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Belfast researcher develops method to convert brewery waste into renewable fuel

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A researcher at Queen’s University Belfast in Ireland has developed a low-cost method to convert leftover barley from alcohol breweries into carbon, which can be used as renewable fuel for homes.

Breweries in the European Union throw away around 3.4 million tonnes of unspent grain every year. Using just 1kg of grain, Dr Ahmed Osman from the university’s School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering has produced enough activated carbon to cover 100 football pitches.

“There are only a few steps in our low cost and novel approach – drying the grain out and a two-stage chemical and heat treatment using phosphoric acid and then a potassium hydroxide wash, both of which are very low cost chemical solutions,” explained Osman. “This then leaves us with activated carbon and carbon nanotubes – high value materials which are very much in demand.

“Across the globe there is a real demand for carbon as it is used to create fuel for households, parts for water filters and charcoal for barbecues. If we are able to take something that would otherwise be a waste and turn it into a useful biofuel, it can only be a good thing for our planet. It could really help to solve global waste and energy problems.

“The synthesis of value-added products from barley waste is a prime example of the circular economy, by taking a waste food by-products and creating a high-value product. It has benefits to the environment and society through economic and social opportunities.”

The results of the project, which was funded by EPSRC and The Bryden Centre at Queen’s, have been published in the Journal of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology. The project was an international collaboration between Queen’s University Belfast, South West College and Sultan Qaboos University in Oman.