New catalyst can turn food waste into cheap biodiesel

According to research published in late August, a new method that enhances the process for turning food waste into biodiesel enables reduction of carbon emissions by generating cheap, renewable fuel through a cleaner process that also improves waste management.

Approximately 30% of the food produced in the U.S. is wasted, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA estimates that in 2018, 20.3 tons, or nearly 81% of the food that families discarded, was disposed of in landfills or burned.

“The new technology has the potential to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2.6% while producing renewable diesel with a minimum fuel selling price of $1.06/GGE,” using hydrothermal technology, the researchers said. This fuel would be much cheaper than the average of $3.70 that the AAA says is currently charged for a gallon of diesel.

Hydrothermal technologies to turn algae into fuel have shown promise, but they are expensive. Until now, food waste could not be processed with hydrothermal technology without an expensive catalyst, according to the research, which was a part of a long-term project supported by the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

The new innovation introduced by the research is use of a less costly catalyst called hydroxyapatite, a mineral found naturally in the bone that may be used to turn food waste into biodiesel.

“If 100% of the world’s annual supply of wasted food was converted to usable energy, it could power the United States for two years,” according to the researchers.

Avoiding food waste is one of the most effective ways to lessen your impact on climate change. Reducing food waste at home has other benefits too, says the EPA, as it allows households to save money, by only buying what is necessary. According to the USDA, “the average family of four spends $1,500 each year on food that ends up uneaten.”

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