Jul 082010

(Image: Rakesh Agrawal, Purdue University School of Chemical Engineering)Biofuels are seen as a more environmentally friendly fuel source than petroleum-based fuels, but transporting the bulky biomass used to produce them is expensive because of their volume. It’s much more economical to transport the liquid fuel after it has been processed but this isn’t possible if the processing facilities are located far from the source of the biomass. A new method to process agricultural waste and other biomass could enable the creation of mobile processing plants that would rove the Midwest to produce fuels where the biomass is sourced.

“Material like corn stover and wood chips has low energy density,” says Rakesh Agrawal, the Winthrop E. Stone Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at Purdue University. “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 developed by chemical engineers at Purdue is called fast-hydropyrolysis-hydrodeoxygenation, which they have shortened to H2Bioil – pronounced H Two Bio Oil. It 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, its creators envision the future use of solar power to produce the hydrogen by splitting water, making the new technology entirely renewable.

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