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Converting palm oil waste into sustainable energy

Colombia’s densely populated cities are some of the most polluted in Latin America. Rapid urbanisation and reliance on fossil fuels is damaging the environment, contributing to climate change and negatively affecting the health of urban communities. However, as the leading producer of palm oil in Latin America, Colombia also has the potential for a successful bioenergy sector.

A team of researchers from Colombia and the UK are working together to turn waste biomass from palm tree residues into sustainable energy solutions that reduce pollution and help drive social and economic development. When palm oil is extracted from the palm fruit bunches, the empty fruit bunches are often left in the fields to decay and used as a cheap fertiliser. However, this raw material has huge potential to create new bio-based products.

With support from the British Council and Colciencias under the Newton Fund, the researchers are examining how the residue biomass of the empty fruit bunches could be used to create clean energy such as batteries to power electric vehicles and biofuels. They have produced bioethanol, lactic acid and furfural – excellent precursors for liquid fuels – and they also used carbon materials from the residue biomass as electrodes in supercapacitors and batteries.

The researchers hope that collaborations with industrial partners such as Tronex, a battery manufacturer, will help them to develop the technology and build the next generation of sustainable and clean energy in Colombia. If successful the project will boost the economy and wellbeing of rural communities, advance Colombia’s bioeconomy and reduce dependency on fossil fuels in the transport sector.

"We’re excited to work with Professor Titirici and Professor Lopez on this exciting UK-Colombia project and support them towards the commercialisation of the devices." 

Felipe Gutierrez, Head of Engineering, Tronex Battery Pack


Sustainable products from biomass

Project leads: Professor Magdalena Titirici, Queen Mary University of London and Professor Diana Lopez, University of Antioquia

Delivery partners: British Council and Colciencias - the Administrative Department of Science, Technology and Innovation