Biofuels have seen ups and downs in the public’s eyes in recent years. Producing biofuels from eatable plants, such as corn, is a bad idea, while producing it from other fast-growing wild plants is a good idea. Plus, the carbon footprint is almost zero, because the carbon emitted is almost equal to the carbon deposited in that plant, during its growing stage. The emitted carbon is going to be re-absorbed by the same plant type, seeded on large fields.
Using this concept and latest technology, a super efficient system using biofuels has been invented at Newcastle University: it has the power to cool and heat UK homes, besides providing electricity. The system feeds with seeds of the Croton Megalocarpus, a plant with origins in East Africa.
The device works this way: it burns vegetable oil to power a generator and provide electricity. The waste heat is used to heat up water. Another part is converted to run a refrigerator. At each step, the excess heat produced from engine gases ans cooling is used somewhere else to give the system maximum efficiency. As I said before the plant that produces the fuel absorbs the carbon while growing, hence the CO2 emissions are close to zero.
Croton Megalocarpus is not cultivated for food, nor it is cultivated on agricultural fields, to challenge the food production. Drawing on the modelling expertise of scientists at Ulster University, the team will build a full-scale prototype of the system.
“In the past, a significant barrier to the take-up of domestic scale micro-trigeneration systems has been the availability of the right energy at the right time.’A household has varying energy demands depending on the time of day and the time of year. By integrating new energy storage technology with the micro-trigeneration system we have the potential to overcome this barrier and make an impact on future domestic energy supply”.
Using biofuels with maximum efficiency is an interesting path into the alternative energy search field, as long as there biofuels are really used, and not fossil fuels. If it will be implemented successfully, the technology could be used in car designing, maximizing efficiency. But that is another story… burnable fuels will probably have limited applications in the future and will slowly but surely be replaced entirely by electricity. That doesn’t mean that, for the moment, such an invention shouldn’t be praised. It would have been better if it had been discovered and applied a long time ago.