Gasifying Biomass with Sunlight  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

Tyler Hamilton has an article at Technology Review on a new process using concentrated solar thermal power to convert biomass to biofuel - Gasifying Biomass with Sunlight.

Sundrop Fuels, a startup based in Louisville, CO, says it has developed a cleaner and more efficient way to turn biomass into synthetic fuels by harnessing the intense heat of the sun to vaporize wood and crop waste. Its process can produce twice the amount of gasoline or diesel per ton of biomass compared to conventional biomass gasification systems, the company claims.

Gasification occurs when dry biomass or other carbon-based materials are heated to above 700 ÂșC in the presence of steam. At those temperatures, most of the biomass is converted to a synthetic gas. This "syngas" is made up of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which are the chemical building blocks for higher-value fuels such as methanol, ethanol, and gasoline.

But the heat required for this process usually comes from a portion of the biomass being gasified. "You end up burning 30 to 35 percent of the biomass," says Alan Weimer, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

A few years ago, Weimer and his research team began looking at ways of using concentrated solar heat to drive the gasification process. It worked so well that Weimer and Chris Perkins, the graduate student who came up with the idea, went on to cofound Copernican Energy to commercialize the approach. Copernican was acquired by Sundrop Fuels in 2008, and its solar-reactor technology is now at the heart of a 1.5-megawatt thermal solar gasification demonstration facility in Colorado.

2 comments

Anonymous   says 10:59 PM

Cconvert biomass to biofuel is interesting subject

Hard to believe this is an somewhat old practice in even Wisconsin farms (1800's).

AG and Animal farms utilize waste crop and or a combination of animal waste stream into 'slurry pools & piles' that collect passive heat from sun to accelerate natural break down. The organic breakdown produces heat and piped to barns, ponds and livestock and biogas for running generators, etc...

Lye helps in cold weather and acts as fertilizer for left over solids after breakdown.

Nothing is wasted...

'scale and localized use' is everything. In the bio-syngas projects I have watched in Wisconsin, there are huge environmental gains working with farmers and communities to bring in bio-waste and receive energy.

However, there is always a translation loss of heat that is generated in the process. And the more heat used to break down mass often equals much greater loss.

In traditional farm style passive breakdown this may be 5-10% heatloss and in scale manufacturing as high as 10-20%.
(Still VERY efficient compared to anything with a traditional combustion2stream process.)

I do like the idea of concentrating solar heat to lower this loss.

While I think 'syngas' application has good and applicable potential. Simple education of zero waste sustainable farms practices could have a massive impact on reducing 20-30% of 'real' global emissions. Not to mention the immediate 'life saving' results it would have on area drinking and well water.


But my hope is to always prove we can use ANY resources for energy if we properly balance its cost with its 'true sustainability'... but that would raise oil to $250 a barrel and coal four fold... and prove to even John Michael Greer that there are many solar options that are sustainable ;-)

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