Humans have a long history of brewing beer, which remains a popular alcoholic beverage worldwide. Breweries in Europe use millions of tons of barley every year, and how to dispose the large quantities of used grain left over from the production process has always been an issue. Good news is that UK scientists recently announced that they have developed a method to convert barley waste into a type of biofuel. Furthermore, they have estimated that the amount of grain byproduct created by breweries across the EU states can produce enough of this biofuel to power 700,000 homes annually.
Dr. Ahmed Osman, who is a professor from the School of Chemistry at Queen’s University of Belfast (QUB) and leads the research on the subject, said that his team has devised a simple method involving just a few steps to transform barley waste into activated charcoal. The used grain, after being dried, goes through a chemical and heat treatment process where it is mixed with phosphoric acid and potassium hydroxide. It should be noted that the costs of these two chemical solutions are relatively low.
Dr. Osman’s team also claimed that 1kg of barley waste will produce enough charcoal to cover the surface of 100 soccer fields. The conversion process also creates carbon nanotubes, a highly valuable and sought-after material.
The findings of this research have been published in the Journal of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology. Dr. Osman’s team further pointed out that the UK imports liquid hydrocarbon fuels from the Middle East as well as solid biocarbon materials in the form of wood pellets from the US and elsewhere. Therefore, the method that the team has developed will reduce fuel shipments from abroad by using more of the available resources at home (i.e., turning wastes from local breweries into biofuel). Also, the adoption of this particular process technology in the energy sector will have the side benefits of cutting carbon emissions generated by the agriculture sector and increasing production of the highly valuable carbon nanotubes.
Besides burning it for fuel, activated charcoal is also used in water filtration and cooking (e.g., BBQ). The research from QUB raises the possibility of turning this material into a renewable source of energy. Dr. Osman said that converting a brewery byproduct like barley waste into two high-value products is a great example of the circular economy. While activated charcoal is already in high demand around the world, Dr. Osman has noted that some efforts are still needed to commercialize his team’s technology for producing this type of fuel and carbon nanotubes.
From Dr. Osman’s perspective, turning large quantities of refuse destined for landfills into a biofuel is only a good thing for Earth. The team hopes that its technology will contribute to solving global waste and energy problems in the near future.
(This article is an English translation of news content provided by EnergyTrend’s media partner TechNews. Photo credit: Pixabay.)