From biofuel to wine, Dr. Kura Duba’s lab could have an impact

Dr. Kura Duba holds up liquids produced from his supercritical carbon dioxide extraction lab Monday, June 17, 2019, at the College of Engineering and Technology on the campus of East Carolina University. The process can have an impact on everything from making wine to creating biofuel.

From wine to cosmetics to biofuel, Dr. Kura Duba has an updated lab at East Carolina University that could impact them all.

Duba, an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering, showcased the supercritical carbon dioxide extraction lab to Dr. Harry Ploehn, dean of the College of Engineering and Technology, and other leaders with the college.

Duba explained that supercritical carbon dioxide — under high pressure and mild temperature — works as an excellent solvent in terms of the extraction process. Plus, it is less expensive, non-toxic and easier to work with than other traditional solvents, and it gets reused in the process.

“We capture all of the carbon dioxide and put it back into the system,” Duba said. “No carbon dioxide is ever leaving the building.”

He has partnered with Duplin Winery in Rose Hill to get the absolute most value out of grape seeds and skins. Not only are the grapes used to make wine, but potential exists to use what’s left of the grapes in the nutraceutical, cosmetics or pharmaceutical industries. For example, pigments and fragrances can be extracted from grape skins using supercritical carbon dioxide and reconstituted into the fermentation process to produce a more consistent color of wine, Duba said.

Dr. Kura Duba explains his supercritical carbondioxide extraction lab during a demonstration to faculty and staff of the College of Engineering and Technology on the campus of East Carolina University Monday, June 17, 2019.

Duba’s goal in his research is to use supercritical fluids for the separation and purification of bio-based products and byproducts from bio-botanical sources. He is also looking into upgrades of biocrude using a combination of conventional and supercritical fluid techniques.

For example, in his lab, he can extract oil from oilseeds to produce biodiesel and glycerol. The biodiesel could be used to power vehicles and help reduce the dependence on imported diesel, while the residual biomass could be further liquified to produce biocrude. Nothing would be wasted.

East Carolina student Samantha Augustine shows dried sunflower seeds that are used to produce oil and glycerol to faculty and staff at the College of Engineering and Technology. The oil could be used to produce biofuel, while the glycerol could be used in soap, for example. Dr. Kura Duba, at right, is working to improve the process of transesification to that biofuel can be produced more efficiently.

In theory, one day all vehicles at ECU could be powered by biodiesel produced by a less expensive process developed in Duba’s lab, with those driving those vehicles washing their hands with glycerin soap produced by the same process.

“Our aim is perfecting the process, perfecting the system,” Duba said.

Duba continues to work on grant funding as well as partnerships in eastern North Carolina for the research.

-By Ken Buday, University Communications