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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 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
quote:
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
quote:
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.


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