Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Dresden have come up with a way of turning the CO2 produced by biogas plants into a versatile organic wax. That means good news for both alternative energy and the cosmetic industry.
In Germany, biogas plants are one of the most fundamental factors in the national renewable energy arsenal. The country currently has 8000 biogas plants up and running, producing roughly as much energy as three nuclear power plants put together. Germany's renewable energy policy - complete with financial benefits for biogas plant owners - has been one big reason why the country has become a biogas leader in Europe, but a planned reform is set to see the biogas business become far less financially viable.
That's why the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems (IKTS) in Dresden has been looking for alternative ways of utilizing and capitalising on the other products that are derived from biogas plants. And now they've been able to come up with a way of synthesising the CO2 (that is created as a waste product in the production of biogas) into a high-quality wax. A pilot plant is now in planning, so they can test out and fine tune the process.
Wax to Replace Petroleum in Cosmetics and Engineering
The scientists' main aim is to make biogas producers less dependent on state subsidies, by adding a new and sustainable option for owners of existing biogas plants. The wax that is produced in this process is particularly pure, making it ideal for use in the cosmetic industry - which still tends to use mineral oil in their products. And it provides another sustainable alternative - besides beeswax or coconut oil etc - for the organic cosmetic industry too.
And there are other possible applications too, for example as lubricant grease for industrial equipment and motors. According to the project team, the wax even offers certain beneficial properties that mineral oil based lubricants don't.
How Is The Wax Produced?
When organic matter is broken down within a plant, the main end products that are generated are biogas and a solid residue that can be used as fertiliser. The biogas consists primarily of methane and carbon dioxide. In order to feed the biogas into the public gas network, the carbon dioxide portion must be removed - and this is the material that these researchers are working with. In order to produce the wax, the CO2 is first mixed with hydrogen, and then it passes through a so-called Fischer-Tropsch process that generates the wax from this gas.
"When we successfully complete this project, we will be able to offer a technology that gives our clients the choice between energy generation and the production of sustainable products. This opens up completely new perspectives for the biogas industry," said Gerhard Wilhelm, managing director of Ökotec Anlagenbau GmbH, the company that owns the plant where the trial project is to run.
Find out here how a backyard biogas system could help you cut down on waste and also power your home. And take a look through our Knowledge article for the lowdown on the ins and outs of all different types of renewable energy.
This is a translation from the original article that appeared on RESET's German-language site.