Is this the Future of Biofuel?

Recent breakthroughs in the world of biofuel could negate many of the drawbacks of using it. As a far more sustainable and environmentally friendly fuel, it seems strange that biofuel is not more popular but the way biofuels are currently produced makes them a less viable option. Despite this, companies including aviation companies are looking into ways to use biofuels to make their operations more environmentally friendly. This comes amid forecasts by the International Energy Agency that the supply of fossil fuels may struggle to meet demand in coming years. Fortunately, scientists from Queen’s University in Belfast and ExxonMobil may have found solutions to the current problems.

Drawbacks of Producing Biofuel

Although the source of biofuel is far easier to come by and sustainable than crude oil, it still takes up space and resources to grow. Production costs are still relatively high and the crops grown to create it experience all the same problems as crops grown for food such as using excessive amounts of water and fertilizer which can contaminate the local water supply. Additionally, the process of turning these crops into fuel creates a great deal of pollution just like processing fossil fuels.

Biofuel from Algae Breakthrough

Creating biofuel from algae isn’t a new idea and the fact that scientists have struggled to get it to work well enough to be a feasible alternative has been a constant source of frustration. Scientists have also experimented with creating biofuel from plant residue but algae is so attractive as a source of biofuel because it doesn’t take up land space like crops and can even grow in sea water which would prevent fresh water being wasted or fertilisers being used. The problem with it, in the past, is that it was difficult to grow a variety that produced a decent amount of fat while reproducing fast enough to provide a good supply. Fortunately, at ExxonMobil, they have managed to modify a type of algae with more than double the lipid content so they produce around 40% oil rather than the 10 to 15% which has been achieved in the past. Mass production of biofuel from this source is still a long way off but this is a significant step in the right direction.

Environmentally Friendly New Use for Old Tin Foil

Around 20,000 tonnes of aluminium foil packaging is thrown away each year but Ahmed Osman of Queen’s University’s School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering has come up with a process for turning used tin foil into a pure chemical catalyst that can speed up the process of making biofuels. He discovered a method to obtain pure aluminium salt crystals from the foil and these can normally only be obtained from bauxite ore which has to be mined with serious environmental consequences. Osman stated that, “This breakthrough is significant as not only is the alumina more pure than its commercial counterpart, it could also reduce the amount of aluminium foil going to landfill while also sidestepping the environmental damage associated with mining bauxite”.

Breakthroughs like this could pave the way for biofuel being a commercially viable and widely used source of energy. For anyone involved in the energy industry, Ex~I Flow Measurement create flow measurement computers to take the most accurate measurements and record the data in helpful ways. For more information about our services, call +44 (0)1243 554920 or contact us here.