Cardiff University explores glycerol uses

By Erin Vogele | July 14, 2008
Web exclusive posted July 23, 2008 at 10:20 a.m. CST

Researchers from Wales-based Cardiff University are leading a 1.86 million ($3.7 million) project that will investigate using glycerol, a coproduct of biodiesel production, to create value-added chemicals that could improve the environmental benefits and economic viability of the biofuel. The research team will be headed by Graham Hutchings and David Knight, professors in the Cardiff University's School of Chemistry.

For every ton of biodiesel manufactured, approximately 200 pounds of glycerol is produced. The rising production of biodiesel around the world has caused an international surplus of glycerol, which is often incinerated. This overabundance of glycerol is expected to increase as European Union nations step up biofuel production in order to meet the goal of replacing 5.75 percent of their fuel usage with biofuels by 2010.

"We are developing second-generation technologies that we hope will overcome the limitations of the present methods," Hutchings said. "We aim to make value-added molecules from glycerol, which not only has environmental benefits, but has positive implications for biodiesel manufacture and the biofuel supply chain. This research will also serve to further inform the current debate about the use and sustainability of biofuels by taking a whole life-cycle approach."

The project builds on a previous study that identified a viable specialty chemical that can be derived from glycerol. The research is being funded, in part, by the Technology Strategy Board, a business-led executive non-departmental public body established by the government. The Cardiff team will work with researchers from London-based Imperial College and Cambridge University, and in partnership with Scionix Ltd., Tessenderlo Fine Chemicals Ltd., Ciba U.K. PLC, Oxford Catalysts Limited, Sasol Technology U.K. Ltd. and Vertellus Specialties (U.K.) Ltd.

"The Technology Strategy Board invests in important research and development projects in which business and researchers work together to deliver new technology-based products and services," said John Whittall, lead technologist for the Technology Strategy Board. "We are therefore delighted to support this ground-breaking project, which is an excellent example of first-class collaboration between companies and academic institutions."
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