Researchers produce new fuel from coal dust and algae
Researchers atthe Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in South Africahave developed a new fuel, known as Coalgae. Made from a combinationof algae and coal dust, the latter of which is a waste product, thefuel could have a significant positive impact on the environment.
The NMMUresearchers, led by Prof. Ben Zeelie, claim that the new productis a breakthrough in clean-burning fuel. The product uses coal dustas a major component, which is a waste product of the mining process.In fact, as much as 30 percent of coal is lost as dust during mining,and 50 to 60 million tonnes of the material are buried each and everyyear.
The practicedoesn't only pose an environmental risk, with the waste releasingpotentially harmful chemicals in the soil over long periods of time,but also represents a huge economic loss. Harnessing coal dust forfuel production eliminates both issues.
To produce thenew fuel, the algae is grown in large artificial ponds, before beingconcentrated and mixed with the coal dust waste. Finally, it's formedinto briquettes and dried.
Thosebriquettes can then be heated without oxygen at a temperature ofaround 450 °C (842 °F),burning without smoke to produce a solid, clean-burning fuel and ahigh-quality crude oil. The oil can be processed in existingrefineries, while the solid product is suitable for use as thermalcoal for generating heat and energy.
The researchers state that if the world's excess coal dust was used to help make Coalgae, then it could become widely used across the globe. In fact, they estimate that South Africa alone could produce enough to account for 40 percent of its own crude oil needs.
While theenvironmental benefit of Coalgae use could be huge, and the qualityof the final product is high, it's unlikely to have a big impact onthe cost of fuel.
"It is avery high-quality oil, like Texan sweet crude, rich in gasoline andaviation fuel components," said Professor Zeelie. "The pricewould be more or less the same, but the market would be stable, withsignificant environmental benefits."
The NMMU teamis currently performing testing to confirm large-scale productioncosts. According to the researchers, organizations from countriesacross the globe – from the US to China – are already showinginterest in the fuel.