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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: How this CO2 is different?
By djc208 on 12/2/2007 8:44:02 AM , Rating: 2
Because the CO2 released by processing the plant matter will be re-captured next year when the new crop of plant matter is grown to generate more fuel. It's carbon neutral because the gross amount of CO2 in the biosphere is unchanged. Burning fossil fuels releases CO2 that hadn't been part of the environment for many years.


RE: How this CO2 is different?
By masher2 (blog) on 12/2/2007 1:27:20 PM , Rating: 3
> "It's carbon neutral because the gross amount of CO2 in the biosphere is unchanged"

Not when you utilize biomass grown specifically for the purpose. Commercial crops use vast amounts of fertilizer (created from fossil fuels), along with fuel use to plant, grow, harvest and process the final material.

This is the reason that recent studies have shown that ethanol not only isn't "carbon neutral", but it actually releases more GHGs than does the use of gasoline.


RE: How this CO2 is different?
By djc208 on 12/2/2007 7:40:44 PM , Rating: 2
True, and a good point, but that's assuming you use some mix of natural and fossil fuels during this process. The ultimate goal of all this research is to replace as much fossil fuel as possible, eventually we'll have to replace all of it.

If the farm and industrial equipment and delivery vehicles all ran on biofuels, the energy sources for the processing were nuclear or natural, and natural fertilizers/farming methods used, then it would be a carbon neutral process.

Problem is these are all big ifs, and unlikely to happen quickly or soon. This also assumes you can get anywhere near a decent fuel/H2 yield from these crops. If 10% of the biomass actually becomes usable fuel products, by the time you factor in the energy requirements you mentioned you'd be lucky to have 50% of that fuel remaining. But these are first steps, and necessary ones if our quality of life is to be maintained after the finite fossil fuel sources are too scarce to support us.


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