From Trash To Treasure — Turning Waste Products To Energy

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“All of a sudden there are all these new opportunities to extract things that have health benefits or that can go back into human food applications and industrial/chemical applications”

Breaking things apart and putting them back together sounds more destructive than scientific. But David Bressler, associate professor at the University of Alberta, specializes in taking waste products and making them into new compounds.

Bressler studied biotechnology at the University of Alberta and completed a Ph. D in environmental and industrial microbiology. He specializes in chemistry, microbiology and engineering.

“I’m basically a conversions person so I study how you can convert different biomass to chemicals and fuels and other components,” says Bressler.

He currently supervises about 16 people in his laboratory and collaborates with 20 research groups across campus as well as provincial, national and international partners.

“We’re trying to take the things that are burnt or landfilled and trying to find higher uses for them,” he says.

The research group has been working on a variety of different projects, ranging from developing different biomass feedstocks to creating proteins from specified risk materials that have been rendered safe, to working with different crop groups to create new materials.

Bressler’s research team has been working closely with the ethanol industry, using both older and newer technologies.

The research usually takes about five to seven years before consumers can see the commercial application of the products.

“We’ve published some research that shows that the really high-value nutritional components and bio-active components survive fermentation if you do it at lower temperatures with these new processes. So all of a sudden there are all these new opportunities to extract things that have health benefits or that can go back into human food applications and industrial/chemical applications,” he says.

The research group has only begun to explore the options created by these components. They currently work with bio-industrial companies to mimic the industrial applications of both older and newer technologies so they can examine byproducts created by industry. Some of the byproducts include vitamins, which can be added to food products.

SRMs become fuel

Bressler also works closely with some of the multinational rendering companies. After BSE, many livestock waste products were no longer used in their traditional applications, and half the value was gone.

In some cases, renderers charged processors to take away the waste material and dispose of it. Large amounts of the high-protein waste products were simply being dumped in landfills. Bressler’s research involves finding value for these products that aren’t being used for meat.

The group is working with lipids and tallow from the rendering industry to create new products.

The material is mechanically broken apart and then broken down using processes such as extraction, solvents, or crushing. Once things are broken down, the scientists use other factors, such as high temperatures, to cause the material to react and change.

The research group has developed a high-temperature process that can be used to convert oil from meat processing directly into hydrocarbons.

“The process we’ve developed mimics the petrochemical industry. We make what’s called a green diesel,” he said.

A green diesel does not contain oxygen, but is a hydrocarbon similar to the real diesel in gasoline, nearly identical to jet fuels and lubricating oils.

The fuel burns cleanly and does not release any sulphur, nitrogen or heavy metals. The green diesel created blends perfectly with traditional petrochemicals, said Bressler.

The technology has been patented and the research group is working with a company who wants to create a refining facility by 2011 or 2012.

About the author


Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."



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