At the University of Birmingham our research leads to new inventions and fuels innovation and business growth.
Biofuels are made from renewable materials such as plants or algae, and offer an alternative to petroleum-based sources. However, many biofuels are costly to produce because the precursor product, bio-oil, must be processed before it is sent to the refinery to be turned into liquid fuel.
A research team at the University of Birmingham, in collaboration with the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute, have identified and tested a new processing method through the use of a catalyst made from palladium metal and bacteria.
The team performed a variety of chemical and physical analyses to test the effectiveness of the new method and the results showed that their new processing treatment produced a liquid fuel that is comparable in quality to one made using the commercially produced catalyst. However, the more costly commercial catalyst has the added benefit that it can be used over and over without extensive processing, whereas this group’s palladium-on-bacteria catalyst would need to undergo processing to be reused.
The researchers at the University of Birmingham are currently working on developing recycled catalyst using second life bacteria from fermentation processes and precious metals extracted and recycled from road dust.
Bio-oils could form an increasing part of the transport fuel mix. Although the UK government intends to phase out petrol vehicles by 2030, biofuels could still be required for hybrid vehicles, as well as haulage, aviation and marine applications. The conversion of algae to crude bio-oil is attractive because it does not use food crops and is near carbon neutral.