Energy

Researchers produce new fuel from coal dust and algae

Researchers produce new fuel f...
The technique can be used to produce both solid fuel and a high-quality crude oil
The technique can be used to produce both solid fuel and a high-quality crude oil
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The technique can be used to produce both solid fuel and a high-quality crude oil
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The technique can be used to produce both solid fuel and a high-quality crude oil

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.

Source: NMMU

8 comments
CarolynR
Someone needs to explain why this is a 'clean' and environmentally beneficial product. No mention of carbon dioxide emissions across the lifecycle of the fuel from production to burning, and the negative impact of that on climate change... it looks as if it just offers coal producers a way of getting rid of their waste in a lucrative way. A truly renewable energy source would be infinitely better, and with so much sunshine South Africa could be doing much more.
Mel Tisdale
What impact will its use have on atmospheric CO2 content?
The production costs are probably going to have to compete with crude at around $20 per barrel for some time to come.
EcoLogical
I agree with CarolynR, the algae normally act as a carbon sink by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere/water and converting it to hydrocarbons like oil and butanol (a component of gasoline). Using coal as a carbon source turns the process into a net carbon emitter instead of a carbon sink. I say leave the damn coal (and coal dust) in the ground.
Bruce H. Anderson
If hydrocarbon-based fuels are going to be around for a while (which they probably are) then it makes sense to use them as efficiently as possible. I applaud the NMMU efforts.
AidanViana
Algol would be a much better name.
Robert in Vancouver
Great discovery! Good use of waste combined with a renewable material. As for CO2 - what's the worry - we have 30% more CO2 in the air beyond the levels that Al Gore and the 'scientists' said would be the tipping point when oceans would rise, coastal cities would be flooded, and we would die from too much heat. What a load of BS made up to extract more taxes from the gullible masses.
Stephen N Russell
Tap Applachia coal mines for Tons of coal dust alone & then the Ocean for algae or some ponds, lakes alone Super energy source. Mass produce for use nationwide.
DomainRider
@AidenViana - the 'tipping point' is the 'point of no return' when those changes become inevitable. It's a very slow process in human terms, the full effects won't be felt for a century or two.