Renewable is the word on the lips of most energy researchers in the nation, as the industry seeks to find more efficient ways to generate energy from sustainable, non-fossil fuel sources.
According to a group of corporate and academic researchers, the next step may be deriving renewable fuel additives from an unlikely source: sawdust.
Researchers from the University of Florida, University of Massachusetts Lowell, University of Maine, and Mainstream Engineering Corporation in Florida recently received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to study how additives can be derived from sawdust and other wood waste products. These additives could then be used to replace some amounts of fossil fuels in both power generation and transportation.
As stated by one of the researchers, Professor Hunter Mack, the goal of the initiative is to “increase energy efficiency, reduce emissions, and identify other potential sustainable fuels and chemicals of the future.”
Their research won’t directly lead to replacing fossil fuels altogether, though. The goal is to offset as much traditional fuel as possible with cleaner biomass-derived versions. For example, instead of using 100% diesel, a vehicle would instead use some smaller amount of diesel in combination with the biofuel.
Woody biomass was chosen in large part due to the involvement of the University of Maine. Forestry is a predominant industry in Maine, and a lot of progress in the industry – both technologically and legislatively – has occurred in the state.
Wood-based biomass is also plentiful, to the point where using it means the project is more immediately viable than if it were to use other biomass fuel sources that aren’t as developed.
Additionally, using sawdust could provide paper mills and lumber mills with a new source of revenue through selling sawdust to biomass energy producers so it can be turned into fuel.
The grant for the research project is slated to last three years and pay for most of the $1.45 million total project cost.
Projects similar to this one are gaining momentum in terms of technological progress, discovery, and funding as governments seek to invest more into renewable energy. Biomass has become an attractive option due to how plentiful the fuel is and how relatively simple it is to adapt existing coal power plants to biomass in a coal-to-biomass conversion, or cofiring situation.
It remains to be seen if this particular project will have a significant impact, but the future looks bright for the research team and its lofty goals.
ProcessBarron engineers, constructs, and installs air, ash, and material handling equipment for biomass plants. Contact the team for more information.