Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Could generating energy from waste be the answer?

Date:
January 31, 2010
Source:
University of Teesside
Summary:
Scientists are helping to find answers to one of the most difficult problems facing the world today: generating energy without accelerating climate change or harming food production. Researchers are investigating biofuels generated from wastes. These are seen by many as the 'green alternative' to using fossil fuels.

Dr Komang Ralebitso-Senior.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Teesside

Scientists at Teesside University are helping to find answers to one of the most difficult problems facing the world today -- generating energy without accelerating climate change or harming food production.

The researchers are investigating biofuels generated from wastes. This is seen by many as the 'green alternative' to using fossil fuels.

Biofuels may appear to be the perfect solution because they are not net producers of harmful environmental by-products, but they create another problem as they can encourage farmers to grow energy crops at the expense of badly-needed food, particularly in poorer countries in the world.

Looking for an answer to the 'food-fuel conflict' is at the heart of research led by Dr Komang Ralebitso-Senior, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Biology at Teesside University.

Her team of six researchers based within the University's Technology Futures Institute is looking at whether biofuel production could use waste materials, such as domestic refuse and sewage sludge, instead of energy crops to generate biogas. The biogas could then be used directly or to produce alternative energy sources such as electricity.

"We're carrying out laboratory investigations to optimise the production of biogas through a process known as anaerobic digestion. This uses naturally- occurring micro-organisms to break down waste in closed vessels," she says.

Dr Ralebitso-Senior believes that, although anaerobic digestion is an established process already being used by some waste-to-energy companies, its full potential has not yet been realised in solving many of the problems associated with growing biofuel crops.

"We can produce most biofuels using crops -- but the big issue is whether the land could be used for food instead. The loss of agricultural crops is a major concern.

"We call this the food-fuel conflict as the economic returns of growing crops for fuel are often higher and with more farmers choosing this option, foodstuffs inevitably become more expensive."

She says, "Using anaerobic digestion is an alternative method which has considerable potential, but we still do not understand a lot about how it works. That is what we are investigating in the laboratory, seeking ways in which we can optimise and, therefore, exploit the process effectively.

"This work has significant potential because it can produce a biofuel which is truly sustainable. The refuse from which the biogas is produced would have ended up in landfill, with possible damage to the environment, and also there will not be the need to grow crops which take food away from people.

"The value of biofuels is their potential to be sustainable, providing a good balance between the environment, the economy and society. This is very exciting work," she says.

The potential of this research has attracted interest from Teesside's Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) based at Wilton, which is supporting the PhD programme associated with this work.

For Dr Ralebitso-Senior, the external support is crucial. "The next stage after the PhD is developing a new bioreactor type at pilot-scale, but for the system to be viable we need an even larger capacity. We're looking at it taking a number of years to go from laboratory to pilot to actual scale, with modifications and additional research along the way. The only way the project may be realised sooner is if we can integrate findings from other research teams in the region, then nationally and internationally."

The work is the latest phase in a career which has seen Dr Komang Ralebitso-Senior, an applied environmental molecular microbiologist, work all over the world, including Lesotho, South Africa, the Netherlands and Singapore.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Teesside. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Teesside. "Could generating energy from waste be the answer?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 January 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100125150645.htm>.
University of Teesside. (2010, January 31). Could generating energy from waste be the answer?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100125150645.htm
University of Teesside. "Could generating energy from waste be the answer?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100125150645.htm (accessed August 29, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Friday, August 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) State health officials say testing has confirmed the presence of a killer amoeba in a water system serving three St. John the Baptist Parish towns. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Have Figured Out Why Rocks Move In Death Valley

Scientists Have Figured Out Why Rocks Move In Death Valley

Newsy (Aug. 28, 2014) The mystery of the moving rocks in Death Valley, California, has finally been solved. Scientists are pointing to a combo of water, ice and wind. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Big Waves, Minor Flooding from Hurricane

Big Waves, Minor Flooding from Hurricane

AP (Aug. 27, 2014) Thundering surf spawned by Hurricane Marie pounded the Southern California coast Wednesday, causing minor flooding in a low-lying beach town. High surf warnings were posted for Los Angeles County south through Orange County. (Aug. 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Calif. Quake Underscores Need for Early Warning

Calif. Quake Underscores Need for Early Warning

AP (Aug. 26, 2014) Researchers at UC Berkeley are testing a prototype of an earthquake early warning system that California is pursuing years after places like Mexico and Japan already have them up and running. (August 26) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins