reduce the wastes going into landfills and generate energy (the facility I work at gets most of it's steam from this method).

Or you could just take the output steam from a power plant. The steam coming out of a turbine would probably still have enough heat/pressure to be used for this task. A reboiler could boost it if not, otherwise that heat energy would normally just be dumped into a water source or the atmosphere to condense the water for re-use.

RE: Not really cleaner...
By JohnnyCNote on 12/2/2007 8:15:38 PM , Rating: 2
That assumes the H2 generation process creates more hydrogen than it consumes, which would be very unlikely as you would in essence have a perpetual motion machine.

Not really. You'd just produce enough to cover transportation as well as production needs, among whatever other needs that may arise. Being that it's the most prevalent element in the universe, there's no possibility of it running out. Production could be augmented with solar, hydro-electric, wind and other clean energy sources. You also suggested another source, steam.

Whatever the means, too many detractors are, deliberately or otherwise, ignoring the fact that the transformation to H2-based energy is a process that will take decades to achieve. They use this as a pretext to deny that any research at all should occur. Just as the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine did not come into mass use overnight, neither will engines powered by H2, but we have to start somewhere . . .

RE: Not really cleaner...
By dolcraith on 12/3/2007 3:30:17 AM , Rating: 2
in essence have a perpetual motion machine

Not really as its not like the steam is generating the hydrogen that is powering the production of steam that is ... etc etc. The reason its *not* perpetual is that if you don't keep putting in glycerol the process would stop. Perpetual would mean that you don't have to put any energy into it (ie the chemical energy in glycerol). But its moot unless the joules stored in the hydrogen produced > the joules to produce the steam. Honestly I believe finding a more biological process of producing hydrogen would be more beneficial.

"Game reviewers fought each other to write the most glowing coverage possible for the powerhouse Sony, MS systems. Reviewers flipped coins to see who would review the Nintendo Wii. The losers got stuck with the job." -- Andy Marken
Related Articles

Most Popular ArticlesSmartphone Screen Protectors – What To Look For
September 21, 2016, 9:33 AM
UN Meeting to Tackle Antimicrobial Resistance
September 21, 2016, 9:52 AM
Walmart may get "Robot Shopping Carts?"
September 17, 2016, 6:01 AM
5 Cases for iPhone 7 and 7 iPhone Plus
September 18, 2016, 10:08 AM
Update: Problem-Free Galaxy Note7s CPSC Approved
September 22, 2016, 5:30 AM

Copyright 2016 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki