Wood Residues With Fire Risk In Biofuel

November 3, 2021

Teams from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Sandia National Laboratories have collaborated in the development of an agile and efficient process to convert woody plant matter, such as excessive growth from forests and agricultural residues, into liquid biofuel. which is currently being burned intentionally or not. His research has recently been published in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering.

“According to a recent report, by 2050 there will be 38 million metric tons of dry woody biomass available each year, making it an exceptionally abundant carbon source for biofuel production,” says Carolina Barcelos, senior process engineer at the Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts Process Development Unit (ABPDU) of the Berkeley Laboratory.

However, efforts to convert woody biomass into biofuel are often hampered by the intrinsic properties of wood, which make it very difficult to break down chemically, added ABPDU research scientist Eric Sundstrom. “Our two studies detail a low-cost conversion pathway for biomass sources that would otherwise burn in the field or in log piles, or increase the risk and severity of seasonal wildfires. We have the ability to transform these renewable sources of carbon from air pollution and fire hazards into a sustainable fuel. ”

In a study led by Barcelos and Sundstrom, scientists used non-toxic chemicals, commercially available enzymes, and a specially designed yeast strain to convert wood to ethanol in a single reactor, or “pot.” In addition, a subsequent technological and economic analysis helped the team identify the improvements needed to achieve ethanol production at $ 3 per gallon of gasoline equivalent (GGE) through this conversion pathway. This work is the first integral process for the production of ethanol from woody biomass that presents a high conversion efficiency and a simple configuration of a single pot. (As any cook knows, single pot recipes are always easier than multi-pot recipes, and in this case, it also means less use of water and energy.)

In a companion study, led by John Gladden and Lalitendu Das at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), a team perfected the single-pot process so that it could convert California’s woody biomass – such as the remains of pine, almond, walnut, and firs – with the same level of efficiency as existing methods used to convert herbaceous biomass, even when the input is a mixture of different types of wood.

“By extracting woody biomass from forests, such as overexploited pines in the Sierra, and agricultural areas, such as almond orchards in the Central Valley of California, we can tackle multiple problems at once: the disastrous wildfires in the fire prone states, air pollution risks from controlled burning of crop residues and our dependence on fossil fuels, ”said Das, a postdoctoral fellow at JBEI and Sandia. “In addition, we would significantly reduce the amount of carbon added to the atmosphere and create new jobs in the bioenergy industry.”

Ethanol is already used as an emissions-reducing additive in conventional gasoline, which typically makes up about 10% of the gasoline we pump into our cars and trucks. Some specialty vehicles are designed to run on fuel with higher ethanol compositions, up to 83%. In addition, ethanol generated from plant biomass can be used as an ingredient to make more complex fuels for diesel and aircraft, which are helping to decarbonize the difficult-to-electrify aviation and freight sectors. Today, the most common source of bio-based ethanol is corn kernels, a starchy material that is much easier to break down chemically, but requires land, water, and other resources to produce.

These studies indicate that woody biomass can be efficiently broken down into advanced biofuels in an integrated process that is cost competitive with starch-based corn ethanol. These technologies can also be used to produce ‘drop-in’ biofuels, chemically identical to compounds already present in gasoline and diesel.

The next steps in this effort are to develop, design and deploy the technology on a pilot scale, which is defined as a process that converts one ton of biomass per day. Teams at the Berkeley Laboratory are working with Aemetis, a Bay Area-based advanced renewable fuels and biochemistry company, to commercialize the technology and launch it on a larger scale once the pilot phase is complete.

Dr. Loony Davis5
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Born and raised in Brussels in an English family, I have always lived in a multicultural environment. After several work experiences in marketing and communication, I came to Smart Water Magazine, which I describe as the most exciting challenge of my career.
I am a person with great restlessness and curiosity to learn, discover what I do not know, as well as reinvent myself daily, someone who is curious about life and wants to know. I enjoy sharing knowledge.
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