Another Biodiesel Advance, From Japan
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—if interest warrants.
"We have developed this material for large-scale chemical production," Hara said. "Unfortunately, interest in biodiesel in Japan is not higher than in the U.S. and Europe."