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The University of Southampton
Interdisciplinary Research Excellence

From coal dust to clean fuel – algal biofuel developments at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

Published: 25 February 2016
Figure 1
Figure 1: Biofuel algae growing in columns

 

During their recent visit to the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Post Elizabeth, South Africa, Clean Carbon USRG members Professor Rachel Mills and Professor Damon Teagle visited InnoVenton, the NMMU Institute of Chemical Technology, to explore our common interests in algal biofuels. InnoVenton has established an industrial demonstrator-scale plant for the large-scale cultivation of biofuel algae partly fed on flue gas CO2. InnoVenton Director Prof. Ben Zeelie described how his group have developed efficient approaches for dissolving CO2 into algal growth baths (Figure 1).

Very fine grained coal particles, sometime called dross, are a major waste product of the coal mining industry that tends to be stored in large unstable waste piles around mines or power plants, that often lead to acid drainage and other toxic leakages into the environment. By combing the coal dust with the biofuel algae – CoalgaeTM solid fuel pellets or briquettes can be manufactured that have greatly improved combustion properties, burning more cleanly, at higher temperatures, and with little residual ash (Figure 2). Although this patented approach is not (yet?) carbon neutral the process has a significantly lower carbon budget than direct burning of coal and has the additional benefit of consuming a major low value waste product. South Africa alone produces about 60 million tonnes of coal dust waste every year.

The University of Southampton’s new partnership with NMMU is enabled by a successful bid to the Newton fund for a 3-year PhD and staff partnering programme in the broad area of Marine and Maritime.

 

Figure 2
Figure 2. InnoVenton’s clean burning CoalgaeTM pellets

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