Clean Biodiesel grown by South Korean Researchers on a Sewage Sludge
Biofuel, composed from organic recently dead material, is a natural alternative to fossil fuels. It is one of the important members of renewable energy family.
An environment friendly fuel, biofuel burns cleaner and reduces greenhouse gasses, in other words produces less air pollution then fossil fuel. The mostly used type is biodiesel and ethanol. Biodiesel is used as a sustainable replacement for diesel and thus it is very important in traffic and transport area.
It is derived mostly from natural plant oils in corn, sugarcane, palm and soybeans all of which are renewable sources. Sometimes it is also produced from other similar plants, vegetable oils, it could be extracted from waste cooking oils and even cow manure. But as a source of renewable energy it can be relatively expensive to produce.
We are very dependent on fuels as a society and it is very important to find all possible replacements for fossil fuels, so there are lots of scientific researches on the new sources of developing biofuels.
While corn ethanol is currently number one in biofuel production, there are studies saying that wood is our best option in the future. Even though both sources are renewable, wood-based production seems to be more sustainable than corn-based. Currently, production costs are too high, only from a purely economical side. But from the environmental point of view there are lots of positive side effects such as less greenhouse gas emissions while burning, less water during the production, not using food supplies or agricultural land for fuel. If we expand the comparison to include the environmental effects and availability of resources, then ethanol derived from wood becomes better option.
Good news on a renewable energy area recently came from South Korea. Their researchers have found low-cost option for biodiesel production. And it is from very renewable source, from sewage sludge.
In a way it is old news, while there have been sludge-based researches before. This time South Korean researchers developed anew way to extract lipids (the element needed for biodiesel production) from wastewater sludge using heat instead of catalysis. “Waste is not simply waste – it can be converted into useful resources like biodiesel,” says Kwon, one of the researchers involved in the study at the Research Institute of Industrial Science and Technology, and suggests new opportunities in recycling waste. Today, to derive biofuel from vegetable oil, corn, etc. costs an average 80 cents. On the other hand biofuel produced from sewage sludge costs only 3 cents due to its high lipid content. Rafael Hernandez of Mississippi State University, also used to work on biodiesel production, agrees that the new process seems to be “very encouraging” although the cost of the process could vary due to the varying concentration of lipids.
Clearly biofuels represent an area to be explored yet but what we are already sure is its importance as one of the vital renewable energy sources.