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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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