With crude glycerol from biodiesel production plants being cheap and abundant, researchers have explored its potential for making hydrogen gas and biopropane — pioneering work that could benefit the environment and reduce reliance on fuel imports.
The HYDROGAS project is supported by Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, the European Union’s program for doctoral education and postdoctoral training. The program has explored glycerol as a raw material to make hydrogen gas and biopropane.
Hydrogen is widely regarded as one of the most promising clean fuel of the future as it has no carbon emissions at the point of use, while biopropane can build on the already low-carbon, fossil-derived liquefied petroleum gases. The fuels can also be used for heating remote off-grid buildings.
Previously it has been shown that hydrogen can be reacted with glycerol to transform it into propane, but using external hydrogen can be expensive. However, HYDROGAS’s innovation was to use glycerol to produce the hydrogen needed to transform glycerol into biopropane.
The study was led by Dr. Jude Onwudili from Aston University’s Energy and Bioproducts Research Institute. Onwudili said, “Our approach was to use part of the glycerol itself, to produce the hydrogen gas required for biopropane production, avoiding the need for it to be added from expensive external sources”.
HYDROGAS succesfully completed its first objective of developing a process to generate sufficient hydrogen to convert glycerol to biopropane.
Its second objective of obtaining high yields of biopropane is still being investigated.
Onwudili added, “We are also still working to obtain high biopropane yields from ‘crude glycerol.' Through HYDROGAS, we discovered that the second-stage reactions can work in different conditions [from] those that make the hydrogen, so will explore this alternative route.”
The research has been supported by Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow Dr. Carine Tondo Alves.
Backed by further investments from Aston University, the project now aims to establish a dedicated research program to transform glycerol and other biomass-derived feedstocks into sustainable gaseous and liquid fuels.