Biodiesel is riding the wave of record production that only looks to get bigger as Americans yearn for the greener fuel to help break the addiction on foreign oil. That’s the good news. The bad news is the industry is facing a glut of a biodiesel by-product called glycerin.
But researchers at Rice University have found a way to make ethanol out of that glycerin. This press release from the school explains more:
“We identified the metabolic processes and conditions that allow a known strain of E. coli to convert glycerin into ethanol,” said chemical engineer Ramon Gonzalez. “It’s also very efficient. We estimate the operational costs to be about 40 percent less that those of producing ethanol from corn.”
Gonzalez said the biodiesel industry’s rapid growth has created a glycerin glut. The glut has forced glycerin producers like Dow Chemical and Procter and Gamble to shutter plants, and Gonzalez said some biodiesel producers are already unable to sell glycerin and instead must pay to dispose of it.
“One pound of glycerin is produced for every 10 pounds of biodiesel,” said Gonzalez, Rice’s William Akers Assistant Professor in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. “The biodiesel business has tight margins, and until recently, glycerin was a valuable commodity, one that producers counted on selling to ensure profitability.”
Researchers say the process is greener than other methods that use chemicals… and more economical.