I read about this company and their technologies whilst following the ever-growing Formula E racing series for electric race cars. Aquafuel Research is a British company that specialises in renewable energy creation using existing technologies to keep costs down.
The basis of their technology is two-fold:
- Extracting glycerine from renewable sources.
- Using a combined heat and power generator.
The company states that for every nine gallons of bio-diesel that is created, one gallon of glycerine is also produced. All processes have waste products and what Aquafuel has done is to take a waste product from the refining of bio-diesels and provided another power source. This is very interesting as many bio-diesels are refined from another waste source, for example a cellulose based product which is a waste output from crop harvesting.
Glycerine is a natural compound and is widely used in products that humans use: it can be used as a sugar substitute and is also used in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. One use for automotive purposes is anti-freeze and it is also an ingredient in e-liquids that are used in electronic cigarettes that when heated, delivers the nicotine hit to the user.
A combined heat and power generator does the two things in the description: it produces electricity that can be used to power another process or motor and it also produces heat that can be converted using a kinetic energy recovery system to be stored for later use. Some generators produce steam and this byproduct can then be used in many different ways.
Aquafuel’s technology enables glycerine to be burned in a standard diesel-powered generator and this helps to reduce the cost of implementation through the use of commercially off-the-shelf equipment. This technology gets the world to a more sustainable approach to energy creation by reusing the waste products from a task to create energy and then using the waste from that process to create more useable energy with a much reduced waste output – or a very clean waste product.
Formula E has been using the Aquafuel technology with a microgrid to help power their street circuits and thus reduce the cost of holding the races for the host cities. The statement below comes from a press release from the FIA:
“Formula E believes that increased electric car usage will make significant benefits to the quality of air in our cities, which in turn will lead to an improved quality of life. But one of the main objections from the anti-electric car lobby is that the pollution caused by the production of the electricity in the first place negates their environmental credentials.
This argument carries some weight in countries where the main supply to the national grid comes from coal-fired power stations (although it still overlooks the fact that the amount of carbon produced in the process of creating and distributing petrol or diesel is greater still). Nevertheless, if electric cars are to make a significant difference to the quality of the air we breathe, charging them with electricity produced by low-emission sources is crucial.
As Formula E wants to play a key role in advancing the technology surrounding electric car ownership not just the cars themselves, the bold decision was taken that the charging of the racing cars had to come from a sustainable source.”
This is an important message because Formula E has the power to change opinion, teach people about the benefits of a sustainable power source and market the whole idea of electric cars to a massive global audience. If countries who rely on coal today could use this technology for power using a source of waste as an input, then the atmosphere could change quite quickly across urban sites.
I like the idea of having sustainably powered microgrids for areas that have no access to a full grid or for short term events like Formula E. Perhaps this is also a method of providing more fast charging stations on highways to allow longer journeys in countries like Australia where it is possible to travel long distances without a refueling area.