Researchers at IIT Guwahati produce biofuels from non-food waste seeds

Researchers at IIT Guwahati produce biofuels from non-food waste seeds

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Guwahati: Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati (IITG) have developed methods to produce biofuels from non-edible seeds.

The team of innovators who have successfully carried out the work is headed by Professor of the Department of Chemical Engineering at IITG, Dr. Kaustubh Mohanty is doing.

The results of the team’s research have recently been published in high-impact journals such as Bioresource Technology, Fuel, Renewable Energy, Journal of Analytical and Applied Pyrolysis, Journal of the Energy Institute and Biomass Conversion and Bioreassinery.

The research student in the Mohanty-led team – Dr. Ranjit Kumar Mishra, Dr. Krishna P. Shadangi, Mithilesh Kool, Gautam Ganesan and Gaurav Chatterjee, who have submitted papers.

“To eliminate competition between food and fuel, non-edible seed-derived oils can be used to produce biofuels”, Mohanty said. Plants and trees found in India, such as peels Kaner, Mahua, Gulmohar, Neem, rain tree, castor, safflower, etc., produce seeds that contain oil from which biofuels can be made. Mohanty and his research team have used a thermo-chemical route to produce bio-fuels from these and other seeds that they collect from different parts of the country.

“We found that these inedible seeds contained high amounts of oil, which was exciting”. The researchers designed a low-cost pyrolyzer to obtain biofuels from these oils. He said that while the yield of biofuels was very encouraging, there were some problems – biofuels had low acidity and high oxygen content, making them unsuitable for use as transport fuels.

To improve the properties of biofuels derived from non-edible seed oils, the scientist used various oils such as calcium oxide, zeolite, etc., during the conversion of seed oil to biofuels. Both yield and quality were improved, except for the biofuel produced viscosity comparable to the properties of regular diesel.

“The high viscosity of our biofuels is still a problem, but we will find a way to overcome it”, says the convinced scientist.

Biofuels are not all that they have obtained from these inedible seeds. After purification of the oil extracted from the seeds, the team was left with valuable chemicals in the disc, which are found in a plethora of industrial applications. One such residue they could cure was hexadeconic acid, which is used in soap making, various cosmetic products, and release agents. Another was stearic acid which has many industrial applications.

Mohanty says “it’s really a useless-value operation”, as the team wants to understand the chemical mechanisms by which biofuels are produced from these sources and are studying their applicability in engines.

The team has not stopped from plant sources. They have extracted bio-oil from a mixture of waste plastics and waste biomass. Single-use nitrile gloves used in laboratory and medical settings were used for this purpose.

“Demand for biofuels is expected to increase in the future and it is certainly not sustainable that they originate from food sources,” Mohanty said. This work is important in the discovery of non-food feedstocks dedicated to biofuel production.

There have been worldwide efforts to produce fuel from renewable biological resources to address future oil shortages in the world. Currently, ‘biofuels’ are successfully made from vegetable oils and animal fats. For example, in the United States and Europe, surplus edible oils such as soybean oil and sunflower oil are being used to produce biodiesel. The conversion of food resources to fuel reflects the demand for global supply of food, especially with the current nutritional deficiencies in developing countries.

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