By Michael Robin
Biofuels research has a long history at the University of Saskatchewan. In 1917, chemistry professor Robert MacLaurin parlayed his interest in producing fuel from straw into a small extraction plant and a demonstration automobile. While promising, the volume of fuel produced was small and mileage between fill-ups was low.
Since then, U of S biofuels research has yielded world-leading ethanol and biodiesel production techniques. U of S researchers continue to push into new frontiers in renewable energy and environmental protection.
Janusz Kozinski and his team want to turn tonnes of useless and sometimes dangerously toxic biological waste into clean, green energy.
The new dean in the U of S College of Engineering is the driver behind the proposed SunFuel research project, which aims to produce fuel from virtually any biomass. This includes underused resources such as wood slash left over from logging operations, straw from farmers’ fields and more troublesome waste created when recycling paper.
SunFuel is so named because plants capture energy from the sun through photosynthesis and use it to build roots, stems, branches and leaves. In this sense, biomass is stored solar energy.
While humanity has harnessed this energy since the first campfire, what Kozinski has in mind is something entirely new: to make fire—or at least fuel—with water. It’s a key part of his vision to make the U of S a centre of excellence for energy research.
“Biofuels are an important part of solving our energy and environmental challenges,” he says. “Some of Canada’s most advanced research in this area is located here. With our robust research programs in petroleum and uranium, we have the critical mass to be a national centre for energy strategy.”