Monday, February 15, 2010

Fast Pyrolysis Wood-to-Oil

Pyrolysis is the heating (usually above 800 F) of organic materials in the absence of oxygen.   Final products include pyrolysis gases, pyrolysis oils, and bio-char.  Fast pyrolysis to maximise the quantity of useful pyrolysis oils is an area of frantic and competitive research worldwide.  Wood is a good feedstock for converting to pyrolysis oils, and a similar worldwide search is on for the best means of providing woody feedstocks to pyrolysis and gasification plants for conversion to fuels and energy.
A major objective: an end-to-end system, based on fast pyrolysis, that would produce 1/3 renewable gasoline, 1/3 renewable diesel and 1/3 renewable jet fuel from Mississippi’s trees and waste forest biomass.
Working with an named early-stage renewable fuels developer based in Mississippi, the SERC group is now commencing development of a 10,000 square foot pilot facility that will test out the process they have been perfecting in the lab. Development of the facility, under a team led by SERC professor Phil Steele, could be finished within a year. Along with Envergent — a joint venture of UOP and Ensyn — and Dynamotive, the SERC project is at the forefront of a remarkable resurgence of pyrolysis over the past few years as an advanced biofuels processing technology aimed at drop-in renewable fuels. SERC’s advantages — high yield and an end-to-end process for creating biooil from forest products via pyrolysis, then upgrading bio-oil to drop-in renewable fuels via hydroprocessing to add more hydrogen.__BiofuelsDigest
In fact, improved methods of creating fuels and energy from wood may be the salvation of forestry industries across North America.

Pyrolysis and gasification are the two foundational thermal kick-starters for making biofuels from biomass. Both approaches are improving with innovation and experimentation around the world, at universities, within industry, and in personal workshops and on the village commons.

Microbial biofuels will eventually overtake and surpass thermal methods -- given the improved efficiencies of well-catalysed low temperature chemical processes.  But if you want an approach to advanced biofuels that works now, and will get better quickly, look to the thermal approaches.  They have the potential to be extremely scalable to meet local and regional needs.

Note to readers:  Some readers may wonder why we promote biofuels at the same time as we call for cleaner and freer uses for fossil fuels -- particularly the unconventionals such as oil shales, oil sands, heavy oils, coal to liquids, and gas to liquids.  The answer is simple.  Biofuels feedstocks can be grown over almost the entire surface of the Earth and oceans, whereas fossil fuels are found only in specific locations and must often be transported long distances for processing and use.  Although plentiful, fossil fuels are finite, whereas biomass will be grown until the sun dims or we run out of CO2.   Acquiring fossil fuels often involves huge expense, great danger, and damage to land that must be repaired.  Growing biomass is what the world evolved to do.  It can always be done with minimal damage to the Earth, if done with deliberation and forethought.

We have to have both to maximise energy versatility and choice.  For electricity, advanced nuclear reactors are the clear choice.  Migrating from coal plants to advanced nuclear should be done as soon as it can be done economically and safely.  There are better uses for coal than to do something that brute-force fission can do more cleanly.



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