A Queen’s University Belfast researcher has developed a low-cost technique to convert leftover barley from alcohol breweries into carbon, which could be used as a renewable fuel for homes.
According to the university, breweries in the European Union throw out around 3.4 million tons of unspent grain every year.
Using just 1kg of the grain, Dr Ahmed Osman from the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering has been able to create enough activated carbon to spread across 100 football pitches.
“There are only a few steps in our low-cost and novel approach – drying the grain out and a two-stage chemical and heat treatment using phosphoric acid and then a potassium hydroxide wash, both of which are very low-cost chemical solutions. This then leaves us with activated carbon and carbon nanotubes – high-value materials which are very much in demand,” said Osman.
“Liquid forms of carbon are normally shipped to the UK from the Middle East, and solid biocarbon, in the form of wood pellets is shipped from the US and elsewhere. Using this new technique, we can utilise more locally produced resources, reduce emissions linked with the agriculture sector, and we are also creating a high-value product.
“Across the globe, there is a real demand for carbon as it is used to create fuel for households, parts for water filters and charcoal for barbecues. If we are able to take something that would otherwise be a waste and turn it into a useful biofuel, it can only be a good thing for our planet. It could really help to solve global waste and energy problems.”
Dr Osman added: “The synthesis of value-added products from barley waste is a prime example of the circular economy, by taking a waste food by-products and creating a high-value product. It has benefits to the environment and society through economic and social opportunities.”
Dr Osman is hoping to explore opportunities for the commercialisation of the method in creating activated carbon and carbon nanotubes.
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