DRI and university work on biomass conversion process

7/10/2008 - By: Greg Bortolin

Researchers from the Desert Research Institute and the University of Nevada, Reno are part of a $4.674 million study by Gas Technology Institute to economically convert any leafy or woody biomass into a uniform, densified feedstock that can be easily fed into any thermal gasifier or pyrolyzer for conversion into syngas, fuels and value-added chemicals.

“This work will directly address the nation’s high priority of increasing the supply of domestic and renewable energy by integrating advanced technology that improves the conversion of biomass into fuels and power,” said Sen. Harry Reid, who secured funding in an Energy and Water Appropriation for the project.

While a related project is focusing on biomass in the southeastern United States, DRI and the university will focus on biomass characteristics of Nevada and the West. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) these initiatives are focused on the development of biomass types into a single, uniform feedstock of similar consistency and character.

“One group at DRI is doing a resource assessment to determine the type and amount of biomass within Nevada; another group is characterizing products resulting from the pretreatment process,” said Kent Hoekman, who heads up DRI’s renewable energy program. “There are also chemical engineers from the university working with us to optimize the pretreatment conditions. One of the most exciting parts of this project is the eventual deployment of a small processing plant here in Nevada that will demonstrate the conversion of biomass to useful products.”

Experts note that reliable feeding systems must be engineered to accommodate different forms of biomass, a significant barrier that continues to hinder the global deployment of biomass-based energy production. Presently, some abundant biomass materials are not feasible energy feedstocks by virtue of the difficulty or cost of handling and preparing them for use.

Hoekman is the Principle Investigator (PI) of the study. Others participants from DRI include Alan Gertler, Amber Broch, Curtis Robbins, John Arnone, Paul Verburg, Tim Minor and Richard Jasoni. Participating from university are Chuck Coronella and Victor Vasquez. Another partnering organization is the Renewable Energy Institute International (REII) who will conduct a techno-economic analysis of different biomass-to-energy options in Nevada.


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