Revolutionary Breakthrough: Ben Gurion Researchers Invent Alternative Fuel

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Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers have invented a process to make a green feed alternative for crude oil out of two of the most common substances on earth – water and carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas detrimental to the environment

A replacement for oil has become a burning need in the 21st century

A replacement for oil has become a burning need in the 21st century, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu having made it clear that for the Jewish state at least, developing oil alternative is a national priority.

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers have invented a process to make a green feed alternative for crude oil out of two of the most common substances on Earth – water and carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas detrimental to the environment. The project is partially supported by I-SAEF (Israel Strategic Alternative Energy Foundation).

Prof. Moti Herskowitz, Prof. Miron Landau, Dr. Roxana Vidruk and the team at BGU’s Blechner Center of Industrial Catalysis and Process Development have developed a green feed that can be converted using well-established technologies into liquid fuel and delivered using existing infrastructure to gas stations. As opposed to other alternative fuel sources, such as electric cars, which require additional infrastructure, this green feed would merely replace oil as the input for refineries.

Herskowitz unveiled the revolutionary breakthrough at the Bloomberg Fuel Choices Summit in Tel Aviv last week, on Wednesday, November 13th.

“It is an extraordinary challenge to convert carbon dioxide and hydrogen to green feed,” says Herskowitz. “The technology is based on novel specially tailored catalysts and catalytic processes. Well-established, commercially available technology can be directly applied to the process developed at BGU. It is envisaged that the short-term implementation of the process will combine synthetic gas produced from various renewable and alternative sources with carbon dioxide and hydrogen.”

Prof. Herskowitz, who is the Israel Cohen Chair in Chemical Engineering and the VP & Dean at BGU, indicated that the new process should become a reality in the near future.

“It is an extraordinary challenge to convert carbon dioxide and hydrogen to green feed,” says Herskowitz, “The technology is based on novel specially tailored catalysts and catalytic processes. Well-established, commercially available technology can be directly applied to the process developed at Ben Gurion University. It is envisaged that the short-term implementation of the process will combine synthetic gas produced from various renewable and alternative sources with carbon dioxide and hydrogen. Since there are no foreseen technological barriers, the new process should become a reality within five to ten years,” he says.

Regarding other alternative fuels, Herskowitz maintains that his invention represents a game-changer.

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New process doubles production of alternative fuel while slashing costs

A new discovery should make the alternative fuel butanol more attractive to the biofuel industry.

University of Illinois scientist Hao Feng has found a way around the bottleneck that has frustrated producers in the past and could significantly reduce the cost of the energy involved in making it as well.

“The first challenge in butanol production is that at a certain concentration the fuel being created becomes toxic to the organism used to make it (Clostridium pasteurianum and other strains), and that toxicity limits the amount of fuel that can be made in one batch. The second issue is the high energy cost of removing butanol from the fermentation broth at the high concentrations used by the industry. We have solved both problems,” he said.

In the study, funded by the Energy Biosciences Institute, Feng’s team successfully tested the use of a non-ionic surfactant, or co-polymer, to create small structures that capture and hold the butanol molecules.

“This keeps the amount of butanol in the fermentation broth low so it doesn’t kill the organism and we can continue to produce it,” he said.

This process, called extractive fermentation, increases the amount of butanol produced during fermentation by 100 percent or more.

But that’s only the beginning. Feng’s group then makes use of one of the polymer’s properties—its sensitivity to temperature. When the fermentation process is finished, the scientists heat the solution until a cloud appears and two layers form.

“We use a process called cloud point separation,” he said. “Two phases form, with the second facing the polymer-rich phase. When we remove the second phase, we can recover the butanol, achieving a three- to fourfold reduction in energy use there because we don’t have to remove as much water as in traditional fermentation.”

A bonus is that the co-polymers can be recycled and can be reused at least three times after butanol is extracted with little effect on phase separation behavior and butanol enrichment ability. After the first recovery, the volume of butanol recovered is slightly lower but is still at a high concentration, he said.

