UBC Okanagan Researcher Develops New Technique to Produce Biofuels Faster and Cheaper

New study carried out by a Professor of Engineering at UBC’s Okanagan Campus may hold the key to biofuels that are safer, cheaper and much faster to generate.

Cigdem Eskicioglu is a Professor of Engineering at UBC’s Okanagan Campus. Credit: The University of British Columbia

Methane is a biofuel commonly used in electricity generation and is produced by fermenting organic material. The process can traditionally take anywhere from weeks to months to complete, but with my collaborators from Europe and Australia we’ve discovered a new biomass pretreatment technique that can cut production time nearly in half.

Cigdem Eskicioglu, an Associate Professor, UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering

Using commonly found materials in forestry or agricultural waste—including Douglas fir bark, corn husks, and wheat straw—Eskicioglu compared conventional fermentation methods with their new technique and discovered that Douglas fir bark in particular could generate methane 172% faster than before.

The potential to more efficiently harness the energy from forestry waste products like tree bark can open a world of new opportunities. Our new fermentation process would be relatively easy to implement on site and because the bioreactors can be much smaller, the costs can be kept low.

Cigdem Eskicioglu, an Associate Professor, UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering

Eskicioglu explained that the new technique pre-treats the initial organic material with carbon dioxide at high pressures and temperatures in water prior to the fermentation of the whole mixture. The new pretreatment process employs materials and equipment that are already widely available at an industrial level, so retrofitting existing bioreactors or producing new miniaturized ones could be done easily and cheaply.

Eskicioglu said that besides producing biogas faster and cheaper, her new technique can also make methane production safer.

Unlike traditional biomass pretreatment for bioreactors, our method doesn’t require the use or generation of toxic chemicals. We still have some work to do to move it to an industrial scale, but our results so far are very promising.

Cigdem Eskicioglu, an Associate Professor, UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering

The new research will be published in September’s edition of Water Research.

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