Sustainable fuels throw up health concerns

This might lead to restrictions on the use of this form of biofuel as an alternative to fossil fuel, according to researchers from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

“With fossil fuel reserves dwindling, developing renewable alternative fuels is important,” postdoctoral fellow Dr Nicholas Surawski said.

“But we should be particularly careful to protect against unwanted respiratory illness when we adopt new transport fuels.”

The team is now looking at ways of cleaning up biofuel exhausts.

The team looked at a range of biodiesels made from soy, tallow and canola.

Using specialised analytical monitoring equipment developed at QUT, they discovered that burning diesel fuels with a high percentage of biodiesel (up to 80%) produced higher emissions of compounds linked to respiratory disease.

These biologically active compounds are called reactive oxygen species and form on the surface of small soot particles in the exhaust emissions. Reactive oxygen species can lead to the cell damage called oxidative stress which, over long periods of time, can progress to serious respiratory disease.

“This is a very important discovery,” Nicholas said. “Now we’ve identified a component of the emissions that causes the problem we can start to look for solutions.”

The research team, led by Professor Zoran Ristovski, is now focusing on understanding the way the reactive oxygen species in the emissions are generated, and on how to remove them.

This work is aimed at providing the transport industry with fuels that not only have a favourable environmental impact, but also that place a lesser burden on respiratory health.

The research was published in Environmental Science and Technology.

For further information contact:
Dr Nicholas Surawski (CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences) Mobile: 0433 015 603
Office: (02) 6246 4277 email: [email protected]
For Fresh Science, contact AJ Epstein on 0433 339 141 or [email protected] or Niall Byrne, 0417 131 977 or [email protected]
Media contact: Rose Trapnell, QUT media team leader, 07 3138 2361 or 0407 585 901 [email protected]