Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Iowa State hybrid lab combines technologies to make biorenewable fuels and products

20.06.2011
Laura Jarboe pointed to a collection of test tubes in her Iowa State University laboratory.

Some of the tubes looked like they were holding very weak coffee. That meant microorganisms – in this case, Shewanella bacteria – were growing and biochemically converting sugars into hydrocarbons, said Jarboe, an Iowa State assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering.

Some of the sugars in those test tubes were produced by the fast pyrolysis of biomass. That's a thermochemical process that quickly heats biomass (such as corn stalks and leaves) in the absence of oxygen to produce a liquid product known as bio-oil and a solid product called biochar. The bio-oil can be used to manufacture fuels and chemicals; the biochar can be used to enrich soil and remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Iowa State's Hybrid Processing Laboratory on the first floor of the new, state-built Biorenewables Research Laboratory is all about encouraging that unique mix of biochemical and thermochemical technologies. The goal is for biologists and engineers to use the lab's incubators, reactors, gas chromatography instruments and anaerobic chambers to find new and better ways to produce biorenewable fuels and chemicals.

"Biological processes occur well below the boiling point of water, while thermal processes are usually performed hundreds of degrees higher, which makes it hard to imagine how these processes can be combined," said Robert C. Brown, an Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering, the Gary and Donna Hoover Chair in Mechanical Engineering, and the Iowa Farm Bureau Director of Iowa State's Bioeconomy Institute.

"In fact, these differences in operating regimes represent one of the major advantages of hybrid processing," Brown said. "High temperatures readily break down biomass to substrates that can be fermented to desirable products."

Jarboe's research is one example. She's trying to develop bacteria that can grow and thrive in the chemicals and compounds that make up bio-oil. That way, they can ferment the sugars from bio-oil with greater efficiency and produce more biorenewable fuels or chemicals.

Another example of mixing the biochemical with the thermochemical is the work of Zhiyou Wen, an associate professor of food science and human nutrition, and Yanwen Shen, a doctoral student in his research group.

They're working to break down a bottleneck in the fermentation of synthesis gas – a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen that's produced by the partial combustion of biomass in a gasifier. The fermentation process slows when researchers dissolve the gas into a liquid that can be used by microorganisms to produce biofuels. They're looking for bioreactor technologies that boost the mass transfer of the synthesis gas without adding energy costs.

A third example is the work of DongWon Choi, a former doctoral student and post-doctoral research associate at Iowa State who's now an assistant professor of biological and environmental sciences at Texas A&M University Commerce. He continues to collaborate in the hybrid lab by working with microalgae that convert carbon dioxide into oil that can be used to produce biofuels.

That oil is currently harvested with solvents or mechanical presses. Both processes produce a lot of waste and the resulting waste management problems. Choi is using pyrolysis technology to heat the algae and convert it into jet and diesel fuels without the waste.

And the researchers say the hybrid lab's mix of people, technologies, equipment and ideas is beginning to show results.

"The hybrid lab provides enormous opportunities for performing biological-based processes for producing biofuel from thermochemically treated biomass," Wen said.

Yes, said Jarboe, "I think it is working well. This is a long process, but we're writing research proposals and papers. Everybody loves the idea of this hybrid approach. It has such a promising future; the challenge is in the collaboration."

The hybrid lab is starting to make the collaboration easier, though.

Brown said he's noticed the students who work in the hybrid lab seem to be comfortable crossing thermochemical and biochemical lines: "Just like children from different cultures often learn to communicate with one another more quickly than do their parents, graduate students seem to pick up cross disciplinary culture and language faster than their faculty advisers."

Robert C. Brown | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.iastate.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Nerves control the body’s bacterial community
26.09.2017 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

nachricht Ageless ears? Elderly barn owls do not become hard of hearing
26.09.2017 | Carl von Ossietzky-Universität Oldenburg

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: The fastest light-driven current source

Controlling electronic current is essential to modern electronics, as data and signals are transferred by streams of electrons which are controlled at high speed. Demands on transmission speeds are also increasing as technology develops. Scientists from the Chair of Laser Physics and the Chair of Applied Physics at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have succeeded in switching on a current with a desired direction in graphene using a single laser pulse within a femtosecond ¬¬ – a femtosecond corresponds to the millionth part of a billionth of a second. This is more than a thousand times faster compared to the most efficient transistors today.

Graphene is up to the job

Im Focus: LaserTAB: More efficient and precise contacts thanks to human-robot collaboration

At the productronica trade fair in Munich this November, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be presenting Laser-Based Tape-Automated Bonding, LaserTAB for short. The experts from Aachen will be demonstrating how new battery cells and power electronics can be micro-welded more efficiently and precisely than ever before thanks to new optics and robot support.

Fraunhofer ILT from Aachen relies on a clever combination of robotics and a laser scanner with new optics as well as process monitoring, which it has developed...

Im Focus: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

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

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

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...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Nerves control the body’s bacterial community

26.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Four elements make 2-D optical platform

26.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Goodbye, login. Hello, heart scan

26.09.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>