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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.


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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"

http://www.biologynews.net/archives/2007/11/13/mic...


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 (blog) on 12/2/2007 1:13:23 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
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.


"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov

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