Research paves way for use of biofuels

Paul Boughton

A ‘green’ research project aimed at developing effective, local production of non-esterified biofuels, from recycled vegetable oils, has been announced by UCE Birmingham’s Technology Innovation Centre (TIC).

TIC is managing a new research consortium which includes two Hereford-based businesses, fuel producer Longma Biofuels Ltd and static power generation systems specialist First Energy Holdings Ltd, together with an international fuel additives company.

The initiative is being supported by the Carbon Trust and focuses on fuel for static power-generation - known as CHP (combined heat and power), itself an energy-saving means of community heating. It sees the two Midlands businesses working closely with the Cheshire-based, UK-arm of US-owned, fuel additives specialist, The Associated Octel Company Ltd.

The research project aims to provide a stepping stone towards the wider acceptance of pure plant-oil based biofuel-blends in the transport sector. TIC has already explored with local authorities the possibilities of recycling discarded vegetable oils from local schools, hospitals and other institutional and commercial kitchens, into biofuels which can be used in council fleet vehicles. The new research, being part-funded by the Carbon Trust, is known as the BioGen-Local project; it takes that work to a higher level. The Carbon Trust provides

grant-support for innovative applied research projects, which contribute to the commercialisation of low carbon technology.

The18-month long BioGen-Local project will experiment with a 50:50 blend of biofuel and conventional diesel. Using First Energy’s expertise to assemble a static, combined heat and power generator unit, fuelled by Longma’s blended biofuel, the TIC-led team will test a combination of Octel additives. Wide-ranging research will explore fully the ideal mix of combustion enhancers, detergents, emulsifiers and water which will provide optimum engine performance and mechanical wear.

Project management team leader, TIC’s Prof Adrian Cole, has particular expertise in combustion and emissions technology. He remarks: “We’re delighted to have assembled such a competent and enthusiastic consortium. Combined with the ideal pairing of Longma and First Energy’s fuel and equipment, we have the added advantage of Octel’s portfolio of additive experience. This enables us to maximise the effectiveness of the resulting blend.”

Additive packages being used in the trials have been specifically developed to undermine engine carbon accumulation, give lower emission levels and improve engine life. Improved injector cleanliness is key to reducing smoke and particulates, sometimes associated with diesel engines.

Longma’s managing director and biofuels expert, Marc Thomas sums up: “A key aspect of this research is its localised nature. Fuel produced locally will be blended and used locally for the benefit of the community. Combined heat and power generators can serve public and commercial buildings ensuring that Midlands waste is used to benefit the region. By utilising the waste heat from embedded power generation, optimal use is made of raw materials and pollution minimised. The whole community benefits and contributes to reducing global warming.”

A successful outcome to the BioGen-Local project may lead to widened use of high percentage biofuels. This could, in turn, fuel a resurgence in British agriculture if virgin vegetable oils overtake recycled materials in order to meet biofuel demand.

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