In Delaware, a University of Delaware start-up company, called RiKarbon, Inc., is combining plant scraps and natural oils, through chemistry, to engineer a bio-based oil that can be used as a renewable alternative to typical petroleum-based resources used in everything from popular skin lotions and sunscreens to lubricants for shipping, agriculture, food processing and hydropower production, among other things.
The eco-friendly oil is made from approximately 50 percent biomass, such as grasses, corn husks and wood chips, and 50 percent common cooking oil, such as vegetable or coconut oil.
At RiKarbon — which means revolutionizing the carbon — the research team combines carbon molecules from natural oils, such as vegetable or coconut oil, with those from plant material, known scientifically as lignocellulosic biomass, from corn husks, grasses or trees through an energy efficient reaction to create larger molecules. The researchers use novel catalysts to accelerate chemical reactions that allow them to stitch the available carbon from these molecules together and use it for something new, in this case, the renewable oil.
The physical product looks like water but it is actually a viscous oil that mixes easily with other additives, providing an advantage over petroleum-based oils. The process RiKarbon has developed is flexible, too, enabling renewable oils with distinctly different structures and properties to meet a wide-range of specifications.
The team recently received $150,000 in funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program–Department of Energy, an injection that will enable the team to work on developing environmentally acceptable lubricants for hydropower, a low-carbon source of electricity production.