Fuelling the future with food waste
While the number of electric cars appears to have hit critical mass, particularly in cities, producing electric planes and heavy vehicles is nowhere in sight.
Advances in battery technology have significantly extended the range of low emission cars, with recharging more affordable and accessible than ever.
Air travel, long distance transport and agricultural vehicles provide a greater challenge because of their vastly greater need for energy density.
They are likely to rely on conventional engines for the foreseeable future, so developing cleaner fuels could be the key to reducing carbon emissions in these industries.
Our researchers in the Centre for Energy Technology have been developing a liquid fuel created from food waste, using a solar powered production process.
Solar energy is used to power a chemical process known as gasification. This converts the food waste into a pure form of synthesis gas, which can then be converted into a liquid fuel.
The fuel will look, smell and perform the same as standard fuels, with no vehicle modifications required.
Lead researcher Gus Nathan says that as well as helping to reduce carbon emissions there are several other ways the fuel will benefit the environment and the economy.
“It’s also finding a viable use for the enormous amount of food waste generated globally, which is estimated at around 1.3 billion tonnes per year, and about 4 million tonnes in Australia alone.
“By using that waste rather than growing crops specifically for biofuel production, we’re reducing competition for arable land, which the world desperately needs to produce food for our growing population.
“Finally, because the fuel will be produced locally, it will reduce our reliance on imported fuel, increasing both energy security and the national balance of payments.”
After successful laboratory testing Professor Nathan expects to have the fuel ready for market, at a competitive price, within five years.
Professor Graham Nathan
Director Centre for Energy Technology
School of Mechanical Engineering
Faculty of Engineering, Computer and Mathematical Sciences