Biofuels in Action

As the demand for oil increases throughout the world, so does the demand for a new and more sustainable process to quench the world’s oil consumption. In addition to reducing CO2 emissions that are driving detrimental climate change and ozone layer destruction, the inevitable end of fossil fuels is coming sooner than most people realize. Experts theorize that we may run out of fossil fuels (that are economically feasible to recover) as soon as 2090. In order to develop a new, more sustainable technology, there is much research being completed on possible alternative energy sources; one of which is the field of biofuels, alternative transportation fuels that are made from agricultural crops and certain types of trees.

The AEE Biofuels team is working towards optimizing its plant in order to increase the yield of bio-oil from the reaction. The reactor is designed to thermochemically decompose a biomass at extremely high temperatures and in the absence of oxygen. This process is called fast pyrolysis. After collecting all condensable vapors, the liquid bio-oil formed can be catalytically upgraded to produce biofuel for transportation and other engine applications.

This “green” process has been proven to work in the past, so it has been adopted by the AEE Biofuels team with the goal to increase the overall efficiency and amount of bio-oil produced. The AEE Biofuels team is using biomass produced from Poplar trees. Our mission as a part of the AEE Biofuels team is contribute to the research being done in this aspect of the field and learn more about the process of fast pyrolysis.

Past pilot plant runs have produced a 35% bio-oil yield in comparison to literature which supports a theoretical production of 75% of bio-oil. The overarching goal of our team is to work towards a higher bio-oil yield.

Current objectives include: improving the heat transfer within the reactor by means of implementing a new heating design in both the gas preheating and reactor sections of our reactor, creating a metal replica in order to observe the effect of having the heater inside the reactor, and running the pilot plant again in order to confirm previous operating condition suggestions.