In a deal worth more than £1m, UK renewable energy and fuels company Kwikpower International has snapped up technology that aims to dramatically increase the availability of biodiesel.
Developed by Cambridge University researchers, the technology is designed so that farmers can set up small mobile refineries to convert rape seed oil into biodiesel that they can then sell on to fuel suppliers.
Stringent new EU regulations on clean energy usage, means that commercialisation of the system is particularly timely, especially for a company such as Kwikpower, which specialises in renewable energy technology.
The system is based on a tubular oscillatory flow reactor — an intensified plug flow reactor ideally suited to relatively long, two-phase reactions, such as the biodiesel reaction. It was demonstrated for the first time at the Clean Energy Show in London earlier this year.
Conventional biodiesel production is carried out in large tanks, and involves cooking oil and chemicals being mixed together. The process is expensive as the tanks have to be emptied after each batch.
The idea behind the technology is that the mini-refineries could be carried on lorries — meaning farmers could hire them when their crop is ready for conversion into biodiesel.
Kwikpower chairman Dr Jim Watkins said: ‘This technology transfer of the bio-diesel intensification process with Cambridge and Utek — a technology transfer group also involved in the deal — will allow us to rapidly expand Kwikpower’s opportunities in the biofuels market. We see major growth opportunities in both the US and UK.
‘The technology offers real promise to allow us to reduce the time and cost of biodiesel from a variety of feedstocks, allowing the fuel to compete on a level playing field with crude oil-derived diesel.’
The technology was developed by Prof Malcolm Mackley and his team in Cambridge’s Department of Chemical Engineering and is being licensed by Cambridge Enterprise — its commercial development arm — on behalf of the university.
A significant biodiesel market has been created by a European directive which sets the target of biofuels powering two per cent of all road transport by the end of this year, increasing to 5.75 per cent by 2010. The government has made the market profitable by providing a 20p rebate on the duty of every litre of biodiesel.
The UK’s conventional diesel market is 20 million litres a year. To reach the EU quota 1.1 million litres of this would have to be biodiesel, though currently just 414,000 litres are produced annually.