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Iowa State University Grad Student Innovates on Biofuel Technology

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An Iowa State University mechanical engineering graduate research assistant is working to change the future of biofuel technology. The graduate student, Nicholas Creager, prototyped a gasifer, combining elements from both gasification and fast pyrolysis to produce transportation fuels.

The gasifer is a complicated two-step process, and Creager and his colleagues are busy focusing on the first step, which involves the conversion of bio-oil into synthesis gas, otherwise known as syngas. The second step involves synthesizing the resulting product into actual transportation fuel.

Biomass feedstock such as corn stover, which is the leaves and stalks of maize, corn cobs, or wood chips are used during gasification, and the feedstock is exposed to extremely high temperatures (700 C or greater). Syngas is produced by adding controlled amounts of oxygen and steam to the feedstock.

Conversely, fast pyrolysis exposes feedstock to very brief amounts of extreme heat with no oxygen to produce bio-oil. Microbes, a typical catalyst, then convert the bio-oils into transportation fuels.

Creager’s gasifer combines both of these methods. His inspiration for the innovative gasifer derives from an ISU proposal submitted to the US Department of Energy which ultimately was awarded to the Chemistry department in 2009. The ISU-based Center for Sustainable Environmental Technologies is  responsible for developing and constructing the gasifer. Creager, who began the graduate program in 2009, joined the endeavor, and after years of painstaking research built the ISU gasifer in January 2012 and has been running tests since June 2012.

Creager and the ISU team hope to extrapolate their innovations in biofuel technology for commercial use.

[via Iowa State Daily]

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