Car fumes help to produce biodiesel

By Jessica Ebert | September 04, 2007
What began as a foray into fish farming by two fishermen-turned-engineers and an organic chemist from North Wales has produced a contraption that captures carbon dioxide emissions, a process that can be used to indirectly produce biodiesel.

About two years ago, fishermen Ian Houston and John Jones teamed up with organic chemist Derek Palmer to raise fish using algae as feed. Algae need carbon dioxide, sunlight and water to grow, but a machine to pump carbon dioxide into the fish ponds would have cost about $3 million. "We had a meeting," Houston explained. "I asked Derek, 'With all the carbon dioxide in the world, why can't we capture it?' Derek said it would be virtually impossible, but straightaway, John and I said, 'You didn't say "totally impossible." You said "virtually impossible," so that means it can be done.'"

Therefore, Houston and Jones built a device to Palmer's specifications that housed a system for the chemical capture and release of carbon dioxide. The first time the team tested the device, it captured 66 percent of the carbon dioxide flushed through the box. "We very quickly realized what we'd done," Houston said. "We left fish farming behind."

Since that time, the inventors have tweaked the device, found the dirtiest diesel engine they could find, and demonstrated over 130 times that what has been dubbed the "Greenbox" can be used to collect and store 85 percent to 95 percent of exhaust emissions including carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter. These captured molecules can be stored in the box in their inert state, then released into a bioreactor and fed to algae, which are subsequently crushed and used to make biodiesel.

Houston said representatives from oil refineries, factories, fleet car companies and automobile manufacturers, among others, have shown interest in the technology. "We've given the [United Kingdom] and every other country in the world the possibility of being self-sustaining," Houston said. "[Carbon dioxide] is the fuel of the future, not the enemy we have always believed."

The team has already designed boxes to fit buses and cars, and it is working on designs for trains and prop planes. Houston expects a patent for the Greenbox to be filed by November.
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