Scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology, Jodhpur, have gone a step further in the quest for low-cost bio-fuel. The scientists have shown that oil extracted from algae can be converted into diesel by using sand from Rajasthan.
World over scientists are working on converting algae oil into biofuels (a fuel derived immediately from living matter) using different catalysts.
“We have developed a catalyst using sand, nickel and cobalt to convert algae oil into diesel,” said Dr Rakesh Kumar Sharma, head of chemistry department at the IIT, who pioneered the study. Dr Vineet K Soni, a post-doctoral fellow, assisted Dr Sharma on the project.
Algae, which grows abundantly in waste water and waste land at a much faster rate than plants, has a huge potential as a renewable energy resource as it absorbs carbon dioxide. This will help reduce greenhouse gases if the oil can replace petrol and diesel. Biofuel is being considered as the future fuel worldwide.
Sharma said some European countries are using rhodium and other rare and expensive metals to convert algae oil into biofuel. The cost of catalyst adds to the production cost of bio-fuel.
“What we have developed is low cost because sand is abundant and nickel and cobalt are cheap metals. We have shown at the laboratory level that the cost of bio-diesel produced using this technology will be half the current price of the fuel,” the scientist said.
The two scientists, who worked on the innovation, received rave reviews at the ‘Bioenergy Urja Utsav’ in Pune organized by the Union Ministry of Petroleum last week. Dr Sharma said he has published the innovation in American Chemical Society’s Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering, a top international journal of chemistry, in May this year
Will this innovation work only with sand from Rajasthan? Dr Sharma said sand has two types of structure at the nano level — pillar and layered. “Rajasthani sand can be tuned for both types of structures. For the current study, pillared clay has been used. We filled nano particles of nickel and cobalt between those pillars to make the catalyst. So this will work with any sand which has pillar structure,” he explained.
Of course, this is nano-technology and such structures are not visible to the naked eye.
The project was funded by the department of biotechnology at IIT.
“We have shown the way forward to low-cost biofuel. Some European companies have shown interest in the technology,” Dr Sharma said.