New biofuels processing method for mobile facilities

Posted on 07/12/2010 at 12:00 AM by Christa Hartsook

 Chemical engineers at Purdue University have developed a new method to process agricultural waste and other biomass into biofuels, and they are proposing the creation of mobile processing plants that would rove the Midwest to produce the fuels.

 "What's important is that you can process all kinds of available biomass  -- wood chips, switch grass, corn stover, rice husks, wheat straw …," said Rakesh Agrawal, the Winthrop E. Stone Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering.

The approach sidesteps a fundamental economic hurdle in biofuels: Transporting biomass is expensive because of its bulk volume, whereas liquid fuel from biomass is far more economical to transport, he said.

"Material like corn stover and wood chips has low energy density," Agrawal said. "It makes more sense to process biomass into liquid fuel with a mobile platform and then take this fuel to a central refinery for further processing before using it in internal combustion engines."

The new method, called fast-hydropyrolysis-hydrodeoxygenation, works by adding hydrogen into the biomass-processing reactor. The hydrogen for the mobile plants would be derived from natural gas or the biomass itself. However, Agrawal envisions the future use of solar power to produce the hydrogen by splitting water, making the new technology entirely renewable.

The method, which has the shortened moniker of H2Bioil -- pronounced H Two Bio Oil -- has been studied extensively through modeling, and experiments are under way at Purdue to validate the concept.

Findings are detailed in a research paper appearing online in June in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The paper was written by former chemical engineering doctoral student Navneet R. Singh, Agrawal, chemical engineering professor Fabio H. Ribeiro and W. Nicholas Delgass, the Maxine Spencer Nichols Professor of Chemical Engineering.

The article can be accessed online at http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es100316z .
 

Categories: Renewable Energy