Biotech Updates

Researchers Develop One-Step Waste-to-Biofuels Conversion

January 31, 2018

Researchers in Canada claim to have found a simpler, cleaner way to produce fuel from waste materials such as sewage.

Currently, biowaste is converted into biofuel with a two-step process. Biomass is converted into biocrude oil with a chemical and thermal process and the second stage is refining, where hydrogen is added under high pressure and heat, serving to remove contaminants such as sulfur, nitrogen and oxygen. This two-step process is expensive and energy intensive. Moreover, carbon waste is left over in the form of char and CO2 emissions.

To solve this, scientists from the University of Calgary have developed a process that simultaneously produces and upgrades bio-oil in one step and without the need for high pressures. The process uses methane instead of hydrogen for the purification process.

The key to this breakthrough is a catalyst the researchers developed at Canadian Light Source, which reacted with methane, causing it to release hydrogen. The researchers then coated the catalyst, called HZSM-5, with different materials to improve its ability to react with methane.

Initial tests with the new catalyst have shown that it is a more efficient method of producing biofuels from waste, which also leads to better quality, more stable biofuel with significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions.