Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels means turning to plant-derived biofuels and chemicals. But producing them cost-effectively from plants and other organic matter – collectively referred to as biomass – is a major engineering challenge.
Most biomass comes in the form of non-edible plants like trees, grass, and algae, which contain sugars that can be fermented to produce fuel. But biomass also contains lignin, a bulky, complex organic polymer that fills wood, bark, and generally gives plants rigidity. Because it is difficult to process, lignin is usually discarded during biofuel processing. EPFL scientists have now turned lignin from a nuisance to an important source of biofuel by simply adding a common chemical, converting up to 80% of it into valuable molecules for biofuel and plastics. The patent-pending method, which can be scaled up to industrial levels, is published in Science.
Complex, but energy-dense
Lignin is an enormously complex biopolymer, filling the hard wall that surrounds each plant cell. In fact, lignin makes up almost a third of plant biomass, and its molecular structure gives it an energy density 30% greater than that of the sugars that are traditionally processed into biofuel. The problem is that lignin is difficult to extract and transform. Due to its instability, lignin usually rapidly gets destroyed during its extraction and most researchers have failed to efficiently break it apart for upgrade into fuels or chemicals.
Now, an international team of researchers led by Jeremy Luterbacher at EPFL, has shown that they can easily break lignin apart simply by adding the chemical formaldehyde to the process. Formaldehyde is one of the most widely used chemicals in industry, and it is simple and cheap to produce. The researchers found that formaldehyde stabilizes lignin and prevents it from degrading, leading to high yields of building blocks that can be used to make substitutes for petrochemicals. These yields were 3-7 times higher than those obtained from lignin without formaldehyde.
“Depending on the wood used we get between 50 and 80%,” says Jeremy Luterbacher, who became known in 2014 for developing a method for extracting sugars from plants safely and cheaply (also published in Science). “The chemistry is relatively straightforward; the real challenge is actually finding investors for a pilot facility to demonstrate this.” The market, he says, is difficult for sustainable energy largely because of inconsistent political support and widely varying energy prices. Investors for such innovative platforms are hard to come by in an uncertain market, especially considering the competition of well-established fossil fuels.
“The technology looks really good,” says Luterbacher. “If the global political establishment sent a consistent message about moving away from fossil fuels, then investors would take notice. But I think Switzerland is a great place to get started. The Swiss have been unwavering supporters of clean energy and could help demonstrate new technologies, and so I’m quite optimistic about the future.”
The Latest on: Biofuel waste
via Google News
The Latest on: Biofuel waste
- NORDEN enters new biofuel collaboration with Kvasir Technologieson December 5, 2019 at 6:10 am
Lignin is often seen as a waste product, discarded without being used ... Kvasir’s technology stands out as it is, unlike most other technologies, able to convert not only cellulose but also lignin ...
- Auckland kerbside food waste collections a step closer with contract signingon December 4, 2019 at 3:41 pm
The company will convert the waste into biofuel and liquid bio-fertiliser. It follows a trial which started in Papakura last year and covered 17,000 households. The region-wide rollout was supposed to ...
- Biofuels co. looks for Texas incentives for Port Arthur projecton December 4, 2019 at 10:12 am
Emerald Biofuels LLC is seeking state incentives for a new renewable diesel refinery about ... The end result would be a 6,500-barrel-per-day refinery that would process waste and agricultural ...
- Food Waste Management Market Size, Growth, Opportunity and Forecast to 2025on December 3, 2019 at 10:44 pm
Dec 04, 2019 (AmericaNewsHour) -- Global Food Waste Management Market By End User (Food Distributors & Suppliers, Primary Food Producers, Food Service Providers, Food Manufacturers, Municipalities & ...
- Biodiesel Market Is Thriving Worldwide | Archer Daniels Midland Company, Neste Corporation, Renewable Energy Groupon December 3, 2019 at 9:59 pm
The major source of biodiesel products oil based crop yield. Most biodiesel produced at present is produced from waste vegetable oil sourced from restaurants, chip shops, industrial food producers ...
- Waste, Bioenergy and Recycling Market Analysis & Insights, 2013-2022on December 2, 2019 at 4:33 pm
What contribution have technologies such as incineration, biofuels and anaerobic digestion made in terms of power generation ... 12 months' full access to the publisher's unique daily-updated global ...
- Biodiesel company signs deal with CPR for scrap tieson November 29, 2019 at 2:57 am
The company that plans to include Medicine Hat in a network of biodiesel refineries in Alberta ... 2.5 million scrap rail ties as feedstock. Cielo Waste Solutions announced the supply agreement ...
- IKEA, CMA CGM and GoodShipping Test Biofuelson November 27, 2019 at 12:52 pm
This sustainability board consists of leading NGOs and academics. GoodFuels’ sustainable marine fuels are 100 percent based on waste and residues. In the trial, the bio-fuel oil consists of waste used ...
- Biotech breakthrough turns waste biomass into high value chemicalson November 26, 2019 at 5:59 am
A collaboration between the UK and Brazil has shown that waste sugar cane and wheat straw from agricultural processes can be made directly into valuable chemicals with an increase in value of ...
via Bing News