Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies

Scientists and engineers working together for a sustainable future

Tagged: Renewable resources

Renewable Resources and Biorefineries Conference

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📥  Prizes & awards, Seminars & Conferences

On 3–5 June, CSCT student Sonia Raikova attended the 11th annual conference on Renewable Resources and Biorefineries which was held in the beautiful city of York. Out of 112 participants at the conference, Sonia won the prize for the best poster! The conference was attended by delegates from academia, government and industry, as well as fellow representatives of the CSCT:  Joe Donnelly, Reggie Wirrawan and Dr. Chris Chuck

Over the course of three days, I was able to attend two excellent plenary talks, two keynote lectures, two poster tours, and frantically run around between three parallel sessions to sample as many of the 79 presentations and 17 invited lectures as I could! The talks covered a wide range of topics, from the chemical principles behind the synthesis of useful products from renewable and biological sources to economic assessments of biorefineries and the importance of policy to encourage R&D and commercialisation of renewable feedstocks and technologies, tied together by the idea of moving to an entirely “bio-based economy”. After a first day jam-packed with great talks, we were rewarded for our hard grift by a very ‘Horrible Histories’-esque walking tour of York (with constant reference to the lack of sanitation back in the olden days) and a drinks reception in the gorgeous Guildhall.

The second day was the highlight for me, kicked off by an interesting insight into the process of starting a renewable materials business from Preben Krabben of Green Biologics, followed by sessions on nutrient recovery from pleasant things like swine manure and aeroplane bathroom waste. Great scientific ideas are nothing without an awareness of the economics and politics that can enable them to actually be implemented, so it was fascinating to attend the final session of lectures discussing the importance of policy and standards in the drive towards a bio-based economy. Regular caffeine breaks were also a great opportunity to chat to academics and students from around the world. After the Thursday sessions, we were treated to an absolutely magical dinner surrounded by beautiful steam engines at York’s National Railway Museum – an evening made even more memorable by the shocking revelation that, out of 112 participants, I’d won the prize for the best poster!

Sonia avec poster

Sonia and her winning entry.

Conveniently for me, on the final day there was an entire session on microalgal technology, which I have spent my first MRes project working on, as well as Chris Chuck’s a fantastic lecture on a biorefinery based around oleaginous yeasts. I’ve come out at the end of the three days absolutely exhausted but overall, my first experience attending an international conference has been overwhelmingly positive, and finding out about all the great, proactive work being carried out to try and create a sustainable bio-based economy has left me feeling incredibly hopeful for the future.

Sonia is in her first year of the CSCT, working on her second MRes project titled "Sustainable synthesis of high surface-area, highly porous materials using gas-expanded liquids and supercritical fluids" with Dr Asel Sartbaeva and Ulrich Hintermair.


Conference report: Energy CDT network

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

In September, David Miles and Lisa Sargeant travelled to Imperial College London for the annual Energy Centres for Doctoral Training (CDT) Network conference. The aim of this conference was to enable students from the various different energy-related CDTs to present their research and hear about some of the latest research across the field of energy.

The talks spanned a wide range of areas related to energy, from nuclear fusion to the energy efficiency of hospital buildings. David Miles presented in the Renewable Energy session of the conference, talking about his research on nanomaterials for dye-sensitized solar cells. Lisa Sargeant also represented the CSCT by presenting a poster titled “Waste to wealth: cultivating renewable lipids from the oleaginous yeast, Rhodotorula glutinis”.

Making an unusual addition during the talks, graphic facilitator Eleanor Beer transformed the presentations into cartoons. She created four different pieces, each representing one of the conference’s four themes: Renewable Energy, Efficiency & CO2 Reduction, Energy Storage & Systems, and Nuclear. A number of talks were also given by some of the MSc students from the Energy Futures lab based within Imperial College London.

The cartoon summaries of the talks can be seen below courtesy of Eleanor Beer and the Network of Energy Centres for Doctoral Training.


October 2011 Symposium: "Photovoltaics— the future is bright"

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

The Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies continued its on-going tradition of hosting world-leading symposia last week with “Photovoltaics— the future is bright”.

Over 100 registered attendees took part in the event, including staff and students from various departments of the University of Bath and even a few external visitors. Speakers ranged from theoretical chemists to process engineers from both industry and academia, providing insight into the scientific challenges and opportunities in one of the most active fields of science today.

The University of Bath’s very own Professor Laurie Peter wrapped up the day by returning focus to the principal theme of the centre: sustainability. Many issues experienced in the field were discussed, including the availability of elements and energy payback times, providing ample food for thought over delicious nibbles and drinks!

Special thanks are extended to the students who organised the event as well as all the speakers for making it such a success.


Research update: Biodiesel production in fixed bed catalytic reactors

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📥  Research updates

Biodiesel has the potential to be an environmentally sustainable alternative fuel source for diesel engines.  It is made by the transesterification of triglycerides, which are the main components in fats and oils.  Transesterification is a chemical reaction which, in the case of biodiesel, leads to the long fatty acid chain being removed from the glycerol backbone of a triglyceride (fat) molecule and being replaced by an alkyl group from a short chain alcohol, such as methanol, as shown in Figure 1.  This has historically been done with the aid of a dissolved or liquid catalyst, either an acid or a base.  Unfortunately, this leads to increased wastewater production, as the catalyst must be washed out of the fuel before being neutralised.  Additionally, the faster basic catalysts are extremely sensitive to both water and free fatty acids (FFA), resulting in the formation of soap from the latter.  If these catalysts can be replaced with a solid, water and FFA tolerant catalyst, the production of biodiesel can be made much cleaner and more economical.

Figure 1. Reaction scheme for biodiesel production

Figure 1. Reaction scheme for biodiesel production

My project is focused on developing a solid catalyst anchored on a support structure, which will allow the catalyst to be fixed inside a reactor while the oil and methanol are pumped through it. The main aims for the catalyst are that it:

  • Does not dissolve (leach) into the reaction mixture
  • Stays active for a prolonged period of time
  • Is tolerant of FFA and water

Previous work at the University had focused on a zinc-amino acid complex, but this was ultimately shown to leach. Thus, focus has shifted to catalysts that can be physically incorporated into a coating layer, such as a sol-gel. Currently, strontium oxide is being examined as a candidate, as it is a very effective catalyst when used as a powder.

About the author

Ben Firth is in the first year of his PhD, studying "Biodiesel production in fixed bed catalytic reactors". He is supervised by Prof Stan Kolaczkowski in the Department of Chemical Engineering.

Further reading

KNOTHE, G., VAN GERPEN, J. & KRAHL, J. 2005. The biodiesel handbook, Urbana, Ill., AOCS Press.