Thursday, July 08, 2010

Top Quality Fuels from Biomass -- Taking it to the Harvest

Scientists are learning to grow greater yields of biomass on soils once thought unfit for crops. And now, biomass can become fuel of the highest quality, using a new Purdue process. Further, the biomass can be processed on-site using portable processing, eliminating the need to ship the biomass to a central processing plant.
Chemical engineers at Purdue University have developed a new method to process agricultural waste and other biomass into biofuels, and they are proposing the creation of mobile processing plants that would rove the Midwest to produce the fuels.

" can process all kinds of available biomass -- wood chips, switch grass, corn stover, rice husks, wheat straw …," said Rakesh Agrawal, the Winthrop E. Stone Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering.

The approach sidesteps a fundamental economic hurdle in biofuels: Transporting biomass is expensive because of its bulk volume, whereas liquid fuel from biomass is far more economical to transport, he said.

"Material like corn stover and wood chips has low energy density," Agrawal said. "It makes more sense to process biomass into liquid fuel with a mobile platform and then take this fuel to a central refinery for further processing before using it in internal combustion engines."

The new method, called fast-hydropyrolysis-hydrodeoxygenation, works by adding hydrogen into the biomass-processing reactor. The hydrogen for the mobile plants would be derived from natural gas or the biomass itself. However, Agrawal envisions the future use of solar power to produce the hydrogen by splitting water, making the new technology entirely renewable.

...Findings are detailed in a research paper appearing online in June in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The paper was written by former chemical engineering doctoral student Navneet R. Singh, Agrawal, chemical engineering professor Fabio H. Ribeiro and W. Nicholas Delgass, the Maxine Spencer Nichols Professor of Chemical Engineering.
The article can be accessed online at _Physorg
There is essentially no limit to the growth of biomass, except for chemical feedstocks such as CO2 -- which is quite scarce in the atmosphere, only 0.04%. As we learn to grow biomass on ever more marginal soils, and in saltwater seas, previous "limits" to biomass will become laughable.

Now, with small, portable processing units and biorefineries which can go to the crop wherever it may be, more and more of the "disadvantages of biomass" are falling by the wayside.

Biofuels, bio-chemicals, bio-plastics, bio-feeds, etc. will never achieve the magnitude or density of power achievable with nuclear energy. But that is comparing apples to oranges. Nuclear energy cannot give us hydrocarbon based chemicals, fuels, feeds, plastics, etc etc which we can get from biomass. We need both.

Obama Pelosi is determined to bankrupt coal companies, prohibit most domestic oil and gas drilling, and make it impossible to utilise Canadian oil sands. Neither is Obama Pelosi making it easier to build new nuclear plants that are desperately needed. The regime's policy appears to be one of deliberate energy starvation. The underlying motive is uncertain, but appears to be complex and multi-focused.

In such an energy-antagonistic environment, domestic energy production is forced to to smaller-scale, and distributed on a local and regional basis. Of course, when domestic energy is spurned and oppressed by government, most energy will be imported.



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