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While fossil fuels are still being created by underground heat and pressure, they are being consumed more rapidly than they are being

generated; to avoid their complete depletion, renewable resources should be used, Maria Olea, a Professor in Chemical Engineering and Catalysis at Teesside University explains.

We urgently need to find alternative fuel supplies – and biomass, hydro, wind, solar, geothermal, marine and hydrogen will unquestionably play an important role in the future. Biomass/waste, being a readily available renewable energy source that reduces sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide emissions, is an attractive option as a fuel for power generation and as a raw material to be converted into transportation fuel.

At Teesside University we focus on the production of synthetic fuels via thermocatalytic routes, mainly biomass and waste-to-fuel routes. One of the main thermocatalytic routes is pyrolysis, a potential value- added technology for the treatment of biomass/organic waste, with the possibility of producing gases with appreciable fuel value, useful liquid oils and agriculturally applicable biochar.

As chemical engineers, the development of catalysts with high activity and selectivity for sustainable catalytic processes was, and still is, a first priority for our research. As such, we’ve prepared a number of newly-developed technically advanced catalysts, which support our overarching objective of helping to protect the environment and re- using/recycling resources.

“Through our teaching

we are able to share our passion for saving the environment.”

Arguably our main research success to date has been in the conversion of biogas (consisting of about 60% methane and 40% carbon dioxide) as produced by anaerobic digestion of municipal wastewater sludge, into syngas (mixture of carbon monoxide


and hydrogen). Using nickel-based catalysts in a conversion process known as dry reforming of methane, this proven application converts two major greenhouse gases, methane and carbon dioxide, into synthetic fuel, making it very important from an environmental and economic point of view.

Syngas is already a synthetic fuel as it can be used in gas engines to produce steam and electricity. However, to comply with the engine’s specifications, syngas has to be cleaned. This was the task of our EU-funded Pyrochar project, which was dedicated to the design and development of a process to convert sewage sludge into useful biochar and synthetic gas. A different class of nickel-based catalysts were developed and scaled-up, from mg to kg, for this application. The catalysts were used in the pilot plant

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