Researchers at Michigan State University have developed a method that will allow biodiesel plants to eliminate waste while removing their dependence on fossil fuel from their production process. As a result, producers can reincorporate the ethanol and the water into a fuel-making process.
The method uses microbes, or single-cell organisms, to glean ethanol from glycerol, a byproduct of biodiesel production, while cleaning the wastewater, says Gemma Reguera, MSU microbiologist and co-author of the study, published in Environmental Science and Technology.
“By cleaning the water with microbes on-site, we’ve come up with a way to allow producers to generate bioethanol, which replaces petrochemical methanol,” Reguera says. “At the same time, they are taking care of their hazardous waste problem.”
The next step will be field tests with a Michigan-based biodiesel manufacturer, she says.
Through a Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization grant, Reguera and her team are developing prototypes that can handle larger volumes of waste. She is also in talks with MBI, the bio-based technology “de-risking” enterprise operated by the MSU Foundation, to develop industrial-sized units that could handle the capacities of a full-scale biodiesel plant.