Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New Biofuel Process May Change Chemical Industry

22.04.2010
A new method of converting biomass feedstock into sustainable fuel developed by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and University of Minnesota has the potential to have a profound effect on the chemical industry.

The “gasification” process developed by this team of researchers not only greatly reduces greenhouse gas emissions, but doubles the amount of fuel that can be made from an acre of biomass feedstock, says Paul J. Dauenhauer of the UMass Amherst chemical engineering department.

Dauenhauer explained the new process in a recent story in Technology Review, published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He says using the new approach, researchers gasify biomass in the presence of precisely controlled amounts of carbon dioxide and methane in a special catalytic reactor they have developed. The result is that all the carbon in both the biomass and the methane is converted to carbon monoxide.

He says applying this new technique allows the researchers to use 100 percent of the carbon in that biomass for making biofuels. That doubles the proportion of fuel-producing carbon produced by a conventional gasification process done in one reactor while converting biomass to biofuels.

The new method, when perfected in as few as two years, would be a major step forward in the quest for a production-ready process to convert biomass to biofuel, Dauenhauer says. His colleagues at Minnesota are Professor Aditya Bhan and Regents Professor Lanny Schmidt.

Dauenhauer explains that currently, biomass can be converted to fuels by gasification, which uses high temperatures to break feedstock down into carbon monoxide and hydrogen, which can then be made into various fuels, including hydrocarbons. But there’s a major drawback – about half of the carbon in the biomass gets converted to carbon dioxide rather than into carbon monoxide, a precursor for fuels. The question for Dauenhauer and the research team was how to improve that technology. One of the ways is to control the “breakdown environment.”

To increase the yields from gasification, the researchers add carbon dioxide, which promotes a well-known reaction: the carbon dioxide combines with hydrogen to produce water and carbon monoxide. But adding carbon dioxide isn’t enough to convert all of the carbon in biomass into carbon monoxide instead of carbon dioxide. It’s also necessary to add hydrogen, which helps in part by providing the energy needed to drive the reactions. The new gasification process uses methane, the main component of cheap and available natural gas, to generate the hydrogen within the reactor. While it has long been possible to do each of these steps in separate chemical reactors, the researchers’ innovation was to find a way to combine all of these reactions in a single reactor, the key to making the process affordable, Dauenhaer says.

It could be especially profound considering the high stakes. “Our ability to provide fuels and chemicals in a sustainable manner for future generations presents the largest global challenge for reaction engineering in the 21st century,” says Dauenhauer.

A commercial version of the process could be set up near an existing natural gas power plant, which would provide ready access to methane and carbon dioxide. But, as the Technology Review notes, the process isn’t yet ready for commercialization. The researchers will need to demonstrate that it works with biomass, not just with cellulose derived from biomass. Biomass contains various contaminants not found in pure cellulose. Those contaminants could have a negative effect on the catalyst, and this could make it necessary to reengineer the reactor. And there could be challenges scaling up the process, including ensuring that heat moves through the reactor the same way it does on a small scale.

Dauenhauer notes that those challenges are minor compared to what his research team has already overcome: “If you have an industrial facility developing this process, I believe it could be brought to market within a couple of years.”

Paul J. Dauenhauer | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.umass.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht When Air is in Short Supply - Shedding light on plant stress reactions when oxygen runs short
23.03.2017 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie

nachricht WPI team grows heart tissue on spinach leaves
23.03.2017 | Worcester Polytechnic Institute

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

When Air is in Short Supply - Shedding light on plant stress reactions when oxygen runs short

23.03.2017 | Life Sciences

Researchers use light to remotely control curvature of plastics

23.03.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Sea ice extent sinks to record lows at both poles

23.03.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>