According to Feng, alternative fuel manufacturers may want to take another look at butanol because it has a number of attractive qualities. Butanol has a 30 percent higher energy content than ethanol, lower vapor pressure, and is less volatile, less flammable, and mixes well with gasoline, he noted.

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via University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
 

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Electricity and Carbon Dioxide Used to Generate Alternative Fuel

We have the potential to use electricity as transportation fuel without needing to change current infrastructure

Today, electrical energy generated by various methods is still difficult to store efficiently. Chemical batteries, hydraulic pumping and water splitting suffer from low energy-density storage or incompatibility with current transportation infrastructure.

In a study published March 30 in the journal Science, James Liao, UCLA’s Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Chair in Chemical Engineering, and his team report a method for storing electrical energy as chemical energy in higher alcohols, which can be used as liquid transportation fuels.

“The current way to store electricity is with lithium ion batteries, in which the density is low, but when you store it in liquid fuel, the density could actually be very high,” Liao said. “In addition, we have the potential to use electricity as transportation fuel without needing to change current infrastructure.”

Liao and his team genetically engineered a lithoautotrophic microorganism known as Ralstonia eutropha H16 to produce isobutanol and 3-methyl-1-butanol in an electro-bioreactor using carbon dioxide as the sole carbon source and electricity as the sole energy input.

Photosynthesis is the process of converting light energy to chemical energy and storing it in the bonds of sugar. There are two parts to photosynthesis — a light reaction and a dark reaction. The light reaction converts light energy to chemical energy and must take place in the light. The dark reaction, which converts CO2 to sugar, doesn’t directly need light to occur.

“We’ve been able to separate the light reaction from the dark reaction and instead of using biological photosynthesis, we are using solar panels to convert the sunlight to electrical energy, then to a chemical intermediate, and using that to power carbon dioxide fixation to produce the fuel,” Liao said. “This method could be more efficient than the biological system.”

Liao explained that with biological systems, the plants used require large areas of agricultural land. However, because Liao’s method does not require the light and dark reactions to take place together, solar panels, for example, can be built in the desert or on rooftops.

Theoretically, the hydrogen generated by solar electricity can drive CO2 conversion in lithoautotrophic microorganisms engineered to synthesize high-energy density liquid fuels. But the low solubility, low mass-transfer rate and the safety issues surrounding hydrogen limit the efficiency and scalability of such processes. Instead Liao’s team found formic acid to be a favorable substitute and efficient energy carrier.

“Instead of using hydrogen, we use formic acid as the intermediary,” Liao said. “We use electricity to generate formic acid and then use the formic acid to power the CO2 fixation in bacteria in the dark to produce isobutanol and higher alcohols.”

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via Science Daily

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Alternative fuels

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Meet the meth drinkers

WITH the average price of petrol in America once again threatening the politically sensitive level of $4 a gallon as tensions mount over Iran’s threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, your correspondent has been puzzled by the deafening silence with which the current spike in pump prices has been greeted. Usually, when oil crosses the $100-a-barrel threshold and petrol prices soar, demands for drastic action fill the headlines. Given that this is election year, presidential candidates might have been expected to exploit the situation. There have been few such murmurings.

For sure, there have been the usual calls for the White House to dip into the country’s strategic oil reserves to slow rising prices at the pump—as happened last summer when more than 30m barrels were released to meet shortages caused by the Libyan uprising. The strategic reserve’s storage caverns in Texas and Louisiana are currently filled to the brim. So, do not be surprised if the administration releases some of the 700m barrels in storage should petrol prices remain stubbornly high during the summer months when people take to the roads for vacation and President Obama campaigns warily for re-election.

