The world is filled with rapidly advancing technologies, and the transportation fuels sector is no exception. A few more innovations like these, and our oil addiction will be a thing of the past.
We associate whiskey with lots of things: putting hair on people’s chests, cigars, Mark Twain; the list goes on. It’s time to add something else that few, if any, expected — biofuel. A Scottish professor developed a new technique that takes waste from whiskey-making factories and turns it into biobutanol — an alcohol fuel similar to ethanol. Now the professor’s group, Celtic Renewables, has been awarded nearly $17 million from the U.K. government to build a facility with the sole purpose of converting whiskey waste to biofuel. The facility will start operating toward the end of 2018 and will produce about 264,000 gallons of fuel each year.
For a long time now, microalgae-biomass was being looked at as a solution-in-waiting for our fuel problems. However, efforts to create industrial quantities of microalgae-biomass have continually faltered because of high startup costs or problems with efficiency. An Israeli company, UniVerve Ltd., is looking to change all this with their new Hanging Adjustable V-shaped Pond (HAVP) cultivation system that allows the light to hit the algae from all sides by suspending the algae in a triangular structure. This design significantly increases output without increasing costs. The fuel produced by the HAVP system is projected to cost around $50 per barrel, and it’s being championed by some as a new competitor for crude to contend with.
Harvard engineer Daniel Nocera has been busy. In 2011, he and his team created an “artificial leaf” that can produce hydrogen fuel. However, when it became clear that hydrogen wasn’t going to become a viable transportation fuel for some time, Nocera got to work genetically modifying a strain of bacteria to produce a burnable liquid fuel from hydrogen. The new bacteria, Ralstonia eutropha (try saying that 10 times fast) is already more efficient than plants at turning energy into a useable liquid fuel and, if Nocera’s track record is any sign, the innovation will only improve as time goes on.
Another breakthrough from the U.K., where researchers have been improving the process of making biofuel from cactuses and similar vegetation. Known as crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) plants, these cactuses can be grown on arid or semi-arid land and could produce as much energy as natural gas if planted on even 4 to 12 percent of the available semi-arid land in the world.
As if we needed another reason to love wine, it turns out that grape marc, the waste product left over from the wine-making process, could produce up to 1.3 billion gallons of biofuel annually. Australian researchers recently developed a fermentation process that yields 105 gallons of bioethanol per metric ton of grape marc. This development has got investors all in a tizzy, with companies like United Airlines investing $30 million toward commercial development of the system. And it’s another reason to drink wine!
With 9 million tons of plastic waste projected to enter the oceans in 2015 alone, it’s clear we have more than we know what to do with, and our environment is paying the price. But one teenager from Egypt is attempting to change that. Azza Faiad’s new catalyst, known as aluminisilicate, converts plastic into feedstocks for biofuels. How much biofuel? Estimates put it at about $78 million worth per year in Egypt alone, and if spread worldwide, the process could provide an answer to our plastic waste problem, while simultaneously producing large quantities of clean biofuel to displace gasoline. Talk about a win-win.
Think we missed a major new fuel creation technology? Let us know in the comments!