Amid all the talk about sustainable biofuels from renewable sources like camelina and switch grass, there is a big problem: the costs - and emissions - of transporting millions of tons of biomass to refineries to be converted into fuel.
Now engineers at Purdue University have come up with an answer
- mobile processing plants that would roam the country turning bulky biomass into easily transportable liquid oil. The mobile reactors would be able to process all kinds of availble biomass, including corn stover, wheat straw and wood chips.
The reactors would use a process called fast-hydropyrolysis-hydrodeoxidation, which its inventors have christened H2Bioil. Biomass along with hydrogen is fed into a high-pressure reactor and subjected to extremely fast heating (to 900def/500degC in less than a second). The biomass breaks down into smaller molecules and the reaction products condensed into liquid oil.
The hydrogen would come from natural gas, the biomass itself, or longer term by using solar power to split water. Purdue says the new method can produce up to twice as much biofuel as other technologies, uses less hydrogen, is less capital intensive and can be built on a smaller scale, making mobile reactors possible. Experimental reactors and catalysts are being developed t0 demonstrate the concept.
I was brought up on a farm and had uncles who were dairy farmers. I remember the full churns waiting each day at the bottom of the road to each farm for the milk lorry to pick them up. Maybe the oil industry of our future will be something similar.