Researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada are studying how to make biofuel from farm waste, particularly ‘wet’ waste that is typically difficult to use and have developed a procedure to transport waste and produce energy from it.
According to the university, while it takes some cooking, preliminary research has found a fairly simple process that makes turning farm waste into biofuel now possible and economically viable.
The researchers explained that while dry farm waste, such as wood chips or sawdust is easier to use for generating power, scientists have struggled to find uses for wet and green waste, including corn husks, tomato vines and manure. Often, such waste materials break down before reaching their destination.
Led by engineering professor Animesh Dutta, director of the Bio-Renewable Innovation Lab (BRIL) at the University of Guelph, the researchers have found a solution - pressure cooking.
According to the university, cooking farm waste yields compact, easily transportable material that will not degrade and can be used in energy recovery plants.
Dutta said the research, which is published this week in the journal Applied Energy, showed that in a lab setting, biofuels can produce the same amount of energy as coal.
“What this means is that we have a resource in farm waste that is readily available, can produce energy at a similar level to burning coal, and does not require any significant start-up costs,” he said.
“We are taking what is now a net-negative resource in farm waste, which farmers have to pay to remove, and providing an opportunity for them to make money and help the environment. It’s a closed-loop cycle, meaning we don’t have to worry about external costs,” continued the professor.
Dutta went on to add that using excess food, green and wet waste to reduce the carbon footprint is drawing a lot of interest in Europe, but so far it has proven unfeasible in North America.
Coal, he noted, is more readily available in North America. Biomass is highly rich in alkali and alkaline earth metals such as silicon, potassium, sodium and calcium. The presence of these metals in farm waste damages pipes at power plants during combustion.
The new biofuel product made by the BRIL researchers is claimed to produce a product that has less alkali and alkaline earth metals, allowing them to be used at power plants.
“We’re able to produce small amounts of energy in our lab from these biofuels,” said Dutta. “The next step is to take this outside of the lab. We have a number of industry partners and government ministries interested in this technology. Essentially, the agri-food sector could power the automotive industry.”
According to the professor large pressure cookers located near farms could accept and cook waste for transport to energy plants.
“We’re looking at a timeline of five to seven years, depending on the funding,” he continued.
“Once we have a commercial system set up, we’ll be self-sufficient. It can reduce our energy costs and provide an environmental benefit. It’s going to change the paradigm of energy production in North America,” concluded the professor.
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