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article imageRecycled foil becomes catalyst for biofuel

By Tim Sandle     Aug 1, 2017 in Environment
An intrepid researcher has successfully taken some used, dirty tin foil and used the material as the basis for a biofuel catalyst. The solution is environmentally-friendly, effective, and cheaper than current technology.
A biofuel is a type of fuel that is produced through a biological process, such as agriculture and anaerobic digestion, as opposed to a fuel created via long-term geological processes (as with fossil fuels). Key examples are biodiesel, which is made from rapeseed oil and other plant oils; and bioethanol, made by fermenting sugars from sugar cane, wheat and other plants. Microorganisms are important for the fermentation process.
Many businesses, from large multinationals to startups, are developing biofuels. Many countries have strategies in place to move away from fossil fuels, either motivated by reducing the environmental impact or due to economic concerns in relation to future supply, as the world’s supply of fossil fuels dwindles.
A number of startups, for example, are working on turning algae into fuel, such as GreenFuel Technologies, Solazyme, Blue Marble Energy, Inventure Chemical, Solena, Live Fuels, Solix Biofuels, Aurora Biofuels, Aquaflow Binomics, Petro Sun, Bionavitas, Mighty Algae Biofuels, Bodega Algae, Seambiotic and Cellena (leading companies identified by the environmental website Tree Hugger).
With the new development with tin foil, the researcher behind the initiative is Ahmed Osman. The scientist has created a solution to commercial catalysts for the production of dimethyl ether (the basis of bioethanol).
Aluminum foil is a major waste product, used in industry and in homes (for baking). Most foil waste goes to the landfill. Osman, from Queen's University's School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Northern Ireland, has worked with engineers to invent a rystallization method which obtains 100 percent pure single crystals of aluminum salts taken from the foil. This becomes the starting material for the preparation of alumina catalyst.
The process avoids extracting alumina from bauxite ore, mined in countries such as West Africa, the West Indies, and Australia, and thereby minimizing environmental damage. Osman has told Laboratory Manager magazine that making the catalyst from aluminum foil cost about £150 per kilo compared with a commercial alumina catalyst which costs about $370 per kilo.
In tests the catalyst has shown unique thermal, chemical, and mechanical stability. This type of lower cost technology is likely to appeal to biotechnology and biofuel start-up companies.
More about Biofuel, catalyst, Foil, Metal, Biotechnology
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