How much mileage do you get from sawdust?

Jun 27, 2011

As vacationers gas up to hit the road this summer, they could find themselves wondering about alternative fuels and their potential to ease the strain on pocketbooks and the environment.

Imagine filling up your tank with fuel derived from straw or . Researchers at the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering are developing new ways to produce from organic waste in a sustainable and affordable way.

“Our goal is to make biofuel production more efficient and economical,” explains Dr. Nader Mahinpey, director of the Bio Energy Laboratory at the Schulich School of Engineering.  “We are experimenting with the combination and range at which we apply high temperatures and pressure and determining what types of chemicals or other substances we need to add.”

His research involves the production of biofuels from the non-edible parts of plants – such as the straw from flax, barley and wheat – and not food crops. In the past, biofuels from food crops such as corn or sugar cane have been associated with a host of problems including food shortages, spikes in food prices and the debate over whether to use valuable land and water resources to grow crops for food or fuel.

Dr. Mahinpey extracts oil from plant material using a process called pyrolysis, which involves intense temperatures between 400°C and 600°C. The oil must then be upgraded before it can be used as a transportation fuel. Dr. Mahinpey and his team are developing upgrading processes and even finding ways to turn the waste by-products of biofuel conversion into useful chemicals and products such as fertilizer.

“Biofuel production needs to become more efficient and we need to develop technology that can be used on a large scale,” says Dr. Mahinpey. “Even then, biofuels won’t be the only solution to meet energy demand. We will need a combination of sources including wind and solar power.”

Explore further: A homemade solar lamp for developing countries

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Sweet success for sustainable biofuel research

Jan 25, 2010

Scientists have found a way to increase fermentable sugar stores in plants which could lead to plant biomass being easier to convert into eco-friendly sustainable biofuels. Their research is highlighted in the latest issue ...

Recommended for you

Ikea buys wind farm in Illinois

20 hours ago

These days, Ikea is assembling more than just furniture. About 150 miles south of Chicago in Vermilion County, Ill., the home goods giant is building a wind farm large enough to ensure that its stores will never have to buy ...

A homemade solar lamp for developing countries

Apr 14, 2014

(Phys.org) —The solar lamp developed by the start-up LEDsafari is a more effective, safer, and less expensive form of illumination than the traditional oil lamp currently used by more than one billion people ...

Power arm band for wearables harvests body heat

Apr 12, 2014

(Phys.org) —A group of Korean researchers have turned their focus on supplying a reliable, efficient power source for wearables. Professor Byung Jin Cho of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

DocBrown
not rated yet Jul 01, 2011
What we need is some device that can process all the mixed material trash that every household produces. A machine that can do pyrolysis and then process the broken down materials into useful fuel. Who ever succeeds in building a viable device would become very rich indeed.

More news stories

Intel reports lower 1Q net income, higher revenue

Intel's earnings fell in the first three months of the year amid a continued slump in the worldwide PC market, but revenue grew slightly because of solid demand for tablet processors and its data center services.

Low Vitamin D may not be a culprit in menopause symptoms

A new study from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) shows no significant connection between vitamin D levels and menopause symptoms. The study was published online today in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopa ...

Astronomers: 'Tilt-a-worlds' could harbor life

A fluctuating tilt in a planet's orbit does not preclude the possibility of life, according to new research by astronomers at the University of Washington, Utah's Weber State University and NASA. In fact, ...