Innovative Project Turns Glycerol into Renewable Hydrogen and Biopropane

Researchers have embarked on a groundbreaking project, known as the HYDROGAS project, to explore the potential of glycerol, a byproduct of biodiesel production, in producing renewable hydrogen gas and propane. This innovative work not only has the potential to benefit the environment but also reduce dependence on imported fuels.

Glycerol, derived from biodiesel production plants, is both abundant and cost-effective. The HYDROGAS project, supported by Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, the European Union’s reference program for doctoral education and postdoctoral training, focuses on harnessing glycerol as a raw material for producing hydrogen gas and propane.

Hydrogen is widely recognized as one of the most promising clean fuels for the future due to its carbon-neutral properties. Biopropane, on the other hand, can serve as a substitute for fossil-derived liquefied petroleum gases, which are already low in carbon emissions. These fuels also have applications in heating remote off-grid buildings.

Previous research has demonstrated that glycerol can be reacted with hydrogen to transform it into propane. However, the challenge lies in the cost of using external hydrogen sources. The innovation brought by HYDROGAS is the utilization of glycerol itself to generate the required hydrogen for converting glycerol into propane.

Dr. Jude Onwudili from Aston University’s Energy and Bioproducts Research Institute led the study. He explained, “Our approach was to use part of the glycerol to produce the hydrogen gas required for propane production, avoiding the need for it to be added from expensive external sources.”

The HYDROGAS project has successfully achieved its first objective: to develop a process capable of generating sufficient hydrogen to convert glycerol into propane. The second objective, to obtain high propane yields, is still under investigation.

Dr. Onwudili noted, “We are also still working to obtain high propane yields from ‘crude glycerol.’ Through HYDROGAS, we discovered that the second-stage reactions can work in different conditions than those used for hydrogen production, so we will explore this alternative route.”

Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow, Dr. Carine Tondo Alves, has supported this research endeavor. With additional investments from Aston University, the project is now poised to establish a dedicated research program focused on reforming and transforming glycerol and other biomass-derived feedstocks into sustainable gaseous and liquid fuels. This initiative holds significant promise for advancing clean and renewable energy solutions.

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