Monday, January 31, 2011

Converting Abundant Glycerol Waste into Useful Chemicals & Fuel


A research student at U. Alabama Huntsville, is developing the capacity of cell bacterium Clostridium Pasteurianum to convert waste glycerol from biodiesel manaufacture into valuable fuels and chemicals.
A strain of bacteria found in soil is being studied for its ability to convert waste from a promising alternative fuel into several useful materials, including another alternative fuel.

A graduate student at The University of Alabama in Huntsville is developing biological tools to make products from crude glycerol -- a waste material from the production of biodiesel. The research is being funded by the National Science Foundation.

... About 100,000 gallons of glycerol is produced with every million gallons of biodiesel manufactured from animal fats or vegetable oils. (In 2009 more than 500 million gallons of biodiesel were produced in the U.S. while more than 2.75 billion gallons were produced in Europe.)

...The bacteria uses glycerol as a carbohydrate source. From that they produce three alcohol byproducts -- butanol, propanediol and ethanol -- plus acetic acid and butyric acid. Butanol is a particularly interesting byproduct.

"Butanol is a big alcohol molecule, twice as big as ethanol," Venkataramanan said. "You can use it as an industrial solvent and it can be used in cars, replacing gasoline with no modifications. It doesn't have some of the problems you have with ethanol, such as rapid evaporation. And ethanol is a two-carbon molecule, but butanol is a four-carbon molecule so its energy value is much higher. In fact, there are plans to use it for jet fuel.

...In their present form, the bacteria convert about 30 to 35 percent of their gylcerol meals into butanol and another 25 to 30 percent into a chemical used to make plastics. Venkataramanan is looking at different strategies to improve that yield. He is also studying the bacteria's genes to see if a more productive strain can be bioengineered. _Newswise_via_BiofuelsDigest

Similar approaches to microbial chemical synthesis are utilised at massive scale in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries. It is more difficult to produce fuels economically, given the much lower prices for fuels by weight or volume, compared to prices for pharmaceuticals, chemicals, foods, etc.

In Europe, planners are anticipating much higher utilisations of biofuels and sustainable fuels over the next 30 years. After taking a foolish and ruinous detour into wind and solar investments, some of the more intelligent energy analysts and planners of Europe are beginning to sober up and comprehend the gravity of their situation. Others -- particularly lefty-Luddites -- will never learn.

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