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£1.86M project explores uses for renewable fuel by-product

17 July 2008

Researchers from Cardiff University are leading a £1.86M project to improve the environmental benefits and economic viability of biodiesel manufacture.

Professor Graham Hutchings and Professor David Knight, of the School of Chemistry are heading a team investigating the production of value-added chemicals derived from glycerol, a by-product of the renewable fuel source biodiesel.

Biodiesel is an alternative fuel which is helping to reduce dependence on petroleum, but as more nations substitute fossil fuels with sustainable alternatives there is a global glut in glycerol.

Currently, disposal of surplus glycerol is by incineration but the new project explores alternative approaches.

Professor Hutchings of the School of Chemistry said: "We are developing second-generation technologies that we hope will overcome the limitations of the present methods. We aim to make value-added molecules from glycerol, which not only has environmental benefits, but has positive implications for biodiesel manufacture and the biofuel supply chain. This research will also serve to further inform the current debate about the use and sustainability of biofuels by taking a whole life-cycle approach."

The new project builds on a previous study involving the School, which identified a viable speciality chemical that could be derived from glycerol.

The new research has been part financed by the Technology Strategy Board, and Cardiff academics will work together with researchers from Imperial College and Cambridge University, and in partnership Scionix Limited, Tessenderlo Fine Chemicals Ltd, Ciba UK plc, Oxford Catalysts Limited, Sasol Technology UK Ltd and Vertellus Specialties (UK) Ltd.

Explaining the Technology Strategy Board's £1m investment in the project, Lead Technologist John Whittall said: "The Technology Strategy Board invests in important research and development projects in which business and researchers work together to deliver new technology-based products and services. We are therefore delighted to support this ground-breaking project, which is an excellent example of first-class collaboration between companies and academic institutions."


Notes to Editors:

1. Cardiff School of Chemistry

The School of Chemistry is one of the largest chemistry schools in the UK, and both teaching and research benefits from a multi-million pound investment in laboratories and other facilities. It currently has over 200 undergraduate and postgraduate students. The joint strengths are of academic excellence within the School and extensive industrial contacts outside. The School has received the highest "Excellent" rating in the ongoing independent government assessment of teaching quality.

The School conducts industry-relevant research, focusing on six areas: surface science and catalysis; structural and computational chemistry; organic synthesis; co-ordination and speciation chemistry; magnetic resonance spectroscopy; and materials chemistry. Research income has increased more than threefold in recent years, including a substantial increase in industrial funding. It is also home to two of only six national centres that are funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. These are the X-ray Diffraction Centre and the ENDOR centre.

2. Cardiff University

Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities. It is also ranked as one of the world’s top 100 universities by the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES).

2008 marks the 125th anniversary of Cardiff University having been founded by Royal Charter in 1883. Today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning.

Cardiff is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s leading research universities.

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3. Technology Strategy Board

The Technology Strategy Board is a business-led executive non-departmental public body, established by the government. Its mission is to promote and support research into, and development and exploitation of, technology and innovation for the benefit of UK business, in order to increase economic growth and improve the quality of life. It is sponsored by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS).

For further information please visit

4. Tessenderlo Fine Chemicals Limited

Tessenderlo Group is an international chemical group with more than 100 locations in 20 countries. The workforce numbers 8,100 in total, of whom some 2,100 are employed in Belgium. In 2007 the consolidated turnover amounted to over 2.4 billion EUR arising from three separate business groups, namely, chemicals, plastics converting and specialities. The group is the European and global market leader for the majority of its products. Tessenderlo Chemie NV is listed on Eurolist at Euronext Brussels and is part of Next 150 and BEL Mid.

Tessenderlo Fine Chemicals (part of the Specialities Group) is based in Leek, Staffordshire, UK and is a global supplier of liquid chemicals for use by manufacturers in primary production processes. Exporting to almost 90 different countries worldwide, Tessenderlo Fine Chemicals is the number one producer of esters and aroma chemicals in the UK.

5. Oxford Catalysts Limited

Oxford Catalysts Group PLC, the leading catalyst innovator for clean fuels, designs and develops specialty catalysts for the generation of clean fuels from both conventional fossil fuels and certain renewable sources such as bio-waste. Its patented technology is the result of almost 20 years of research at the University of Oxford's prestigious Wolfson Catalysis Centre, headed by Professor Malcolm Green, one of the world's most respected inorganic chemists. Oxford Catalysts was founded by Professor Green and Dr Xiao in October 2004.

Oxford Catalysts’ strategy is to license its catalysts for commercial application by entering into co-development partnerships with leading manufacturers, producers and suppliers in the petroleum, petrochemicals, biogas, steam applications and catalysis markets.

Oxford Catalysts has two key platform technologies. The first is for a novel class of catalysts incorporating metal carbides, which can match or exceed the benefits of traditional precious metal catalysts, at a lower cost, for several key processes used in the petroleum and petrochemical industries. Applications of these metal-carbide catalysts include the removal of sulphur from crude oil fractions (known as hydro-desulphurisation or HDS), the conversion of natural gas, coal or bio-mass into virtually sulphur-free liquid fuels via the Fischer-Tropsch reaction (known as the GTL, CTL and BTL processes respectively), and the transformation of biogas (waste methane) into syngas − the building block of liquid fuels.

The second platform relates to a unique chemical reaction which can be used to generate steam at temperatures between 100ºC and 600ºC+, instantaneously, starting from room temperature, using a cheap liquid fuel alongside the Company’s patented catalysts. Such unprecedented Instant Steam could have important applications in a broad range of markets, from cleaning and disinfecting, to green energy in the form of motive power or electricity.

Oxford Catalysts Group PLC is listed on London’s AIM market (coding symbol OCG).

6. Vertellus Specialities (UK) Limited

Vertellus Specialties is a specialty chemicals company focused on the manufacture of ingredients used in pharmaceuticals, personal care, nutrition, agriculture, and a host of other market areas affected by trends favoring "green" technologies and chemistries. Vertellus is the #1 global producer of pyridine and picolines, specialty pyridine derivatives, DEET, castor oil derivatives and systems, and citrate polymer additives and systems, and the world's #2 producer of Vitamin B-3. Vertellus Specialties benefits from a technically advanced global manufacturing base and has approximately 800 employees. The Company is headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana.

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Further Information:

Victoria Dando

Public Relations Office

Cardiff University

Tel: 02920 879074