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.

US Dept of Energy bets $10 mn on Advanced Biofuels from Biomass

U.S. Department of Energy press release | 15/04/14

Energy Dept Announces $10 Million for Technologies to Produce Advanced Biofuel Products from Biomass

Biofuel produced from biomass can utilize organic waste to produce useful and clean feedstock for refineries, to lessen our dependence on foreign oil. Image courtesy of: www.eia.in
Biofuel produced from biomass can produce useful and clean feedstock for refineries to lessen our dependence on foreign oil. Image courtesy of: www.eia.in

The U.S. Energy Department today announced up to $10 million in funding to advance the production of advanced biofuels, substitutes for petroleum-based feedstocks, and bioproducts made from renewable, non-food-based biomass, such as agricultural residues and woody biomass.

This supports the Department’s efforts to make drop-in biofuels more accessible and affordable, as well as meet the cost target equivalent of $3.00 per gallon of gasoline by 2022.

The Energy Department encourages industry to invest in the production of cost-competitive, advanced biofuels and bioproducts from renewable, abundant biomass.

Advancing and commercializing cost-competitive biofuels will help the Department work toward its goal of reducing current petroleum consumption in the United States by approximately 30%, and, in turn, enhance U.S. national security and reduce carbon emissions.

For more information and application requirements, visit the Funding Opportunity Exchange website.

The Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy accelerates development and deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and market-based solutions that strengthen U.S. energy security, environmental quality, and economic vitality.

Learn more about EERE‘s work with industry, academia, and national laboratory partners on a balanced portfolio of research in biomass feedstocks and conversion technologies.

Related Articles:

Biofuels 101 – with some easy to understand links

Biofuels 101 – with some easy to understand links | 27/01/2014
by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Plant-based fuels (biofuels) are an excellent feedstock for the conventional petroleum industry as they can fill voids in the supply chain and as a bonus, biofuels feature dramatically lower carbon content/CO2 emissions.

Biofuel research. Image courtesy of EnergyBoom
Biofuel research. Image courtesy of EnergyBoom

When biofuel is blended 50/50 with conventional petroleum fuels, significantly lower CO2 emissions result as aircraft maker Boeing has proven in its trials of 50/50 blended biofuels in Boeing aircraft.

Boeing reports CO2 emissions dropped between 65%-80% when using blended fuel in their SBRPT programme.

Biofuel negatives

It must be recognized that there are some downsides to biofuels and number one on that list is the type of crop that is being used to produce biofuel.

Growing corn for biofuel on prime land, displaces land that could be used to grow food crops which could be a problem in the world’s breadbasket (the U.S.A.) where millions of hectares of food crops are grown.

“…producing ethanol from sugarcane is six times less expensive than producing ethanol from corn. Growing sugarcane requires fewer chemicals, including pesticides and fertilizers.” — How Stuff Works

Some crops are natural biofuel superstars, while some require millions or billions of dollars of subsidies in order to compete in the market.

Corn is a 1st-generation biofuel crop — and of all the biofuel crops it uses the most water and fertilizer by a significant margin, and it also requires the most land management.

For 2nd-generation biofuel crops such as camelina, castor, jatropha and millettia, these bountiful crops produce excellent returns with minimal infrastructure, pesticides and fertilizer.

Not only do these plants use much less water and fertilizer than corn, they can tolerate semi-arid conditions and they grow readily in sub-prime soils. Now is the time to begin switching to 2nd-generation biofuel crops.

And right behind that are 3rd-generation biofuel from algae, or from enzymes and biomass.

Some countries have decided that biofuels belong in their future and have set thousands or even millions of hectares aside for biofuel crop agriculture.

Indonesia, India, China and other countries are growing 2nd-generation biofuel crops and reaping much better returns than heavily-subsidized U.S. corn ethanol.

Such 2nd-generation biofuels provide work for thousands of farm labourers, much-needed income for farmers in developing nations, and adds to GDP and lowers demand on proved oil reserves. And a low level of technology is required to grow, harvest and process biofuels.

“Biodiesel growth from non-food feedstocks is gaining traction around the world.

For example, China recently set aside an area the size of England to produce jatropha and other non-food plants for biodiesel.

India has up to 60 million hectares of non-arable land available to produce jatropha, and intends to replace 20 percent of diesel fuels with jatropha-based biodiesel.

In Brazil and Africa, there are significant programs underway dedicated to producing non-food crops jatropha and castor for biodiesel.” — Biodiesel 2020 – 2nd Edition by Will Thurmond

No one is saying that biofuels are the entire solution to our liquid energy needs, but 2nd generation and 3rd-generation biofuels can be an important part of the solution while lowering overall CO2 emissions.

Related Information: