Researchers propose movable biofuel center

July 8, 2010 at 4:37 PM

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., July 8 (UPI) -- If agricultural waste can't go to a biofuel processing center, then the processing center should go to the agricultural waste, U.S. researchers theorized.

Researchers at Purdue University propose creating mobile processing plants that would roam the Midwest to produce biofuels using a technique called fast-hydropyrolysis-hydrodeoxygenation, the West Lafayette, Ind., university said this week in a release.

Researchers said biomass and hydrogen would be fed into a high-pressure reactor and subjected to extremely fast heating, rising to as hot as 900 degrees F in less than a second in the biofuel process.

"What's important is that you can process all kinds of available biomass -- wood chips, switch grass, corn stover, rice husks, wheat straw," said Rakesh Agrawal, the Winthrop E. Stone distinguished professor of chemical engineering.

Hydrogen for the mobile plants would be derived from natural gas or the biomass itself, researchers said. However, Agrawal said he can see solar power eventually being used to produce hydrogen by splitting water, making the new technology entirely renewable.

Agrawal and other researchers said the new method would produce nearly twice as much biofuel as current technologies when hydrogen is derived from natural gas, and one-and-a-half times the liquid fuel when hydrogen is derived from the biomass itself.

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