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: In Vermont, a milestone in green-energy efforts

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

Toyota, Grenoble set stage for test in ride-sharing

14 hours ago

Toyota is testing ride-sharing. As simple as that may sound, the experiment indicates an innovative model for the future of urban transportation. The Grenoble metro area could turn out to be the trial stage ...

Sparks fly as Di Grassi wins first electric race

16 hours ago

A spectacular crash at the last corner that ended leader Nicolas Prost's race and sent ex-F1 driver Nick Heidfeld flying into the fencing gave Brazil's Lucas di Grassi victory in the first ever Formula E ...

First electric car race to zoom off on Saturday

Sep 12, 2014

Formula E will be a laboratory for new technology, according to motor sport great Alain Prost, while Bruno Senna said drivers will face a "lottery" when electric car racing kicks off in Beijing Saturday.

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.