Friday, November 18, 2005

Japanese Find Less Expensive Method to Produce Biodiesel

While this National Geographic article provides a nice overview of the buzz building over "veggie fuels," the first few paragraphs point to an exciting new development:
Japanese scientists may have found a cheaper and more efficient way to produce "biodiesel." The renewable, vegetable oil-based fuel can be used in conventional diesel engines, which are found in about 2 percent of cars currently sold in the U.S. and in about 40 percent in Europe.

The breakthrough could be just in time├é—industry experts say that demand for the cleaner, greener fuel is on the rise.

Any vegetable oil can become fuel, but not until its fatty acids are converted to chemical compounds known as esters. Currently the acids used to convert the fatty acids are prohibitively expensive.

Michikazu Hara, of the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Yokohama, Japan, and his colleagues have used common, inexpensive sugars to form a recyclable solid acid that does the job on the cheap. Their research is reported in last week's issue of the journal Nature.

"We estimate the cost of the catalyst to be one-tenth to one-fiftieth that of conventional catalysts," Hara said.

The breakthrough could provide cost savings on a massive scale, he said, because the technique could fairly easily make the transition from the lab to the refinery├é—if interest warrants.
Ryan can probably do a much better job of translating this into language for us laymen -- you out there, Ryan?

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