Saturday, September 1, 2007

Using Biomass for Biodiesel

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin (my alma mater) are working on a process to produce diesel fuel directly from the cellulose and hemicellulose (carbohydrates) that make up 70-75% of a plants dry weight, rather than from just the seeds. They have developed a reforming process, Aqueous Phase Dehydratiocn/Hydrogenation (APD/H), to convert the cellulosic materials to the long-chain hydrocarbons that constitute diesel fuel.

...First, a stream of processed biomass consisting of water and sugars is fed over a nickel-tin catalyst to strip off some of its hydrogen atoms.

...The UW process, if research proceeds as planned, would be of as much or more significance than the recently developed enzymes that can convert the cellulosic materials in biomass to sugars, allowing production of ethanol from virtually any plant material.... I disagree with the UW in the amount of energy created in the ethanol process, the NEV is more like 1.3 to 1.4 in a modern ethanol plant, with even higher values expected using enzymes.

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