08 Aug
  • By James Evans

A scientific breakthrough that could reduce global waste and energy

A recent breakthrough by a scientific researcher at Queen’s University Belfast could help solve two global issues at the same time. The researcher, Ahmed Osmen, has found a way to convert dirty Aluminium foil (tin foil) into a biofuel catalyst. This could greatly help the global waste and energy problems.

The catalyst produced is a key ingredient in Biofuel production. This pioneering technique involves a crystallisation method to obtain pure aluminium salt crystals from used foil, these crystals can be used in the production of alumina biofuel catalyst.


(Queen’s University Belfast: ‘Ireland’s Oxbridge’ (Sunday Times 2015)

The breakthrough could also reduce the vast amounts of aluminium foil that is dumped in landfills every year. According to the University, roughly 20,000 tonnes of aluminium foil is wasted in the UK alone each year, which is enough to stretch to the moon and back. Most of this waste is sent to landfills or incinerators as the foil is often contaminated by grease and oil which means it cannot be recycled easily.

Mr Osman, who worked on the project as part of the university’s Sustainable Energy, Pioneering Research Programme, has found a solution that is more efficient, environmentally clean and is actually far cheaper than the commercial catalyst. Using his method, making the foil-derived catalyst costs about £120/kg while the commercial alumina catalyst comes in at around £305/kg.

That type of alumina usually comes from bauxite ore, which is mined in places such as West Africa, the West Indies and Australia, with major environmental consequences. The process of turning bauxite into aluminium is extremely energy intensive and requires vast amounts of electricity and water.


(Landfills are where most aluminium foil ends up)

Most Bauxite is strip mined which removes all vegetation from vast tracts of land. Smelting the ore requires a huge amount of electricity and often the burning of large amounts of coal. In many regions, the waste produced during this process is often just buried in landfills and seeps back into the water and soil around it.

The full extent of the research has been published in Nature’s scientific reports. This has the potential to revolutionize the biofuel industry and potentially make it a viable alternative to fossil fuels.



“A Facile Green Synthetic Route for the Preparation of Highly Active γ-Al2O3 from Aluminium Foil Waste” Ahmed I. Osman, Jehad K. Abu-Dahrieh, Mathew McLaren, Fathima Laffir, Peter Nockemann & David Rooney. Nature, Scientific Reports 7, 2017.https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-03839-x

“Queen’s researcher turning dirty tinfoil into biofuel catalyst” Engineers Journal, June 2017. http://www.engineersjournal.ie/2017/07/26/queens-researcher-turning-dirty-tinfoil-biofuel-catalyst/

“Soiled aluminium foil recycled into catalyst” Royal Society of Chemistry, Chemistry World News, June 2017. https://www.chemistryworld.com/news/soiled-aluminium-foil-recycled-into-catalyst/3007587.article

“What Aluminium Extraction Really Does to the Environment” Recycle Nation, 2010. https://recyclenation.com/2010/11/aluminum-extraction-recycling-environment/