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Researchers at RTI International, North Carolina State University and the University of Utah are seeking to scale up proven laboratory technology that they believe will produce low-cost ethanol fuel through the gasification of biomass and other organic waste products.The project, funded by a $2 million cost-shared contract with the U.S. Department of Energy, seeks to develop non-food-based ethanol that costs less than $1.10 per gallon produced from lignocellulosic biomass feedstocks. Current ethanol produced from corn costs more than $2 per gallon.

“We have already proven the technical feasibility in the laboratory,” said David Dayton, Ph.D., project manager at RTI International. “Our efforts are focused on scaling up the process and integrating the unit operations at the pilot scale to validate the technology for commercial applications. Our goal is to produce lignocelluosic ethanol at a competitive price.”

The gasification facility at the University of Utah will be host to this integrated technology demonstration. Technology developed at RTI — called a “Therminator” — will be used as the primary gas cleanup step to remove impurities from the high-temperature output of the gasifier. Once these impurities have been removed, the resulting clean syngas (essentially carbon monoxide and hydrogen) can be converted at high pressure in another catalytic process to produce ethanol and other fuels.

“We believe the integration of these individual processes will result in technology that can produce ethanol cleaner, cheaper and faster than other methods,” said Raghubir Gupta, director of RTI’s Center for Energy Technology.”

Over the next 24 to 36 months, researchers will work toward developing a commercially viable process to validate what they have successfully demonstrated in the lab.

The “beauty” of this process is that it works on everything from pine cones and scrub brush to hog waste, all of which are plentiful in North Carolina and many other rural areas. Such feed stocks also reduce the reliance on corn and other food sources for fuel production.


Written by Casey McConnell

March 31, 2008 at 5:51 am

Posted in Bioenergy

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