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New patent-pending technology converts dilute waste carbon into valuable compounds

Biofuel researchers are constantly striving to develop self-sustaining technology to convert renewable carbon sources into fuels, excluding carbon from our environment and water. Despite significant progress, completing the cycle using clean energy has proven difficult. Now, a team of researchers from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) of the Department of Energy has developed a system that does exactly that. The PNNL electrocatalytic oxidation fuel renewal system converts diluted waste carbon into valuable compounds, while also producing usable hydrogen, which was previously thought to be non-renewable. Renewable energy is used because this process is also carbon-neutral or carbon-negative.

A well-designed catalyst combines billions of infinite tiny metal particles and an electric current to accelerate energy conversion at room temperature and pressure.

Juan A. Lopez-Ruiz, PNNL Chemical Engineer and Project Lead, Said Current methods of treating biocrude require the use of high-pressure hydrogen, which is usually produced from natural gas. The system can use extra renewable energy to treat wastewater at nearby ambient temperatures to produce hydrogen, which is cheap and potentially carbon-neutral to operate.

The research team kept the system at its speed in the lab without losing capacity using a wastewater sample from an industrial scale biomass conversion process for over 200 hours of continuous operation. The only limitation is the deterioration of the research team’s sewage sample.

The patent-pending system, according to Lopez-Ruiz, addresses a number of issues that have affected efforts to make biomass an economically viable source of renewable energy.

Although people understand how to convert biomass into fuel, Lopez-Ruiz says they are struggling to make the process energy-efficient, cost-effective and environmentally sustainable, especially on small, distributed standards. However, this new system is powered by electricity, which is generated from renewable sources. It also produces its own heat and fuel to keep it running. It can complete the energy recovery cycle.

Clean Sustainable Electrochemical Treatment- or cleanseset-technology is available for licensing by other companies or municipalities, including industry-specific applicants for municipal wastewater treatment plants, dairy farms, breweries, chemical manufacturers and food and beverage manufacturers.

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