Electrofuel System Could Build Alternative Fuels
Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, have developed a new bioreactor capable of storing electricity as liquid fuel with the help of a genetically engineered microbe.
The federal agency funding the research calls the technology “electrofuels.” If all goes well, the hybrid bioelectric system could offer a more efficient way of turning sunlight into fuel than growing plants for biofuel.
UCLA chemical engineer James Liao and his colleagues reported on their "integrated electro-microbial bioreactor" in Science on March 30.
By tweaking the genetics of Ralstonia eutropha, a soil microbe that can use hydrogen as an energy source to build CO2 into more microbrial growth, the team has come up with a microbe that can now churn out butanols, or liquid fuel. What's more is that the bioreactor sources its electricity from a solar panel. When the current flows into an electrode in the bioreactor, a chemical reaction begins between water, CO2 and R. eutropha. Using CO2 to make formate-carbon dioxide, the genetically engineered microbe then consumes the formate to yield butanols and CO2 as waste product, which can be recycled back through the process.
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With the power of a photovoltaic panel, the bioreactor produced 140 milligrams per liter of butanol fuel within 80 hours. Although the hybrid process broke down after that time frame, the team believes that this same approach can be used to produce other kinds of fuels or chemicals.
However, much research is still needed. Although the bioreactor and its electrofuel are novel ideas, the DoE's Advanced Research Projects Agency does not think it will be commercially viable in the long run. What interests researchers more will be the outcome of more similar projects and determining whether electrofuels will ultimately have an impact or not.
Itronics successfully tests manganese recovery process
Itronics - a Nevada-based emerging cleantech materials growth company that manufacturers fertilisers and produces silver - has successfully tested two proprietary processes that recover manganese, with one process recovering manganese, potassium and zinc from paste produced by processing non-rechargeable alkaline batteries. The second recovers manganese via the company’s Rock Kleen Technology.
Manganese, one of the four most important industrial metals and widely used by the steel industry, has been designated by the US Federal Government as a "critical mineral." It is a major component of non-rechargeable alkaline batteries, one of the largest battery categories sold globally.
The use of manganese in EV batteries is increasing as EV battery technology is shifting to use of more nickel and manganese in battery formulations. But according to the US Department of Interior, there is no mine production of manganese in the United States. As such, Itronics is using its Rock Kleen Technology to test metal recoverability from mine tailings obtained from a former silver mine in western Nevada that has a high manganese content.
In a statement, Itronics says that its Rock Kleen process recovers silver, manganese, zinc, copper, lead and nickel. The company says that it has calculated – based on laboratory test results – that if a Rock Kleen tailings process is put into commercial production, the former mine site would become the only primary manganese producer in the United States.
Itronics adds that it has also tested non-rechargeable alkaline battery paste recovered by a large domestic battery recycling company to determine if it could use one of its hydrometallurgical processes to solubilize the manganese, potassium, and zinc contained in the paste. This testing was successful, and Itronics was able to produce material useable in two of its fertilisers, it says.
"We believe that the chemistry of the two recovery processes would lend itself to electrochemical recovery of the manganese, zinc, and other metals. At this time electrochemical recovery has been tested for zinc and copper,” says Dr John Whitney, Itronics president.
“Itronics has been reviewing procedures for electrochemical recovery of manganese and plans to move this technology forward when it is appropriate to do so and has acquired electro-winning equipment needed to do that.
"Because of the two described proprietary technologies, Itronics is positioned to become a domestic manganese producer on a large scale to satisfy domestic demand. The actual manganese products have not yet been defined, except for use in the Company's GOLD'n GRO Multi-Nutrient Fertilisers. However, the Company believes that it will be able to produce chemical manganese products as well as electrochemical products," he adds.
Itronics’ research and development plant is located in Reno, about 40 miles west of the Tesla giga-factory. Its planned cleantech materials campus, which will be located approximately 40 miles south of the Tesla factory, would be the location where the manganese products would be produced.
Panasonic is operating one of the world's largest EV battery factories at the Tesla location. However, Tesla and other companies have announced that EV battery technology is shifting to use of nickel-manganese batteries. Itronics is positioned and located to become a Nevada-0based supplier of manganese products for battery manufacturing as its manganese recovery technologies are advanced, the company states.
A long-term objective for Itronics is to become a leading producer of high purity metals, including the U.S. critical metals manganese and tin, using the Company's breakthrough hydrometallurgy, pyrometallurgy, and electrochemical technologies. ‘Additionally, Itronics is strategically positioned with its portfolio of "Zero Waste Energy Saving Technologies" to help solve the recently declared emergency need for domestic production of Critical Minerals from materials located at mine sites,’ the statement continues.
The Company's growth forecast centers upon its 10-year business plan designed to integrate its Zero Waste Energy Saving Technologies and to grow annual sales from $2 million in 2019, to $113 million in 2025.