But America’s normally vociferous corn growers and ethanol producers have remained remarkably muted. At the least, one would have expected them to be clamoring for their precious E85 brew (85% ethanol and 15% petrol) to be re-instated in the government’s package of tax credits for alternative motor fuels. Since the expiration in January of their $6 billion-a-year subsidy, ethanol blenders have lost their 38 cents-a-gallon credit on E85, causing its price to rise to an average of $3.20 (compared with petrol’s $3.79). In California, where refineries have to use the highest grade of oil to meet the state’s stringent environmental standards, the average price of a gallon of regular petrol is currently $4.36.

Clearly, the ethanol lobby has been lying low since the outcry over the way subsidies for corn-based ethanol have pushed up food prices disastrously. Bioethanol—which was supposed to be a home-grown fuel that was cleaner than petrol—has also been heavily criticised for causing more, not less, environmental damage than even fossil fuels.

Ethanol producers are worried, too, about losing the additional tax credit they get for making ethanol from non-food biomass, such as switchgrass, corn stalks, wood chips and other cellulosic materials. Yet, even with a dollar-a-gallon subsidy, cellulosic ethanol remains wholly uncompetitive. Producers live in hope of a breakthrough that will one day make it commercially viable.

Such hopes are beginning to look increasingly forlorn. The alternative fuel that ethanol producers fear most, clean-burning methanol, is enjoying an unexpected resurgence—thanks to the vast supplies of natural gas discovered in shale deposits beneath West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Texas and Oklahoma. Even if the reserves turn out to be only half as extensive as initially thought, many liken the handful of states where shale-based natural gas is currently being tapped by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and horizontal drilling to Saudi Arabia. Already, natural gas has fallen to its lowest price in a decade, and is expected to stay there for decades to come.

The usual way of making methanol is first to react methane, the main component of natural gas, with high-temperature steam in the presence of a nickel catalyst, to produce a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide known as “syngas”. A second catalyst—usually a blend of copper, zinc oxide and alumina—is then used to turn the syngas into methanol.

Because the process involves stripping off one of the methane molecule’s four hydrogen atoms that are tightly bonded to a central carbon atom, the process requires a good deal of energy. Even so, methanol has long been made commercially this way—without any taxpayer subsidies—for around a dollar a gallon. It can be bought on the spot market today for $1.13 a gallon. Modern catalysts, which eliminate the intermediate syngas stage, promise to make methanol even cheaper.

Methanol, the simplest of all alcohols, has a long history as a fuel for motor cars.  It lost out to petrol in the early days of motoring because it packed only half the energy per unit volume (56,800 BTUs per gallon versus 114,100). All other things being equal, a car that gets 25mpg on petrol would get only 12.5mpg on methanol.

But all other things are not equal. Alcohols like methanol have higher octane ratings than petrol—typically 99 versus 87 for regular petrol. That means they can tolerate higher compression ratios without causing the air-fuel mixture in the cylinders to explode prematurely (“knock”) rather than burn smoothly. And the higher the compression ratio, the more energy stored in the fuel can be converted into useful work. In short, engines designed to take advantage of methanol’s octane rating produce more power from the same cubic capacity, and can be more efficient in fuel-economy terms.

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Scientists use bacteria to create fuel from sunlight and CO2

Researchers from the University of Minnesota have announced a breakthrough in the quest to create a viable fuel alternative using greenhouse gases.

The process uses two types of bacteria to create hydrocarbons from sunlight and carbon dioxide. Those hydrocarbons can in turn be made into fuel, which the scientists are calling “renewable petroleum.”

The process starts with Synechococcus, a photosynthetic bacterium that fixes carbon dioxide in sunlight, then converts that CO2 to sugars. Those sugars are then passed on to another bacterium, Shewanella, which consumes them and produces fatty acids. University of Minnesota biochemistry graduate student Janice Frias discovered how to use a protein to transform those acids into ketones, a type of organic compound. Her colleagues in the university’s College of Science and Engineering have developed catalytic technology that allows them to convert those ketones into diesel fuel.

 

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