Researchers turn biomass into energy

Nov. 6, 2008 at 2:05 PM
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RENO, Nev., Nov. 6 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they are testing the viability of converting leafy or woody biomass into a commercially feasible fuel product.

University of Nevada-Reno Associate Professors Charles Coronella and Victor Vasquez said they are working on the pretreatment portion of the biomass conversion process as part of a $4.6 million study funded by the Gas Technology Institute.

"Biomass produces a dirty gas if it's not pretreated," said Coronella. "The molecular composition of biomass is not ideal for gasification."

The scientists said the hydrothermal and dry heating processes produce a carbon-neutral black crumbly char, similar to coal, but with none of the problems of bad chemical compounds. The product is shaped and sized to behave more like coal, for use in existing processing equipment.

"There's a smarter way to use (biomass) fuels other than just burning it," Coronella added. "We are using two processes to pretreat the biomass before its conversion. One process is hydrothermal -- it uses hot pressurized water -- and the other is torrefaction, (which) uses hot nitrogen to, in effect, roast the biomass."

The principle Investigator of the study is Kent Hoekman, who directs the Desert Research Institute's renewable energy program.

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