Pioneering engineers turn destructive plant into valuable carbon

Jan 17, 2012

Researchers in Scotland and Cuba are ridding the Caribbean nation of a major ecological problem while producing one of the world's most sought after substances.

Research led by Professor Peter Hall, of the University of Strathclyde's Faculty of Engineering, has found that Marabú – a type of hard wood shrub that has invaded over 1.5 million hectares of land in Cuba – can be used to produce highly valuable activated carbon.

Activated carbon is most commonly used to produce batteries and has many uses from water and gas purification to sewage treatment. It can also be used as a medical tool to treat poisonings and overdoses. However, its purification properties are the most valuable as Cuba currently imports £5 million worth of activated carbon for use in rum production – a crucial part of the country's economy.

Professor Hall said: "Cuba appears to be the only country in the world that has such a serious ecological problem with Marabú. It is invading the terrain throughout the country at an alarming rate, destroying the environmental landscape and effectively sterilising what has historically been the world's most productive agricultural land.

"However, our research has shown that we can use it to produce an extremely high quality version of worth more than £1,200 per tonne. We have already been able to demonstrate water pollution control using Marabú and aside from the obvious benefits for Cuba's economy, this research could provide good quality drinking water for developing countries throughout the world."

The Strathclyde researchers are using technology on campus to process the Marabú, and the same technique will be deployed in to convert the Marabú on a much greater scale.

Havana , a renewable energy company working in partnership with the Cuban Government has played a key role instigating and leading the research and delegates visited the University this week as part of the ongoing project.

Mr Andrew MacDonald, Director and CEO of Havana Energy, added: "The journey began when with our Cuban partners, we were trying to identify a secondary feedstock for the bagasse power plant we are developing together since there is a window of the year when sugar cane can't be harvested. The marabu project is truly unique turning a pest into value energy source...its a true win-win all round."

Researchers at Strathclyde, with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), have also used the Marabú to produce energy storage devices, in particular Li-air batteries and ionic liquid supercapacitors.

Some countries, including China, already have some city buses running on supercapacitors and the government there want all buses in major cities to use these devices.

The business/academia link between the industry project funders Havana Energy, Reactor Technologies and the University of Strathclyde was brought about through a scientific mission funded by Scottish Development International that introduced Scottish agricultural and carbon experts to Cuban government ministers.

Explore further: Imec demonstrates organic photovoltaics modules showing excellent optical properties, high efficiencies

Provided by University of Strathclyde

5 /5 (4 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Cuba to use sugar cane in new electricity plant

Dec 22, 2011

Cuba will open its first electricity plant using sugar cane as a biofuel hoping eventually to meet 30 percent of its energy needs from the fuel source, the official Granma daily said Thursday.

Cuba, US scientists kick off cooperation meeting

Dec 12, 2011

Scientists from the Cuba and United States will Monday begin a five-day meeting aimed at exploring opportunities for cooperation on range of research fields, including biological and environmental sciences, and science policy, ...

Cuba says US behind illegal wireless networks

Nov 14, 2011

Cuba accused the United States on Monday of enabling illegal Internet connections in its territory and said several people were arrested in April for profiting from the wireless networks.

Miami firm says it will lay first US-Cuba fiber

Oct 13, 2009

(AP) -- A small Miami-based company says the U.S. government has given it permission to lay the first optical communications fiber from the U.S. to Cuba. That could drastically cut the cost of calling the island nation and ...

Cheaper, greener, alternative energy storage at Stevens

May 23, 2011

Every year, the world consumes 15 Terrawatts of power. Since the amount of annual harvestable solar energy has been estimated at 50 Terrawatts, students at Stevens Institute of Technology are working on a supercapacitor that ...

Cuban post offices OK'd for Internet access

Sep 09, 2009

(AP) -- Cuba has authorized public Internet access at post offices across the country, though it has yet to apply what would be a landmark loosening of cyberspace rules in a nation where information is strictly controlled.

Recommended for you

Yale engineer to build 'hot' solar cells

3 hours ago

Associate professor of electrical engineering Minjoo Larry Lee has been awarded $2,540,000 to develop dual-junction solar cells that can operate efficiently at extreme temperatures above 750 degrees Fahrenheit. ...

Fracking's environmental impacts scrutinised

4 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Greenhouse gas emissions from the production and use of shale gas would be comparable to conventional natural gas, but the controversial energy source actually faired better than renewables on some environmental ...

User comments : 0