Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gasification Begins to Hit Its Stride

Brian Westenhaus takes a look at advances in gasification science coming from Purdue University.
Gasifiers are reactors in which biomass, coal or other carbon rich substances are heated and flooded with steam, oxygen or both. Simply put, the heat decomposes the carbon-based molecules and the steam makes more hydrogen available for constructing the desired product coming out. Gasifiers are messy and difficult to control reactors with intense operational experience needed and constant supervision for optimal output. As Al Fin noted last week the sources for the heat can range from plasma to simple heating by fuels.

But what is actually happening in the gasifier? Answering this matter would offer a great deal of knowledge on designs, construction and operations. It would put solid scientific foundations into the synthetic fuel economy, which is not so far past the basic making of charcoal and saving back the exhaust gases in fuel forming. Gasifiers are already quite interesting and have some potential for making fuels economically now.

Jay Gore, the Reilly University Chair Professor of Combustion Engineering at Purdue said, “A major focus is to be able to produce a significant quantity of synthetic fuel for the U.S. air transportation system and to reduce our dependence on petroleum oil for transportation.” The research is part of work to develop a system for generating large quantities of synthetic fuel from agricultural wastes, other biomass or coal that would be turned into a gas using steam and then converted into a liquid fuel. _BrianWestenhaus
Projects are ongoing to convert a wide array of feedstocks into advanced fuels, electric power, and useful heat. The University of Wyoming, in conjunction with General Electric, is optimising gasification technology for the clean use of Wyoming's Powder River coal. Westinghouse plasma gasification technology is to be used in the conversion of municipal waste to electric power and heat in the American Midwest. The University of North Dakota is partnering with Cummins Power Generation to demonstrate the feasibility of using gasification to convert fuels such as "forestry, agricultural, and industrial biomass waste; animal waste; waste plastics; and railroad ties or cable poles, as well as a range of coals," to electric power and process heat.

Gasification is a brute force approach to converting cellulose and other carbonaceous materials into useful power, fuels, and heat. But it works, and it works now. The challenge is to increase efficiencies and yields so as to maximise profits. That is the only way for the approach to become sustainable over the long term.



Blogger Jim said...

wait until the folks that make rockets (aka - rocket scientists) get involved in making gasifiers - there's a lot of overlap in the technological know-how. It seems to me that the aerospace/defense companies are substantially bigger/better at advanced R&D, and they are starting to make strategic bets on energy in the future, because that's where complex problems need solving... check it out:


3:23 PM  

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