Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Iowa State Researchers Double Down on Heat to Break Up Cellulose, Produce Fuels and Power

24.10.2012
Nicholas Creager recently pointed to the nuts and bolts of one of Iowa State University’s latest biofuel machines.

The 6-inch diameter, stainless steel pipe is the pressure vessel, which is essential for the system’s operation, said Creager, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering and biorenewable resources and technology. It’s a little over three feet long and about a foot across. It can contain pressures up to 700 pounds per square inch.

Then Creager picked up a dark gray pipe that’s a few inches across, is wrapped in insulation and fits inside the pressure vessel. It’s the system’s reactor. It’s made of silicon carbide and can operate at temperatures exceeding 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

Next was a finger-sized nozzle that mixes bio-oil with oxygen and sprays it into the top of the reactor.

Add a bunch of toggle switches, electronics, pipes, a sturdy frame and some very thick bolts and you have a bio-oil gasifier. It will allow Iowa State researchers to combine two thermochemical technologies to produce the next generation of fuels from renewable resources such as corn stalks and wood chips.

First, biomass is fed into a fast pyrolysis machine where it’s quickly heated without oxygen. The end product is a thick, brown oil that can be divided and further processed into fuels. Researchers sometimes describe bio-oil as densified biomass that’s much easier to handle and transport than raw biomass.

Second, the bio-oil is sprayed into the top of the gasifier where heat and pressure vaporize it to produce a combination of (mostly) hydrogen and carbon monoxide that’s called synthesis gas.

That gas can be processed into transportation fuels. It can also be used as boiler fuel to create the steam that turns turbines to produce electricity.

“We hope to be able to use cellulosic biomass as opposed to using corn grain for the production of fuels,” said Robert C. Brown, the director of Iowa State’s Bioeconomy Institute, an Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering and the Gary and Donna Hoover Chair in Mechanical Engineering. “This helps us move toward cellulosic biofuels.”

Brown said researchers have yet to perfect ways to biologically break down plant cellulose to get at the sugars that are converted to fuels. And so the Iowa State researchers are turning to nature’s solution.

“Nature uses high temperatures to quickly decompose biomass,” Brown said.

The bio-oil gasifier has been fully operational since June and has been converting bio-oil made from pine wood into synthesis gas. As the project moves beyond its startup phase, researchers will use bio-oil produced by Iowa State researchers and fast pyrolysis equipment.

The gasifier was built as part of a two-year, nearly $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Another three-year, $450,000 grant from the Iowa Energy Center will allow researchers to study and refine bio-oil gasification.

Song-Charng Kong, an associate professor of mechanical engineering who’s leading the latter project, will build a computer simulation model of bio-oil gasification. The model will take into account changes in temperature, pressure and biomass. It will allow researchers to understand, predict and ultimately improve the gasification process.

The project will also develop a systems simulation tool that allows researchers to examine the technical, economic and big picture implications of bio-oil gasification. And finally, the project will develop a virtual reality model of a full-size plant that will allow researchers to see, study and improve a plant before construction crews are ever hired.

“The physics and chemistry will be behind all these models and images,” Kong said. “This is a very new area to study. We can use these models as a tool to understand what will happen as this technology is scaled up.”

Contributing to the systems and virtual reality models are Guiping Hu, an assistant professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering, and Eliot Winer, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and associate director of the Virtual Reality Applications Center.

The ultimate goal of all the modeling and testing is to develop a new biorenewables landscape for Iowa and the country. The Iowa State idea calls for biomass to be transported to small, local fast pyrolysis plants that would convert crop biomass into liquid bio-oil. The bio-oil would be easily transported to bigger, regional facilities where it could be gasified and processed into transportation and boiler fuels.

One place to start building that vision is the high bay facility on the north side of Iowa State’s Biorenewables Research Laboratory. On a recent morning, Creager was there putting the bio-oil gasifier back together after completing some gasification trials. He planned to run the gasifier at higher pressures later that week, which is required for efficient fuel synthesis.

Once the machine is fully tested and operating at full speed, Creager said it could continuously gasify nearly 4.5 pounds of bio-oil an hour.

That’s enough to help researchers understand how the technology could one day contribute to an advanced bioeconomy.

Robert C. Brown, Bioeconomy Institute, Mechanical Engineering, (515) 294-7934, rcbrown3@iastate.edu

Song-Charng Kong, Mechanical Engineering, 515-294-3244, kong@iastate.edu
Nicholas Creager, Mechanical Engineering, Biorenewable Resources and Technology, 319-931-6316, creager@iastate.edu

Mike Krapfl, News Service, 515-294-4917, mkrapfl@iastate.edu

Mike Krapfl | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.iastate.edu

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Multiregional brain on a chip
16.01.2017 | Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

nachricht Researchers develop environmentally friendly soy air filter
16.01.2017 | Washington State University

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

Im Focus: Bacterial Pac Man molecule snaps at sugar

Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.

The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Satellite-based Laser Measurement Technology against Climate Change

17.01.2017 | Machine Engineering

Studying fundamental particles in materials

17.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Multiregional brain on a chip

16.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>