Just like famous bank robber Willie Sutton, who supposedly once said he robbed banks “because that’s where the money is“, a new mobile biofuel process being developed by Purdue University would go to where the biomass is. Current biofuel processes rely on transporting bulky biomass to the biofuel plant – which is a very expensive step. The Purdue method envisions mobile biofuel processing plants that would roam the Midwest to produce biofuel wherever there is agricultural waste and other biomass. Transporting the new created biofuel to where its needed (or even using the biofuel on site) is much cheaper than transporting the biomass to a central location.
Purdue’s new method, called fast-hydropyrolysis-hydrodeoxygenation, or H2Bioil for short, works by adding hydrogen to the biofuel reactor. For the mobile reactor, the hydrogen would be generated from either natural gas or the biomass itself, but Purdue Professor Rakesh Agrawal wants to eventually use solar power to generate the hydrogen from water, which would make the new technology totally renewable.
“Material like corn stover and wood chips has low energy density,” Agrawal said. “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. What’s important is that you can process all kinds of available biomass — wood chips, switch grass, corn stover, rice husks, wheat straw …”
Agrawal, along with Professors Fabio H. Ribeiro and W. Nicholas Delgass are currently developing reactors to demonstrate their concept. Funding for the research is being provided by the US Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the US Air Force.