The same process that lights up big-screen plasma TV displays can be used to produce ultra-clean fuels, according to a new report.
It describes how the small, low-tech, inexpensive device called a GlidArc reactor can utilise electrically charged clouds of gas called “plasmas” to produce, in three steps, super-clean fuels from waste materials.
One is a diesel fuel that is claimed to release 10 times less air pollution than its conventional counterpart.
“Low-tech and low-cost are the guiding principles behind the GlidArc reactors,” says Dr Albin Czernichowski, a French scientist who prepared the report.
“Almost all the parts could be bought at your local hardware or home-supply store. We use common ‘plumber’ piping and connections, for instance, and ordinary home insulation.
“Instead of sophisticated ceramics, we use the kind of heat-resistant concrete that might go into a home fireplace. You could build one in a few days for about $10,000 (about £6,000).”
The reactors, about the size of a refrigerator, are custom-designed to clean dirty gases produced by a low-tech gasification of locally available wastes, biomass or other resources to produce a clean mix of carbon-monoxide and hydrogen gas to synthesise biofuels.
For farmers, crop stalks and leaves left over from harvesting can be used as the raw material.
In urban areas, waste cooking oil from restaurants could be the raw material.
In regions that produce biodiesel fuel, glycerol could be converted into clean fuels. Dr Czernichowski says production of biofuels results in huge amounts of glycerol byproduct.
The glycerol is expensive to refine to the high purity needed for commercial use.
However, GlidArc reactors could transform glycerol into a clean synthesis gas (the carbon-monoxide and hydrogen) for production of fuels, he says.
“The main advantage of such bio-based fuels that the GlidArc technology can create is that they constitute ‘drop-in replacements’ for fossil diesel oil, gasoline or kerosene, and no modifications are needed in engines, vehicles and distribution systems.
“The biofuels can also be used as additives to various types of engine fuels to improve certain fuel properties. Another important advantage, of course, is their much lower toxicity for mankind and the environment compared with conventional fuels.”