Czech scientists from Tomas Bata University have developed a process that converts highly toxic tannery waste into what they say is a cheaper, cleaner form of biofuel than that currently on the market.
Instead of using the pure vegetable oils or fats currently used to produce biofuel they found their answer in a tannery, where fleshings, a leftover fat from leather production, are in plentiful supply. According to researchers, fleshings, a grey sludge-like substance, contain all the ingredients for biodiesel.
“The principle is to remove glycerin from the fat, replace the glycerin with simple methyl alcohol and then proceed to separate glycerin from diesel and in our case also to separate the protein that the fleshings contain for further use,” says Tomas Bata University’s Prof. Karel Kolomaznik.
Fleshings high levels of proteins and free fatty acids, long and costly to remove have ruled out their biofuel use previously.
The Czechs achieved this by melting down the leftover fat and extracting the acids using organic alkalis.
The team also claims using toxic tannery byproducts, difficult to dispose of without harming the environment as biofuel helps reduce the pollution factor.
“We are solving a serious ecological problem, in principle, by processing the waste tannery fat – fleshing,” continues Prof. Kolmaknik. “It is very dangerous to burn this, because dioxins and nitrogen oxides from the process are highly polluting for the environment.”
This could be an economic boon for leather manufacturers. Instead of paying to dispose of the sludge turning it into fuel makes the goo a commodity.