Some interesting tidbits are coming out of the American Chemical Society conference in San Francisco this week. First we heard about a product made from renewable materials that could substitute a large portion of the crude oil currently used to make tires.

And now comes word from a scientist at the University of Orleans in France that he has constructed a compact, relatively inexpensive, low tech plasma gasifier that can take all sorts of waste materials and turn them into a variety of different drop-in fuels, including diesel, gasoline and kerosene.

The plasma gasifier is based on what is known as “gliding arc” technology. During the process, a gliding arc of electricity creates a plasma inside the reactor. The plasma then creates a cauldron where low temperature chemical reactions can occur that change waste materials such as used cooking oil or agricultural biomass into clean fuels.

Albin Czernichowski, who named his DIY contraption the “GlidArc Reactor,” said in statement, “Low-tech and low cost are the guiding principles behind the [reactor]. Almost all the parts could be bought at your local hardware or home supply store. We use common ‘plumber’ piping and connections, for instance, and ordinary home insulation. Instead of sophisticated ceramics, we use the kind of heat-resistant concrete that might go into a home fireplace. You could build one in a few days for about $10,000.”

As the news release points out, the GlidArc Reactor is flexible enough that it could be tailored to meet the needs of various regions. In a corn farming region it could use waste corn stover; in urban areas, used cooking oil; and, in biodiesel producing regions it could use gycerol. For every 2000 pounds of biodiesel made, almost 200 pounds of glycerol come out as a byproduct. The idea of using a biodiesel byproduct to make diesel is particularly intriguing, as, currently, it is quite expensive to refine glycerol into a commercial-grade high purity glycerine.

According to Czernichowski, diesel fuel made with the GlidArc Reactor releases 10 times less air pollution than its conventional counterpart. “The main advantage of such biobased fuels that the GlidArc Technology can create is that they constitute ‘drop-in replacements’ for [crude-oil based] diesel, gasoline or kerosene, and no modifications are needed in engines, vehicles and distribution systems,” Czernichowski said in a statement. “The biofuels can also be used as additives to various types of engine fuels to improve certain fuel properties. Another important advantage, of course, is their much lower toxicity for mankind and the environment compared to conventional fuels.”

Although Mr. Czernichowski claims it is a DIY contraption, there is no immediate word on any plans or even a scientific paper that would help in figuring out how to build this thing. We’ll keep you updated.

Source: EurekAlert!