Improving the Bioavailability of Fruit Wastes
Professor Jeon Byong-hun (Department of Earth Resources and Environmental Engineering)
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Professor Jeon Byong-hun of the Department of Earth Resources and Environmental Engineering has been studying and experimenting with the objective of increasing the bioavailability of food wastes through the process of biomass pretreatment, which is a part of the process of biofuel production. Specifically centralizing on the energy recovery of fruit peels and wastes, Jeon has successfully managed to increase the rate in which he derived the energy recovery from micro-algae to 46%. Considering that the record of deriving energy recovery from any types of biomass was 41%, he regards this result as a significant progress in increasing the bioavailability of biomass.
Biomass and pretreatment
Humans can take in food freely and absorb the nutrients through digestion, but microorganisms have a different means of doing so. Microorganisms must utilize organic matters and generate energy from them, which corresponds to the process of producing biofuel. In an aqueous solution, microorganisms make contact with organic matters and drag them inwards, meaning that the finer and more dispersed the organic matters are, the easier and more efficient a microorganism can derive energy from them. This gives rise to the concept of bioavailability, which plays an influential role in determining how much biofuel can be converted from organic matter to energy recovery. In other words, the form in which the organic matter is structured determines the bioavailability. In this context, the pretreatment of biomass can be a decisive step.
The form previously mentioned does not only come in the size of the organic matter but also in the type of the biomass. The three big categories of usable biomass are carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins. “Consider this example. When trying to formulate alcohol, which comes from carbohydrates, it would be optimal if the carbohydrate is uncombined with any other biomasses. If it is, then the microorganism will have less convenience in deriving energy from it- thus, decreasing bioavailability. It is only when the biomass is in the desired form that the microorganism will convert the most energy from the organic matter,” explained Jeon.
Jeon and his laboratory researchers have been ultimately seeking to turn a variety of different biomass into various forms of bioenergy. “Making use of biomass such as fruit wastes, micro-algae, and food rubbish to extract the maximum amount of bioenergy in forms of bio-gas, bio-alcohol, and biodiesel has been our goal,” remarked Jeon. In a broader sense, his research includes turning the three big categories of biomass—carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins—into the most productive and accessible bioenergy.
Bioenergy and its advantages
Jeon also shed light on the flexible versatility of bioenergy, putting emphasis on its convenience and portability. Unlike other forms of energy such as solar power, wind power or electricity, bioenergy is portable and storable. In the case of solar or wind power, the energy must be converted into forms of electricity and be put in a battery for storage and transportation. Electricity always necessitates cables, wires, and power transmission systems, whereas bioenergy is free from all these requirements. On the same note, petroleum, gas, and diesel could also be the most convenient forms of energy—satisfying both portability and storability—which is why it is being used worldwide.
Nonetheless, the reason Jeon still argues for bioenergy is because of its eco-friendly aspect. “Research and development of bioenergy is an indispensable task for humans. Our perpetual goal is to devise the method of producing bioenergy with stability, drawing the most from the limited, given biomass. We must find a way to obtain bioenergy with sustainability, converting carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins into sustainable biofuels,” concluded Jeon.
Jeon Chae-yun firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Moon Ha-na
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