Sowing the seeds of renewable energy

Finnish engine manufacturer Wärtsilä has developed a bio-diesel fuel alternative for diesel engines and power generators.

Finnish engine manufacturer Wärtsilä has developed a bio-diesel fuel alternative for diesel engines and power generators. 

The oil has been obtained from a naturally occurring product, the jatropha nut.

The oil, which has been successfully trialled and installed in several countries, is being introduced in Australasia by the Environmental Services Division of Wärtsilä’s Australian subsidiary. 

In one trial in Belgium, the company used the oil fuel in a 20V32 Combined Heat and Power (CHP) engine, which had an electrical output of nine megawatts.

According to the manufacturer, the engine was able to sufficiently serve the total energy requirements of around 20,000 Belgian households. 

This particular installation used heat from digested biomass processing to create electricity, which was then sold to the local power grid.

“We know that fossil fuels are a finite source of energy, so we will continue to be at the forefront of finding and developing engines that are able to use alternative fuels,” the company’s Australian general manager of services and sales, David Trench, said. 

The oil comes from crushed jatropha curcas nuts or seeds, which normally feature an average oil content of 40% and in most cases no more than 47%. 

According to the company, oil yield can depend on the climatic and soil conditions and can also vary between different species and genetic alternatives. 

Content levels of up to 60% are possible but uncommon, because improper processing techniques, such as prolonged exposure to direct sunlight, can impair the oil yield considerably. 

The company said the recovery rate of useable oil from the initial oil content is around 91%. 

The jatropha genus includes around 175 species of plant life and is native to Central America and the Caribbean. 

However, the plants have since spread to many other tropical and subtropical areas in India, Africa, Asia and North America.

Because they are toxic when ingested by humans, there is no practical reason to cultivate the seeds other than for fuel. 

The fuel was last year used successfully in a test flight undertaken by Continental Airlines in the US. 

The Continental Boeing 737-800 completed a flight from Houston, Texas with a bio-fuel consisting of a 50-50 mixture of algae and jatropha oil in one of its two CFM56 engines.

Air New Zealand has also announced plans to use the new fuel for 10% of its needs by 2013. 

To keep up to date with Australian Mining, subscribe to our free email newsletters delivered straight to your inbox. Click here.