Biofuel research nets precious metals and biofuel from toxic mining sludge

Scientists test algae to harvest precious metals and biofuel from mining sludge| 29/12/14
Originally published on MINING.COM by Cecilia Jamasmie

British scientists and authorities are conducting cutting-edge research aimed to clean up a flooded tin mine in Cornwall county by using algae to harvest precious heavy metals in toxic water and produce biofuel at the same time.

Scientists test algae to harvest precious metals and biofuel from mining sludge. Image courtesy of the GW4 Alliance.
Cornwall county, UK — Scientists test algae to harvest precious metals from mining sludge (creating biofuel in the process) Image courtesy of the GW4 Alliance.

The project, led by the GW4 Alliance, has brought together the universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter, in collaboration with Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), the Coal Authority and waste management group Veolia. And while it is still in its very early stage, the parties involved hope it delivers an effective new way to deal with toxic waste.

The team, which is taking untreated mine water from the Wheal Jane tin mine, has already began growing algae in those samples to explore whether the organism is effective in removing harmful materials, such as arsenic and cadmium.

The plan is to convert the lab-grown algae into a solid from which heavy metals can be extracted and recycled for use in the electronics industry. The remaining solid waste will then be used to make biofuels.

The plan is to convert the lab-grown algae into a solid from which heavy metals can be extracted and recycled for use in the electronics industry. The remaining solid waste will then be used to make biofuels.

It’s a win-win solution to a significant environmental problem.

We’re putting contaminated water in and taking out valuable metals, clean water and producing fuel. — Dr. Chris Chuck from the University of Bath’s Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies said in a statement

The team hopes to begin a pilot project at the mine in the New Year. The aim will then be to scale it up. If successful, the scientists believe the technology could be used to treat many forms of environmental pollution.

Hot Sugar! The New Algae Biofuel

New Algae Biofuel: Holy Hot Sugar, Batman! | 20/02/14
by Tina Casey

When we say ‘hot sugar’ we mean a new generation of low cost industrial sugars that could help pull the biofuel market out of dependence on conventional crop based sugars. That leaves the field clear for the algae biofuel sector, and that’s where things start to get interesting.

A company called Proterro came across our radar last fall for just such an approach, which basically turns the first-generation biofuel model on its head.

Instead of taking apart plants to extract sugars for processing into biofuel, Proterro has figured out a way to get a micro-algae called cyanobacteria to secrete the “hot sugar” sucrose.

Industrial sugar production from cyanobacteria Courtesy of Proterro
Industrial sugar production from cyanobacteria. Image courtesy of Proterro

A Different Approach To Algae Biofuel

It’s worth noting up front that there are already several promising cost-effective pathways to extracting oils directly from algae and microalgae (here, here, and here for example), but there is plenty of room in this emerging fuel market for something different, namely, using algae to produce a sugar feedstock for fermentation into fuels and other products.

Also, for the record, cyanobacteria is commonly referred to as blue-green algae, but as its formal name indicates, it is actually a bacteria and not a form of marine plant life.

When we covered the news from Proterro last fall, the company had already won a US patent for its proprietary strain of cyanobacteria. In the latest development, Proterro has obtained a notice of allowance from the US patent office for the structural platform — a photobioreactor — that enables the bacteria to produce sugars at a highly efficient rate, in a process that uses carbon dioxide, sunlight, and water.

The Proterro Photobioreactor

According to Proterro, the photobioreactor is 30 times more productive than sugar cane, on an acreage basis, in terms of producing a “fermentation-ready” stream of sucrose.

That translates into a lower cost for sugar production, and part of the reason for that savings is the aforementioned photobioreactor.

Resembling a big earthbound balloon from the outside, the photobioreactor is actually a sturdy (withstanding Force 1 hurricane winds) built environment made from off-the-shelf materials.  Instead of using vats, pipes, or horizontal cultivating beds, the cyanobacteria grow on vertical fabric walls.

Before we move on let’s pause here and thank our friends over at Biofuels Digest for introducing us to the phrase “hot sugar.” Who knew?

Biofuels and Carbon Dioxide Capture

If a bell went off in your head when you saw carbon dioxide mentioned in the context of biofuels, you are in good company.

With a demonstration scale facility under its belt in Florida, Proterro is already prepared to scale up and hook up with carbon dioxide emitters to feed its cyanobacteria. Utility companies seem to be tops on its list, but there are numerous other opportunities out there for using microorganisms to capture industrial waste gasses and convert them into useful products.

A New Zealand company, for example, is already active in the field of capturing and converting emissions from steel mills.

That approach makes a lot more sense than some of the other carbon sequestration strategies under discussion these days, namely pumping it underground.

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This article, New Algae Biofuel: Holy Hot Sugar, Batman!, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+

Promising New Gasoline-Like Biofuels from Plant Waste

Gasoline-Like Biofuels From Plant Waste — Promising New Process Developed | 08/02/14
by Nathan

A new process for the creation of gasoline-like fuels from cellulosic plant waste materials has been developed by researchers from the University of California, Davis.

The process — essentially the first of its kind, means that the commercial production of plant-based biofuels may soon extend beyond biodiesel, and also encompass other important types of fuel.

Biofuel Central. A new process means that the commercial production of plant-based biofuels may soon extend beyond biodiesel, and also encompass other types of fuel.
A new process means that commercial production of plant-based biofuels may soon extend beyond biodiesel, and also encompass other types of fuel.

The great advantage of processes such as this (and in contrast to other forms of biofuel production) is that the materials used for the creation of these fuels are waste material. There is no necessity to displace agriculture with methods like the new one — cellulosic plant waste materials are simply not in short supply.

What’s exciting is that there are lots of processes to make linear hydrocarbons, but until now nobody has been able to make branched hydrocarbons with volatility in the gasoline range. — Mark Mascal, a professor of chemistry at UC Davis and lead author on the research paper

UC Davis provides more: traditional diesel fuel is made up of long, straight chains of carbon atoms, while the molecules that make up gasoline are shorter and branched. That means gasoline and diesel evaporate at different temperatures and pressures, reflected in the different design of diesel and gasoline engines.

Biodiesel, refined from plant-based oils, is already commercially available to run modified diesel engines.

A plant-based gasoline replacement would open up a much bigger market for renewable fuels.

The feedstock for the new process is levulinic acid, which can be produced by chemical processing of materials such as straw, corn stalks or even municipal green waste. It’s a cheap and practical starting point that can be produced from raw biomass with high yield.

Essentially it could be any cellulosic material.

Because the process does not rely on fermentation, the cellulose does not have to be converted to sugars first. Mark Mascal

Provisional patents for the process have already been filed.

The new research was published on January 29th in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

This article, Gasoline-Like Biofuels From Plant Waste — Promising New Process Developed, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Nathan — For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts; for all is vanity. – Ecclesiastes 3:19