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Posted 06.26.06
 
 
   

MU Biodiesel Researcher Announces Deal with Senergy Chemical, Earns EPA Award

Senergy Chemical to produce 100 million pounds of nontoxic automobile antifreeze annually

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- High and unstable fuel costs, along with environmental concerns, have led to greater demands for biodiesel alternatives. A University of Missouri-Columbia professor, recently credited with developing a viable option using a natural resource, has selected Senergy Chemical to produce several million pounds of nontoxic automobile antifreeze annually.

Galen Suppes.Research by Galen Suppes, MU chemical engineering associate professor and chief science officer of the MU-based Renewable Alternatives, focuses on propylene glycol, a soybean-based product that can be used as vehicular radiator coolant. Last year, he refined the process for converting glycerin, a byproduct of the biodiesel production process, into propylene glycol. Currently, ethylene glycol, which is toxic and made from petroleum, is prominently used for antifreeze.

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Suppes said Senergy has been granted the license to his technology and the Washington-based company plans to produce 100 million pounds of propylene glycol a year, which nearly equals the industry's total annual growth rate. Senergy president Mark Tegen called Suppes' technology exciting and full of potential.

Tegen declined to provide specifics, but said Senergy is currently building a production facility in the southeast U.S. that will be fully operational by the end of the year. He said the company's initial goal, prior to full production, is to develop a working prototype capable of outputting at least 60 million pounds of propylene glycol, which also can be used as aircraft de-icing fluid and an additive in personal care products and laundry detergent.

Currently, about a billion pounds of propylene glycol are produced annually. Although others also are involved with propylene glycol research and production, Suppes said his process works at a lower pressure and temperature than the other groups and creates a higher yield.

As a result of his work, Suppes recently earned one of the Environmental Protection Agency's top honors - the 2006 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award. Accompanied by MU colleagues who assisted with the research, Suppes received the award June 26 in Washington, D.C. He was one of six recipients, winning in the agency's academic category. The other four winners were manufacturing companies. Each year, the EPA recognizes individuals and organizations whose research promotes alternatives to pollution and waste in manufacturing.

"This technology met the criteria for that award in multiple ways," Suppes said. "It uses a renewable process instead of petroleum. It's a clean process and a great opportunity for researchers and soybean farmers to start replacing petroleum products with soybean products. It allows us to replace toxic materials with non-toxic materials."

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