A brilliant piece of news hit our desks this morning, and chemical engineering is at it’s heart. London-based start-up Bio-Bean have teamed up with Costa and Shell, to power London buses with bio-fuel derived from coffee waste.
Bio-Bean has a number of products in it’s growing portfolio, but it is it’s B20 biodiesel that has been hitting headlines, and powering London buses from today.
In my blog, ‘the sweet smell of success‘, I discussed the use of ionic liquids – salt in a liquid state as a result of poor ionic co-ordination – in perfumes and alluded to other fields of research where they are used. Today I’m delving a little further and shining a light on the use of ionic liquids in biofuels.
Photo credit | NC State University PIL-treated corn stover and PIL/lignin
Researchers at North Carolina State University, US, (NCSU) are investigating the use of ionic liquids to strip lignin from plant cells. Their aim is to find a cost-effective method of processing biomass for biofuel production.
Lignin is a complex phenolic polymer that is found in plant cell walls. It plays an important structural role, providing the plant with strength and rigidity due to a cross-linked structure that is difficult to break down. After cellulose, it is the most abundant source of renewable carbon on earth.
High specification personal computers mean that most of us can perform our jobs sat at home, work or even on the road.
But processing and modelling large amounts of data to help our understanding of complex and mammoth tasks like the formation of the universe, predicting weather patterns, or large and complex engineering problems require more than the average desktop computer.
Hence, the growth of supercomputers in recent times. But they don’t come cheap.
The quest for efficiency and productivity in the chemical and process industry is a 24/7 occupation. Extracting every ounce of potential is the goal. But it is not easy and some corners of our profession have big challenges.
Extracting the full potential of biomass is one example. Trees, plants and agricultural waste can provide a valuable source of fuel in the form of ethanol from cellulose.
But the same biomass also consists of lignin – a by-product of ethanol production. Although nearly as abundant as cellulose, its uses are more limited and is often just burnt to power ethanol plants.
If a cellulosic ethanol industry is to grow and be commercially successful, new processes will be needed to convert all of the input biomass into fuel. To improve the economic feasibility, a portion of the lignin needs to be converted to higher-values chemicals or materials.
The challenge has promoted a multi-disciplinary team at Purdue University to take a new look at breaking down the molecules in biomass – using rocket technology!
Take a look at this video which offers a great explanation of their work, including rocket technology which heats the biomass in a few hundredths of a second.
Wyss Institute researchers have genetically modified E. coli bacteria to produce up to 30–fold more quantities of chemicals at a thousand–fold faster rate than previously possible. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University and Steve Gschmeissner/SPL
One of the latest developments includes modification of bacteria in such a way that they can be programmed to produce specific chemicals resulting from their metabolic processes, and how much of it.
In principle, their work could result in future chemical factories consisting of colonies of genetically engineered bacteria.
The Wyss Institute team has been able to trick the bacteria into self–eliminating the cells that are not high–output performers, ridding the entire process of the need for human and technological monitoring to make sure the bacteria are producing efficiently, and therefore hugely reducing the overall timescale of chemical production. Continue reading →
Biofuel – it’s a source of energy that can produce very different views in conversation. The debates in IChemE circles can get very lively, especially about the impact of biofuels; both in their production and their use.
There are concerns, but biofuels are likely to continue to play a part in our transport fuel strategy. In particular, second generation (also known as advanced) biofuels.
Here in the UK, the Department for Transport had a consultation on advanced fuels this year. IChemE worked with other professional engineering institutions (PEIs) through Engineering the Future to contribute.
Horse fungus may help produce biofuel. Photo credit – Dziurek | Shutterstock.com
You may have noticed that the IChemE Global Award finals are just around the corner.
It’s an anxious wait for the 70 or so shortlisted finalists until 6 November 2014. However, I hope to share with you some of their work and achievements in the coming weeks on this blog.
Some of you may have noticed that this year’s venue is Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire, UK.
They’ve been racing at Cheltenham since 1815 and today attracts huge crowds from all over the world for events like the Cheltenham Festival. It also has some fantastic facilities, which is why we’ll be there on 6 November with 500 guests.
But today’s blog illustrates that the ubiquitous chemical engineer operates even in the equine world – a chemical engineer has found fungi in the intestinal tracts and faeces of horses which could help produce biofuels from non-food plants.
Biofuels are the cause of much debate and they are controversial in many parts of the world for their displacement of agricultural crops.
However, new analysis in the US suggests that biofuels from algae is more efficient than some other sources of biomass and, importantly, can be grown on untillable land. They believe that land not suitbale for farming in countries like Brazil, Canada, China and the U.S. could be used to produce enough algal biofuel to supplement more than 30 percent of their fuel consumption.