Could Waste Food Provide The Fuel Of The Future?

The sanctions against Russia following the invasion of Ukraine have sharpened the world’s focus on finding a sustainable alternative to gas. There are already plenty of emergent and experimental biofuels in operation, from animal waste by-products to decaying organic matter. Here’s a look at some of the latest ideas.

The BBC reports that giant anaerobic digesters are deployed at the Green Generation plant, in order to make biomethane, which has the same structure as natural gas, and can be used for similar purposes. The biofuel is generated from the breakdown of waste food, manure, and other waste by-products.

The anaerobic process prevents further methane from being released into the atmosphere, and does not release any extra carbon once it is burnt. Its production is not tied to geographical location in the same way as natural gas, meaning that any country in the world could become self-sufficient in its supply.

Other types of waste that could be used for the process include garden clippings, seaweed, feedstocks, sewage sludge, animal fat, and forestry waste. However, some experts fear that this is a mismatch between the amount of waste available, and the supply needed to meet the green fuel targets of 35bcm set by the European Commission.

Chelsea Baldino, a researcher who focuses on fuels at the International Council of Clean Transportation, comments: “That’s much, much higher than we would see as feasible for 2030 using these waste and residue feedstocks.”

There is also concern that food crops will be grown specifically for the purpose, which would seriously damage the sustainability of the scheme. Baldino says: “When you’re using these crops to produce biogas or biofuel, you’re raising the price of these food and feed crops. You’re bringing more land into production.”

Other experts disagree, claiming that the target is achievable without growing more food crops.

Meanwhile, waste from a Scottish salmon farm has been successfully converted in to a fuel which has been used to power a motor launch. The Fish Site reports that a research project involving the University of Cardiff and Lancaster University aimed to investigate the decarbonisation of UK shipping, and make use of animal by-product waste (ABP).

The product is both highly sustainable, and fully zero-carbon. Green Fuels Research were also involved in the project. The chief strategy officer, Dr Paul Hilditch, commented:

“We are thrilled to have proved today, in UK waters, that this truly sustainable hydrocarbon is comparable in properties to marine distillates and suitable as a drop-in fuel for marine engines, without modification to propulsion or fuel systems, and without additives or restrictions on blend percentages,”

Simon Mcloughlin, C-Fury managing director, added: “This has been an exciting day for us, and we hope that our accomplishment today will help to dissipate any concerns from shipowners about engine compatibility, fuel stability or safety.”

There is no doubt that the future of biofuel production is still full of challenges and opportunities, but the current crisis in Ukraine, the climate emergency, and the soaring energy prices, should serve to sharpen the focus and produce more answers.


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