Oxford, England – Researchers at Oxford University have announced they have discovered a new way to produce the biofuel methanol from glycerol, an industrial waste chemical. Methanol can be used as a fuel on its own, or in the manufacture of biodiesel.
At the moment, 90 per cent of the world’s methanol is produced from natural gas, but the new process eliminates the need for fossil fuels.
“Essentially, this is a way of getting methanol ‘for free’ from biomass,” said Edman Tsang, of Oxford’s Department of Chemistry and the main researcher behind the project. “Around 350,000 tonnes of glycerol are incinerated in the U.S. each year, and converting this to methanol gives you a portable store of energy, and potentially an economically-viable new biofuel business.”
The process is also very direct, cutting out costly processing steps; it works at a low temperature and pressure of a relatively mild 100C at 20 bar of pressure.
“When we say the process is clean, we mean that the catalyst is very selective,” Tsang said. “The exclusive product is methanol, so little additional processing is required.” Earlier this year, Tsang’s research in new catalytic materials identified a supported precious metal that efficiently converts glycerol to methanol.