New method for producing biofuel from waste material discovered
04 November 2008
Isis Innovation, the technology transfer company for the University of Oxford, has announced that researchers in the University’s Department of Chemistry have discovered a new way to produce methanol – a valuable biofuel – from an industrial waste chemical, glycerol. Currently, ninety percent of methanol is produced from natural gas, and this new process offers an alternative which does not rely on fossil fuels.
“We’re turning a waste material – glycerol – directly into a very useful product – methanol,” said Professor Edman Tsang, an expert in the development of new catalyst materials, and the main inventor behind the new method. “Around 350,000 tonnes of glycerol are incinerated in the US each year, and converting this to methanol gives you a portable store of energy, and potentially an economically viable new biofuel business.”
“Essentially, this is a way of getting methanol “for free” from biomass,” said Tsang. “Methanol itself is useful either as a fuel on its own or in biodiesel manufacture. It is also used widely in industrial chemistry.”
The advantage of the new process is that it is direct – not requiring multiple costly processing steps -- and it works at a low temperature and low pressure.
“In industry, temperature costs money, but high pressure is even more expensive. This process operates under readily achievable, mild conditions of 100 degrees C and 20 bar of pressure.
Glycerol is the major byproduct of biodiesel and oleochemical production. For every 9 kg of vegetable oil processed, 1 kg of glycerol is produced. Although glycerol is used in foods and personal care products, there is no large-scale industrial demand for the chemical. Until now there has been no viable commercial process for glycerol’s direct conversion to methanol.
Earlier this year, Tsang’s research in new catalytic materials, identified a supported precious metal which efficiently converts glycerol to methanol.
“When we say the process is clean, we mean that the catalyst is very selective. The exclusive product is methanol, so little additional processing is required.”
Isis Innovation has patented the technology, and will work with Prof Tsang to commercialise the technology. Isis welcomes inquiries from commercial partners interested in further development.
For more information please contact:
Dr Jamie Ferguson, Project Manager, Isis Innovation Ltd
T: +44 (0)1865 280851
Notes for Editors:
Isis Innovation is the University of Oxford’s technology transfer company. In the last financial year Isis concluded 74 licensing and option deals, arranged 102 consulting deals, providing access to Oxford experts, and filed 68 new patent applications. Isis also formed 4 new spin-out companies based on University inventions, bringing the total number of Oxford spin-outs to 67. Isis Enterprise, a division of Isis, also offers consulting expertise and advice in technology transfer and open innovation. www.isis-innovation.com