“Corn belongs in the kitchen, not in biogas facilities” – objections like this can be heard more and more frequently. They are protesting against the fermentation of foodstuffs in biogas plants that generate electricity and heat.
One thing the opponents are afraid of is that generating electricity in this way will cause food prices to escalate. In collaboration with several small and medium-sized enterprises, research scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS in Dresden have developed the first-ever biogas plant that works entirely without edible raw materials.
“In our pilot plant, we exclusively use agricultural waste such as corn stalks – that is, the corn plants without the cobs. This allows us to generate 30 percent more biogas than in conventional facilities,” says IKTS head of department Dr. Michael Stelter. Until now, biogas plants have only been able to process a certain proportion of waste material, as this tends to be more difficult to convert into biogas than pure cereal crops or corn, for instance.
This is not the only advantage: The time for which the decomposing waste material, or silage, is stored in the plant can be reduced by 50 to 70 percent. Biomass is usually kept in the fermenter, building up biogas, for 80 days. Thanks to the right kind of pre-treatment, this only takes about 30 days in the new plant. “Corn stalks contain cellulose which cannot be directly fermented. But in our plant, the cellulose is broken down by enzymes before the silage ferments,” Stelter explains.
The researchers have also optimized the conversion of biogas into electricity. They divert the gas into a high-temperature fuel cell with an electrical efficiency of 40 to 55 percent. By comparison, the gas engine normally used for this purpose only achieves an average efficiency of 38 percent. What is more, the fuel cell operates at 850 degrees Celsius. The heat can be used directly for heating or fed into the district heating network. If the electrical and thermal efficiency are added up, the fuel cell has an overall efficiency of up to 85 percent.
The overall efficiency of the combustion engine is usually around 38 percent because its heat is very difficult to harness. The researchers have already built a pilot plant with an electricity output of 1.5 kilowatts, enough to cover the needs of a family home. The researchers will present the concept of the biogas plant at the Hannover-Messe on April 20 to 24 (Hall 13, Stand E20). In the next phases of the project, the scientists and their industrial partners plan to gradually scale up the biogas plant to two megawatts.
Dr. Michael Stelter | EurekAlert!
Producing electricity during flight
20.09.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
Solar-to-fuel system recycles CO2 to make ethanol and ethylene
19.09.2017 | DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
22.09.2017 | Life Sciences
22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering
22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy