September 21, 2008

Fueling Bioenergy Endeavors

By Anonymous

Sustainable production of bioenergy is in the spotlight. It is estimated that one billion tons of biomass are needed to replace 30 percent of current annual petroleum consumption in the United States alone. Meeting the global challenges to reduce dependence on fossil fuels requires the expertise of AS ABE's agricultural and biological engineers. Tons of biomass must be collected, stored, transported, and processed in a timely and economical fashion into competitively priced fuels and consumer products. Ag and bio engineers are uniquely qualified to develop the most efficient and effective methods of handling biomass feedstocks. Working through ASABE, members have fostered the development of bioenergy by selecting energy and energy management as a top strategic focus; developing environmentally sustainable technology for biomass feedstock production, delivery, and the very processes for converting biomass to energy; encouraging revisions to existing standards and engineering practices that relate to bionenergy and identifying needed new standards; and encouraging development and delivery of technical programs and peerreviewed publications on bioenergy along with providing instructional materials to enhance bioenergy education.

All bio-subtopics of the bioenergy field have produced growing study and research within academia -from undergraduate to post-doc focus. Colleges and universities are addressing the need for interdisciplinary approaches to supply the burgeoning market for renewable energy, and ASABE members within the ivory towers are at the fore.

The following short summaries provide an overview of current and planned bioenergy-related programs and endeavors across North American campuses today.

Auburn University Center for Bioenergy and Bioproducts Emphasizes the Interdisciplinary

Auburn University has a wide range of active programs in bioenergy and bioproducts being conducted by multiple departments and centers. Activities are coordinated by the Center for Bioenergy and Bioproducts, which is part of the Natural Resources Management & Development Institute. Other units with major emphases in bioenergy and bioproducts include the colleges of agriculture, engineering, and forestry and wildlife sciences.

The signature elements of Auburn's bioenergy programs include:

* biomass feedstock supply chain logistics;

* biomass fractionation;

* biomass gasification and subsequent production of liquid transportation fuels and electrical power;

* biochemical conversion with emphasis on pretreatment of cellulosic feedstocks;

* biofuel testing; and

* extension and outreach programs helping farmers, businesses, and municipalities in the production of energy and value-added products.

The Center for Bioenergy and Bioproducts emphasizes systems approaches in all research and extension efforts and is constructing a central laboratory facility that will bring together faculty and students from across the campus. The first phase of the facility includes laboratories dedicated to biomass feedstock processing, biomass fractionation, and biomass gasification and gas-to-liquids conversion. The gasification laboratory will house a recirculating, oxygen-blown, fluidized bed gasifier followed by a hot gas cleanup system and multiple gas-to-liquids reactors. Later phases of the facility will include laboratories for biomass pretreatment and biochemical conversion, transesterification, and fuel and engine testing.

Another unique capability of the Center is a mobile gasification and power generation unit that allows field deployment and demonstration of thermochemical conversion processes. This mobile unit is allowing researchers to study the on-site processing and gasification of low-density biomass feedstocks, and it provides a unique educational platform for teaching gasification principles to university students and extension clientele.

The department of biosystems engineering also is very active in Auburn's energy and bioproducts programs. Departmental research focuses on systems to produce, harvest, and transport agricultural and forest biomass; processing systems for size reduction and densification of biomass; biomass gasification for power and heat production; and biodiesel production systems. Extension programs target biomass supply chain logistics; biodiesel production for farms and municipalities; and energy management and conservation for agricultural production enterprises that include aquaculture, horticulture, and poultry sectors. Special emphasis is placed on meeting the engineering needs of the poultry industry through major extension programs in poultry technology. Additional extension programs are working with municipalities as they establish recycling programs for both residential and commercial producers of used cooking oils followed by biodiesel production. These extension programs aim to develop energy and value-added product solutions to local or community problems. For more information, contact ASABE member Steven Taylor, [email protected]

Auburn University displays the mobile biomass gasification, combined heat and power generation unit at Alabama Energy Day in January 2008.

Clemson University Biodiesel Facility Studies Waste Food oils

Major advantages of renewable fuels include the creation of local economy, reduced dependency on foreign oil, cleaner emissions, sustainability, and reduction in transportation costs. To stimulate research interest at Clemson, a biodiesel facility was constructed in collaboration between biosystems engineering and environmental health and safety. The facility is powered by solar panels and a biodiesel generator to integrate renewable technologies as proof of concept for running the facility offgrid. Research has focused on use of waste food oils collected by biodiesel vehicle, cottonseed oil, and algal oils reacted with ethanol. Graduate students in biosystems engineering and undergraduates enrolled in creative inquiry operate the facility.

Clemson University collaborates with Kent SeaTech of California to develop low-cost microalgae production systems. Joint funding supports studies using microalgae culture for biodiesel production (National Science Foundation), wastewater treatment (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency), and greenhouse gas sequestration (U.S. Department of Energy).

Thirty field and research-scale algal production systems have been installed and operated in South Carolina and California. Innovative, open-pond micro algal production technologies, based on Clemson's patented "Controlled Eutrophication Process," have been developed and evaluated. Recent work focuses on developing lower- cost techniques of recovering algal-generated lipid for biodiesel production from large-scale marine algal culture. One technique utilizes high density Anemia (brine shrimp) culture for uptake and conversion of algal biomass in to easy-toextract animal lipid. Advantages include eliminating the need for expensive algal species control techniques in mass algal culture operations; the cost of direct harvesting, concentration, and drying of microalgae biomass; and the cost of solvent boiling used for conventional algal-oil extraction.

Because more than 90 percent of hydrogen produced globally derives from fossil fuel, non-fossil fuel sources of hydrogen are needed. Biological hydrogen production by fermentative pathways can convert up to 33 percent of the stored energy in organic waste streams to hydrogen gas to be utilized in polymer exchange membrane fuel cells. Clemson research with hyperthermophilic bacterium Thermotoga neapolitana has shown that a variety of organic carbon and nitrogen compounds and raw agricultural wastes can be effectively fermented to hydrogen gas with high efficiency. Acetate produced as by-product of fermentation can be converted to electrical energy in a microbial fuel cell, a specialized biological reactor that operates on the same principles as hydrogen fuel cells. In microbial fuel cells, electrons processed during normal cellular respiration are "intercepted" by an anode and diverted to power electrical devices. Linking the technologies represents a potential bioenergy production scenario. Ongoing research will determine the energy recovery and waste treatment efficiency of using spent hydrogen fermentation broth as substrate for microbial fuel cell operation. Contact ASABE member William Alien, [email protected], for more information.

Kansas State University Boosts Biofuel as Priority

Bioenergy and bio-based products can substantially improve environmental quality, rural economics, and national security. The department of biological and agricultural engineering (BAE) at Kansas State University (KSU) has a unique infrastructure to develop enabling technologies and provide solutions to ease bioenergy- related issues. In the BAE bioenergy research program, biofuel has been prioritized as one of the three research areas of excellence with ASABE members Donghai Wang, Wenqiao Yuan, and Naiqian Zhang as the three key faculty members in this field.

Wang is actively conducting research on the utilization of grain sorghum and sorghum biomass for more efficient production of ethanol and bio-based products. His research concentrates on analysis of the relationship among "genetic-structure-function-composition- conversion" and understanding key factors impacting the bioprocessing of selected products. Current research projects include sorghum as a viable renewable resource for biofuels; development of a comprehensive understanding and utilization of sorghum stover and forage sorghum for ethanol production; and utilization of sweet sorghum for ethanol production. Wang is a team leader of the bioenergy technology research group of the KSU Center for Sustainable Energy recently funded through the KSU Targeted Excellence Program. Yuan joined the BAE Department in 2006 with strong interests in bioenergy. His current research projects include biomass pyrolysis for bio-oil production with focus on converting agricultural residues such as sorghum stover, corn cobs, animal manure, etc., into crude-like oils through novel catalyzed hydrothermal pyrolysis; biomass gasification for syngas production with focus on value-added utilization of agricultural and forest residues as well as system optimization and product utilization; and algal biofuel production with focus on algal species selection, cultivation, harvesting, oil extraction, biofuel conversion, and residual biomass utilization.

Zhang is developing an inexpensive, multifunctional, real-time sensor to measure biodiesel/diesel and ethanol/gasoline blend ratios. When biodiesel/diesel blends are used in diesel engines, the injection timing should be adjusted based on the blend ratio to achieve the optimum working condition that yields both high fuel efficiency and low emissions. Similar adjustment is also needed for gasoline engines fueled with ethanol/ gasoline blends. Thus, a sensor that is capable of accurately measuring the blend ratios is very important. The developed sensor will also be tested in measuring impurities in biofuel, such as water in biodiesel. For further news, contact ASABE member Donghai Wang, [email protected]

Bioenergy research group (from left to right) ASABE members Donghai Wang, Naiqian Zhang, and Wenqiao Yuan informally discuss strategic plans for furthering biofuel research.

Bioenergy Research at Louisiana State University Takes Residence in LaHouse

The biological and agricultural engineering (BAE) department has been at the forefront of bio/alternative energy, energy conservation, and outreach activities at Louisiana State University (LSU) for several decades, evidenced by the installation of closed- loop geothermal heat pumps in the early 1980s. The conservation efforts are reflected in the LSU AgCenter's LaHouse project, which showcases a specially built, 279-m2 (3000-ft2) building for the citizenry of Louisiana. One of the project's primary objectives is to improve the energy efficiency through use of optimum solar orientation, tight construction, improved insulation, zoned heating/ cooling, and energyefficient components in construction. The BAE department houses and supports the key personnel involved with the LaHouse project.

Several faculty members in the BAE department are involved with multiple bioenergy-related projects:

Biomass solar stills

Fresh biomass typically contains a high degree of moisture. Solar stills were designed and built for cost-effective drying of wet plant biomass and animal wastes. Solar stills, augmented with convection drying, were able to dry wet biomass (with 70 to 80 percent moisture) to less than five percent moisture in three to four summer days.

Portable biomass gasification

Most commercial biomass gasifiers are expensive and beyond the reach of a typical farmer. To address this problem, low-cost, portable biomass gasifiers were designed and constructed in the BAE department. A larger, skid-mounted gasifier with a 113 to 136 kg/h (250 to 500 lb/h) feed and a proprietary tar-cracker is currently being built at LSU. The AgCenter is pursuing licensing and commercialization of this technology.

Biodiesel from oily feedstocks

BAE researchers are investigating production of biodiesel from a variety of oily feedstocks. A comprehensive approach includes harvesting; storage methods and post-harvest processing of alternative; non-traditional feedstocks, such as Chinese tallow tree seeds; innovative extraction methods using microwave technology; and continuous microwave transesterification.

Hydrothermal liquefaction

BAE researchers are conducting fundamental research on thermochemical liquefaction process (TCL), which involves converting biomass to bio-oils by exposing the wet biomass slurries (wood chips/ animal wastes) to elevated temperatures (>300[degrees]C/ 572[degrees]F and higher) in presence of a pressurized process gas for residence times of up to 20 to 30 minutes.

Fuel Testing

The W.A. Callegari Environmental Center, which is under the BAE's administrative authority, has a fully equipped and staffed analytical laboratory for conducting biodiesel and fuel analysis. This capability complements the engine dynamometer in the department.

This high pressure autoclave is used for hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) experiments at LSU. The HTL process involves converting wet biomass slurries (saw dust, animal wastes, etc.) to bio-oils by exposing the biomass to elevated temperatures and pressures in presence of a process gas for residence times of up to 15 to 30 minutes. The unit produces acetone-soluble, crude-like oil with a high heating value of approximately 37 MJ/kg. More than 75 fundamental experiments have been successfully completed. Future research will focus on net-energy balance computations, oil characterization, and screening for high-value products.

For more details, contact ASABE member Chandra Theegala, [email protected]

McGill University Endorses Initiatives on Bioenergy and Bioproducts

There are several multi-disciplinary teams of researchers within McGill University working on different aspects of bioenergy and bioproduct creation. McGill's Network for Innovation in Biofuels and Bioproducts was recently formed to encourage and promote more activity in these areas. This is the only research network in Canada specifically focused on biomass production, its transformation to biofuels and bioproducts, as well as the assessment of biomass utilization and socioeconomic and environmental aspects.

The department of bioresource engineering provides active leadership in the engineering components of biofuel and bioproduct research activities at McGill. In this regard, the department recently hired three new academic staff members with expertise in process optimization, biofuels, bioproducts, and ecosystem engineering to add to the existing staff. Current projects in the department include the optimization of extraction processes for improved yield of oil from oilseeds, conversion of oils to biodiesel and recovery of glycerol byproduct, and biogas production.

ASABE members Michael Ngadi, Valerie Orsat, and G.S.V. Raghavan are investigating innovative, gentler, and more effective extraction methods that should reduce dependence on environmentally hazardous chemicals. There is also an ongoing project on the production of biodiesel from waste oils and animal by-products.

Although alkaline-catalyzed biodiesel production from triglycerides is well established, that process has several drawbacks, such as difficulties in the recovery of glycerol, the need to remove salt residue, disposal of reaction residues, and the energy-intensive nature of the process. These drawbacks are being addressed through the investigation of new enzymes for biological transesterification so as to increase the yield of biodiesel, reduce cost, and minimize the formation of undesirable co-products. Conversion of glycerol to methanol and ethanol is also being studied. Work is in progress on in-storage anaerobic digestion of manure and source separation of organic waste for biofuels.

There is currently a plan to construct a new pilot plant on campus specifically for the study of biofuel and bioproduct processing. Several professors from the department are also actively involved in international projects in countries such as India, with the objective to build capacity and to collaborate in several areas including gasification, biodiesel production, engine testing of biofuels, bioreactor designs, and pilot plant design.

For more information contact ASABE member Michael Ngadi, [email protected]

Michigan State University Center for Bio-based Renewable Energy Continues to Expand in Faculty and Program

The Michigan State University (MSU) Center for Bio-based Renewable Energy is a multidisciplinary center established in 2006 to promote renewable, bio-based energy through teaching, research, and outreach. The department of biosystems and agricultural engineering collaborates with the department of chemical engineering and materials science and the department of forestry in this venture.

The Center is funded by the MSU Quality Fund and is in a start- up phase, hiring faculty to complement existing faculty active in this area. The program is expected to be fully functional in 2009.

The Center plans to achieve three-pronged objectives through:


Courses will be developed in the technical, economic, and environmental aspects of energy from agricultural and forestry biomass. They will form the core of an undergraduate option in renewable energy as well as an integrated curriculum option for several engineering and agriculture and natural resources majors at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Collaborative opportunities for students and faculty will include student internships in research laboratories and study abroad. The Center is expected to produce graduates with various skill levels related to the implementation of longterm sustainable energy resource and use practice.


A bioenergy research laboratory will conduct biomass production research in the following areas: genetically modified energy crops; thermal, chemical and biological processes to convert agricultural and forestry biomass and waste materials; and reforming processes to convert biofuels and biogas into high-purity, fuelgrade hydrogen. Outreach

The Center will publish materials to promote energy conservation and bioenergy utilization. A Web site will provide a medium to communicate MSU's progress to the public. Collaborations with community colleges is intended to give these academic institutions the necessary expertise to train workers for new jobs related to transitioning from the current energy base to the future energy resource-use situation. In addition, international collaborations will provide opportunity to exchange successful practices from abroad.

Oklahoma State University Researches Conversion Pathways

Faculties in biosystems and agricultural engineering at Oklahoma State University (OSU) have been at the forefront of interdisciplinary bioenergy research and education programs in Oklahoma. OSU research projects involve the study of several different conversion pathways. External support comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Transportation through the Sun Grant Initiative (, and the Oklahoma Bioenergy Center.

GRASSohol: converting biomass to ethanol using gasification- fermentation

In this hybrid thermochemical process, biomass is combusted in a gasifier under conditions of controlled oxygen supply where the plant components (cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin) are converted to a synthesis gas (primarily CO, CO2, and H2). The syngas is cleaned and cooled prior to being injected into a bioreactor where it is microbially catalyzed to a mixture of ethanol, inert gases, water, and other potentially useful products such as acetic acid. The OSU team is taking a holistic approach, i.e., from the production of biomass to the generation of ethanol and other products, addressing the more critical issues in moving this bioconversion process to commercialization. Participating institutions are the University of Oklahoma, Brigham Young University, and Mississippi State University. Team lead is ASABE member Ray Huhnke, who can be contacted at [email protected]

Enhancing enzymatic conversion of cellulosic materials by simultaneous saccharification and fermentation (SSF) with Kluyveromyces marxianus (1MB) strains

Kluyveromyces marxianus 1MB strains are being used in SSF processes to produce ethanol from cellulosic materials at 45[degrees]C. This temperature allows for greater cellulose activity than SSF at 37[degrees]C with tradition ethanolgens. At 45[degrees]C, up to 80 percent of the cellulose in switch grass can be converted to ethanol. Currently, researchers are investigating the best conditions for use of the IMB4 strain for maximum ethanol production with various cellulosic feedstocks. The University of Ulster is collaborating on this project. Project lead is ASABE member Mark Wilkins, [email protected]

Production of ethanol from sweet sorghum

The process being investigated involves on-farm, in-field production of ethanol. Due to seasonality of sorghum production, it may be more cost effective to convert juice to ethanol on-farm rather than transport the entire crop to a central processing plant. The proposed process involves harvesting and pressing stalks in the field using a new field harvester/press currently being developed by a private firm. The collected juice would then be fermented in the field using large "bladders" for storage. Distillation of the ethanol mixture could be achieved at the farm level or a central location. Project lead is ASABE member Dani Bellmer, [email protected]

Researchers and ASABE members Ray Huhnke and Dani Bellmer show a vial of juice pressed from sweet sorghum and resulting bagasse.

Purdue University Pursues Bioenergy Initiatives

Faculty members in the agricultural and biological engineering (ABE) department at Purdue University are leading a number of research, education, and outreach activities regarding bioenergy.

In addition to an on-campus course on bioenergy (Process Engineering of Renewable Resources) taught by ASABE member Nathan Mosier, a non-credit professional development course (ABE/GEAPS 590: Fundamentals of Ethanol Production) has been developed and is taught by ASABE member Klein Ileleji and Mosier. This course is an intensive five-week module utilizing distance-learning technologies that is offered in collaboration with the Grain Elevator and Processing Society (GEAPS). Additional modules are in the development stage, which will provide continuing education for professionals who work in or with the fuel ethanol industry.

The ABE department is leading a Purdue College of Agriculture Rapid Response Team focused on addressing applied research questions regarding the rapid rise of Dried Distillers Grains with Solubles (DDGS) production that parallels the rapid rise in ethanol production.

Specific research emphases include:

* biomass harvest methods to maximize digestibility;

* co-ensiling DDGS and forages for improved storage;

* DDGS physical properties and materials handling, including method development for industry grading of DDGS;

* co-firing switch grass and coal for electrical power generation;

* pretreatment of cellulosic biomass, including DDGS, for ethanol production;

* Interdisciplinary research projects with colleagues in agronomy, botany, forestry, and biochemistry for improving biomass crop genetics in maize, poplar, and switch grass for improved bioprocessing to liquid fuels; and

* continued development of genetically modified yeast for industrial cellulose ethanol production.

ABE faculty members are leaders in a Purdue College of Agriculture effort to provide answers for livestock and grain producers and the public at large on bioenergy issues. For more information visit the Purdue Bioenergy Web site at

Purdue professor Nathan Mosier works with the tactical biorefinery, which is designed to convert waste into electricity. (Photo courtesy of the Purdue Agricultural Communication, Tom Campbell)

Biofuels Engineering and Science Initiatives at Texas A&M University

The biological and agricultural engineering department (BAEN) at Texas A&M University has a bioenergy program focused on understanding biomass harvesting and production logistics, characterization, conversion processes, valueadded processing of by- products, and related environmental issues. Collaborators in these projects include the University of Arkansas, Louisiana State University, Texas Tech University, the United States Department of Energy, General Atomics, the Cotton Foundation, Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC), the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), and SUNGRANT.

The logistics project is concentrated on evaluating the energy and cost advantages of modules (as used in cotton harvesting) for packaging and transporting biomass energy crops. In addition, methods are being developed for harvesting high-tonnage sorghum and animal manure to deliver a consistent, high-quality bioenergy feedstock to processing plants. In the biomass characterization program, different manure streams from dairies and feed yards in Central Texas and the Texas Panhandle are being characterized and evaluated as possible feedstocks for coal co-firing and onsite conversion systems. In the biodiesel-related research, optical sensing techniques for measuring oil content in microalgae are in development stages. This includes optimizing parameters for the growth and oil-producing properties of microalgae such as atmospheric composition, water quality factors, and light characteristics for the production of biodiesel.

The project on biomass conversion systems focuses on looking at the technical and economic feasibility of modular and on-site thermal gasification and anaerobic digestion systems for different biomass wastes in the region. In addition, economic models for different applications are also being developed. An environment- related project includes a root cause analysis of changes in NOx emissions due to biodiesel combustion in diesel engines.

To complement these initiatives, the BAEN bioenergy lab has been upgraded with the following equipment and facilities: an oil seed press, biodiesel plant, major equipment to measure biodiesel ASTM properties, engine dynamometers, a laboratory pyrolyzer, fluidized bed gasifier, and ethanol conversion facilities. Other new equipment procured for this effort includes an FTIR spectrometer for the development of sensor technologies related to the microalgae work.

Currently involved in the bio-energy program are ASABE members Sergio Capareda (thermal conversion), Steve Searcy (logistics), Alex Thomasson (optical sensing), Ron Lacey (control systems), Cady Engler (biochemical conversion), Saqib Mukhtar (biomass characterization), Ruixiu Sui (sensors/ controls), and Calvin Parnell (air quality).

Please visit the Web site at or contact ASABE member Sergio Capareda, [email protected], for more details.

Texas A&M BAEN student worker Ordway Boriack is hard at work on a dynamometer in the engine lab.

The University of Arizona Links Biofuel Production to Sustainability

Production of biofuels using traditional food crops, such as corn to produce ethanol or soybeans to produce biodiesel, has the unintended and undesirable consequence of increasing food prices worldwide. Indeed, the food price index of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, based on export prices for 60 internationally traded foodstuffs, rose 37 percent in 2007. What is more, the global demand for biofuels has precipitated the large- scale clearing of rainforests in parts of southeast Asia, drawing environmentalists, energy companies, consumers, indigenous peoples, and governments into rancorous disputes. Paradoxically, current biofuelproduction schemes have inadvertently become part of the very environmental problem that it is attempting to ameliorate. To link biofuel production to long-term sustainability, the department of agricultural and biosystems engineering at the University of Arizona focuses on the development of nonfood biofuel crops that are especially well suited for the semi-arid conditions of southern Arizona with its abundance of sunlight and desert lands and limited water supply. The top nonfood biofuel crop candidates include sweet sorghum and green algae.

"Sweet sorghum, as opposed to grain or milo sorghum, loves heat and loves drought, and so is a perfect ethanol crop for semi-arid Arizona," says ASABE member Donald Slack, the department head. He adds that sweet sorghum is salt-tolerant and can be irrigated with wastewater effluent. The department is an active participant in a study that identifies sweet sorghum varieties with high sugar content that are amenable to production in reclaimed water. The department recently received a research grant from the Bureau of Reclamation for Water Conservation in Biofuel Development. Led by faculty member Robert Freitas, the study is evaluating the use of biochar (a by-product of biofuel biomass pyrolysis) as a soil amendment to increase the water-holding capacity of typical of central Arizona soils and to reduce the required amount of water to grow sweet sorghum.

"Green algae by far is arguably the best biofuel feedstock because it grows fast, is water-efficient when grown in vessels (photobioreactors), can be grown using reclaimed water and on marginal desert lands, and best of all will not pressure food prices to go up," says faculty and ASABE member Joel Cuello, who is designing scaleable photobioreactors for the mass-cultivation of algae in the production of biofuels. He recently received a Defense Advanced Research Project Agency research subcontract through the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory on algae photobioreactor characterizations.

Faculty and ASABE member Mark Riley is currently working on waste cooking oil as biodiesel feedstock, focusing on its pretreatment for efficient conversion to biodiesel. Christopher Choi, also on the faculty and an ASABE member, is exploring innovative schemes to use the biomass residuals from guayule, a desert shrub, in combination with forest wastes as biofuel feedstock.

For information, contact ASABE member Joel Cuello, [email protected]

Green algae as biodiesel feedstock pulses through the "pipeline" at the University of Arizona's BAEN laboratory. (Photo courtesy of Joel Cuello)

Bioenergy Research Coordinated across Campus at University of California, Davis

The University of California (UC), Davis has a long history of research in biomass and bioenergy systems. Building from investigations beginning in the 1960s on productive uses for agricultural residues disposed in environmentally degrading ways and accelerating after the first oil shock of 1973, research activity has grown so that the campus now operates major multi-disciplinary programs in bioenergy, biofuels, and sustainable biomass production systems.

Research programs encompass biochemical and thermochemical conversion, bio-based products, plant modification, production and harvesting systems, markets, logistics and economics, environmental and social impacts, life cycle assessment, sustainability standards, systems analysis and optimization, and policy.

The UC Davis Bioenergy Research Group is a collaborative group that coordinates activity across campus with emphasis on identifying the molecular, biological, chemical, physical, engineering, and ecological requirements and solutions for maximizing the utilization of plant and microbial resources for sustainably producing bioenergy and other products. The group forms the core research basis for the UC Davis Bioenergy Center under the newly established UC Davis Energy Institute. Advanced education in bioenergy is offered through a number of departments and programs, including biological and agricultural engineering, chemical engineering and materials science, civil and environmental engineering, plant sciences, biotechnology, plant pathology, genetics, environmental science and policy, economics, microbiology, molecular and cellular biology, transportation technology and policy, and others.

Graduate training in bioenergy is a critical component of the proposed Energy Graduate Group on campus. UC Davis also administers the California Biomass Collaborative for the state. It is a joint government, industry, academic, and environmental organization, which has been influential in helping to shape state policy on bioenergy, including the California Bioenergy Action Plan, the low carbon fuel standard, and other energy and climate change legislation. Working with support from the California Energy Commission, other state and federal agencies, and utility and industry partners, the Collaborative has, since 2003, been directly involved with assessment and planning for the sustainable development of California's biomass resources, including agricultural, forestry, and urban residues as well as purpose-grown crops.

The California Institute of Food and Agricultural Research, the Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways program within the Institute of Transportation Studies, the Genome Center, the Agricultural Sustainability Institute, the John Muir Institute of the Environment, the Energy Efficiency Center, and UC Cooperative Extension also operate bioenergy-related research and teaching programs. Bioenergy research on campus is supported through a broad spectrum of government, foundation, and industry contracts and grants, including the recent joint research agreement with Chevron Technology Ventures, a five-year, $25-million program with focus on novel processes for producing transportation biofuels. UC Davis is also a partner campus in the Joint Bioenergy Institute, one of three major bioenergy research institutes funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

For more information, contact ASABE member Bryan M. Jenkins, UC Davis Energy Institute Director, [email protected] and visit and

University of Florida Scales Up ... and More

The agricultural and biological engineering department (ABE) at the University of Florida is actively engaged in biofuel-related activities. Research focuses on synthesis, design, modeling, control, and optimization of processes for biological and thermochemical conversion of biomass to ethanol, butanol, biodiesel, synthesis gas, hydrogen, and methane. The projects involve taking bench-scale research findings to the prototype and industrial scale by identifying scale-up issues, process control and operational strategies, and optimal and economical process configurations. Extension programs focus on incorporating hands-on workshops, in- service training, and demonstration facilities for biofuel production.

ABE is collaborating with microbiology and cell science to scale- up a biorefinery, using bacteria genetically engineered, to convert both hexose and pentose sugars to ethanol, butanol, and other high- valuechemicals. Pilot scale facilities include size reduction and comminuting equipment, a hydrolyzer, solidliquid separation devices, pilot-scale and bench-scale fermentors, and analytical equipment to test a variety of feedstocks for biofuel potential and to optimize the conversion process. Research is underway to recover other value- added products during the refining process and to maximize water reuse.

ABE is operating a 379-L (100-gal) batch biodiesel processor to convert waste grease from campus dining areas to biodiesel for use in the campus's vehicles and machinery. Research includes intensification of the transesterification reactions and recovery and value addition to byproducts.

Biogasification research includes biochemical studies on various feedstocks, development of sensors for monitoring anaerobic digesters, isolation of novel wood degrading anaerobic microorganisms, and several process designs to handle a variety of biomass feedstocks. One of these designs, the sequential anaerobic batch composting (SEBAC) process, has been commercialized.

A prototype biogasification system was constructed for NASA as part of Advanced Life Support system for application in planetary bases during long-term space missions. Currently, a demonstration plant is being constructed in Minnesota for Xcel Energy and American Crystal Sugar Company to biogasify the byproducts and waste streams from sugar beet processing.

In collaboration with a materials science and engineering professor, a project is underway to use biogas from anaerobic digesters as fuel for solid oxide fuel cells or as feedstock for production of synthesis gas and/or hydrogen. Biogas conversion is carried out in a ceramic membrane reactor in which the hydrogen is separated in situ. The other exit stream is rich in carbon monoxide and can be combined with the pure hydrogen stream in appropriate ratios to produce defined mixtures of syngas.

For more information, contact Robin Snyder, [email protected], and visit

ASABE member Pratap Pullammanappallil, with graduate student loannis Polematidis, examines microbial cultures for biogasification of sugar beet processing by-products and residuals. (Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS)

The University of Georgia: From Peanut Hulls to Fuel, Trees to Technology

The University of Georgia (UGA) biorefining and carbon cycling program includes a group of faculty and staff from the disciplines of engineering, crop and soil science, forestry, and life sciences. They focus on research, outreach, and education in aspects of biomass production and conversion to value-added products including fuels, energy, and specialty chemicals. Interdisciplinary focus areas include:

* research to understand biomass, conversion, and products;

* development and testing thermochemical and biological technologies for a bio-based industry;

* technology transfer within Georgia and around the world, working with industries, government agencies, and the community at large; and

* educational programming that provides unique, pertinent, and comprehensive experiences developing the workforce of the 21st century bio-based economy.

UGA hosts a pilot thermochemical biorefinery that converts peanut hulls to hydrogen (or other fuels) and produces a carbon char co- product. The integrated biorefinery model is a closed-loop process, analogous to the petroleum refinery, where biomass is converted into multiple products while a portion of the carbon is cycled into long- term soil carbon sequestration as BioChar.

At UGA's biological sciences, forestry, and agricultural schools, tree and crop production and harvesting technology is being developed. These include cellular-level studies to understand fundamental cell wall biochemistry and to design better biomass and its uses (BioEnergy Science Center, There are also larger-scale mechanical system developments applied to harvesting and preprocessing of biomass for improved overall production of biofuels and products. Preprocessing technologies being advanced include pelletization, torrefaction, solvent extraction, hydrolysis, etc.

The program also has an algae biomass subgroup focusing on growing various species of algae on industrial and agricultural wastewaters. Focus includes developing algae production, harvesting, and conversion technologies at the bench and pilot scales. Conversion technologies being studied include pyrolysis, liquefaction, catalytic conversion, fermentation, and transesterficiation.

The biorefinery and carbon cycling program represents a truly cross-disciplinary effort within the University of Georgia. Significant opportunities in graduate education are available in a number of disciplines. For further information see

Researcher Sarah Lee works with a fermenter producing succinic acid using metabolically engineered organisms. This UGA laboratory has developed patented technology for chemical production from biomass.

Bioenergy for Sustainability and Competitiveness Advances at the University of Illinois

The bioenergy initiatives in the department of agricultural and biological engineering, University of Illinois, include various endeavors and varied activities.

* Corn dry-grind process and co-product improvement for ethanol production

Corn fractionation technologies to recover higher-valued coproducts during ethanol production are in the development stages. Development and testing of process methodologies, such as use of granular starch hydrolyzing and proteolytic enzymes, transgenic corn with endogenous alpha amylases, and dynamic control of simultaneous saccharification and fermentation are constants. These processes may decrease energy and water requirements and lower capital costs. For more information, contact ASABE member Vijay Singh, [email protected]

* Thermochemical conversion of waste and biomass to crude oil

Swine manure, an abundant waste biomass, has been converted into crude oil in minutes using a novel thermochemical conversion (TCC) technology. This technology mimics Mother Nature's millions-of- years process of turning deceased living matter beneath the ground into petroleum. A research group is investigating other feedstock, including crop residue, food processing waste, and algae to produce biofuel and protect the environment using TCC. Contact ASABE member Yuanhui Zhang, [email protected]

* Biodiesel fuel properties, engine performance and emission

Collaborating with mechanical science and engineering in the formation of a U.S. Department of Energyfunded Graduate Automotive Technology Education Center of Excellence, the department has focused on advanced automotive biofuel combustion engines. This collaboration includes an investigation into biodiesel-fueled engines under low temperature combustion strategies. Contact ASABE member Alan C. Hansen, [email protected]

* Engineering solutions for biomass feedstock production

This research program within the BP-funded Energy Biosciences Institute at the University of California, Berkeley; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory includes five interrelated tasks: pre-harvest crop production, harvesting, transportation, storage, and systems informatics and analysis. Systematic approaches are taken to evaluate existing technologies, characterize task features, identify information needs and researchable questions, develop prototypes and computer models, conduct experiments and computer simulations, analyze experimental data and simulation output, and deliver results in the forms of operational machinery design/prototype and decision support information/tools. Contact ASABE member K. C. Ting, [email protected]

* Bioenergy system informatics and analysis

This research activity aims at providing the decisionmaking infrastructure for a smooth transition from petroleum to bio-based economies. Tasks include engineering and economic model integration for testing viability of new conversion and co-product recovery technology and project management database development for the purpose of gauging research impact in the agricultural sector. Contact ASABE member Luis Rodriguez, [email protected]

Agricultural engineering students Jacob Mdluli (from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa), Jon McCrady, and Joshua Vonk (from the University of Illinois) prepare a sample of biodiesel. (Photo courtesy of Alan C. Hansen)

University of Minnesota Research Projects Simmer on Bio-based Burner

At the University of Minnesota Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, the core mission is to search for ways to enhance the sustainable use of renewable resources and the environment. The department collaborates on several interdisciplinary projects in diverse areas ranging from bioenergy and bio-based products to environment, ecology, building systems, and food. Many projects related to biofuels and bioenergy are funded through the Initiative on Renewable Energy and the Environment supported by funding from the state of Minnesota.

A number of research projects involve converting biomass to create biofuels and bioenergy. For example, one project will grow algae in wastewaters from treatment plants and effluents and the CO2 from exhaust gases from industrial plants and convert them into biodiesel. Another project explores whether crop residue in various forms can be used to heat and power corn-ethanol plants.

Several promising projects aim to solve the problem of lignin degradation and bring us closer to converting Iignocelluosic biomass into biofuels including an integrated biorefinery approach. This research includes the first-time isolation of a white-rot fungal enzyme that is capable of degrading high-molecular-weight lignin components.

Another research group is studying ways to convert swine and cattle manure into bio-fuels and hydrogen through a variety of methods involving fermentation and/ or microwave pyrolysis.

Still another research group based in our department is finding new uses of bio-based products, including everything from developing enzyme-based self-cleaning coatings to the development of bio-based polymers than can be used in a wide range of consumer products.

Please visit the department Web site at www.bbe.umn. edu/ for more information about these initiatives, or contact Shri Ramaswamy, [email protected]

ASABE member Jun Zhu and his students engage in turning swine manure into hydrogen.

Bioenergy Initiatives at the University of Nebraska Thrive

Faculty members in the biological systems engineering (BSE) department have led the development of a university-wide energy sciences minor and are involved in discussions with a number of other engineering disciplines about a core curriculum for a Ph.D. degree in the college of engineering. The energy sciences minor has a plant and animal bioenergy systems track with collaboration among faculty members from the colleges of engineering, agricultural sciences and natural resources, and arts and sciences, and it is being well received.

In collaboration with the Nebraska Public Power Districts (NPPD), the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has formed the Nebraska Center for Energy Science Research (NCESR) to promote bioenergy research, education, and outreach. The BSE Department works closely with the NCESR. Nebraska is the only state in the United States that is served entirely by public power districts, and NPPD is the largest, serving all or part of 91 of the 93 counties in Nebraska; hence the NPPD has considerable influence in the energy activities in the state.

Faculty members in the biological systems engineering department and staff members in the Industrial Agricultural Products Center, a center within the BSE Department, are providing leadership on numerous research and outreach activities related to bio-energy. Specific research emphases include:

* development of a bio-resource map for the state of Nebraska for use in siting future bio-refineries;

* development of a combined heat and power generation system based on gasification of distillers grains to provide the energy needs of an ethanol plant;

* characterization and utilization of co-products of bio-energy production, e.g., glycerol and distillers grains (oils, fibers, pigments, and sterols);

* modeling gasification of corn stover and distillers grain;

* production, characterization, and use of biodiesel;

* identification and characterization of oilseed crops and other feedstocks, e.g., hazelnuts, for biodiesel production; and

* production of ethanol, including pretreatment of cellulosic biomass, fractionation of corn before ethanol production versus separation of constituents in distillers grain, water use in ethanol production, and community strategies for capitalizing on ethanol production, testing engine performance on EB diesel blends. For more information, contact ASABE member Ronald E. Yoder, [email protected], and visit

"Hazelnut oil," says ASABE member Ronald Yoder, Biological Systems Engineering department head at the University of Nebraska, "has better characteristics and the potential for higher yield per acre than soybean oil." Colorful hazelnut shrubs have figured in the university's endeavors in the identification and characterization of oilseed crops and other feedstocks.

The University of Tennessee Takes on Biofuels Initiative

Four faculty members from the University of Tennessee's Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science (UT BESS) and their supporting staff are developing technologies for the Tennessee Biofuels Initiative (TNBI) ( TNBiofuelsInitiative/). TNBI is state-funded at $70 million U.S. with additional investment by Mascoma Corp.

A 5-MGY TNBI demonstration cellulosic-ethanol facility is scheduled to produce the first gallon of Grassoline in 2009. BESS develops technologies to supply 80,000 tons of switch grass for conversion to ethanol. The demonstration plant will answer scale-up questions for 60-plus MGY facilities.

BESS faculty is collaborating with nearby Department of Energy (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory and industry partners. Also, BESS faculty were recipients of a United States Department of Agriculture DOE Biomass Initiative Competitive Grant (approximately $718,000 U.S.) for integrated size reduction and separation; SunGrant (approximately $200,000 U.S.) for biomass deconstruction; and Oak Ridge National Lab (approximately $140,000 U.S.) for carbon sequestration research. Biofuel research and development programs in UT BESS are developing system-wide technologies, including:

* domestication and improved production of switch grass for increased yield;

* improved mechanical harvest, storage, and transport of biomass;

* increased efficiency in processing biomass, especially size reduction, separation, and densification (http://;

* development of faster methods to determine biomass chemical composition using Fourier Transform spectroscopy; and

* new methods to break apart biomass internal chemical bonds to speed up conversion processes, with extra focus on ionic liquids.

For more information, please contact ASABE member A1 Womac, [email protected]

Virginia Tech's Bioenergy Impact is Statewide

A cluster of nine faculty members in Biological Systems Engineering Department at Virginia Tech are leading bioenergy and production of value-added products in Virginia. The Center for Biodesign and Bioprocessing is established to facilitate the bioenergy research efforts. Ongoing activities are many.

* High-yield hydrogen production from biomass

Hydrogen is widely believed to be a future energy carrier for transportation. A new technology is developed to produce high-yield hydrogen from starch and water at modest reaction conditions. This technology has great potential for solving the challenges of low- cost hydrogen production, storage, and distribution. For more information, contact ASABE member Percival Zhang, [email protected]

* Cellulose-solvent-based lignocellulose fractionation

A novel lignocellulose fractionation technology was invented to separate lignocellulose components at modest reaction conditions by using a cellulose solvent and an organic solvent. It releases high sugar yields from herbaceous and hardwood biomass and isolates high- value lignocellulose co-products. Contact Percival Zhang, [email protected]

* Biomass logistics

Efficient handling systems are being designed for the large round bale. The challenge is to design an efficient system of equipment to load, haul, and unload round bales and supply a bioenergy plant with a continuous flow of material. Contact ASABE member John Cundiff, [email protected]

* Thermochemical conversion of poultry litter to fuels and fertilizer

A biodegradable litter amendment material is developed to control the odor of the litter. The amended litter is then pyrolyzed in a fluidized bed reactorproduce bio-oil and slow release fertilizer. Contact Foster Agblevor, fagblevo

* Low temperature catalytic gasification of biomass to produce fuel and value-added products

A fractional catalytic pyrolysis process is developed to convert biomass feedstocks to low molecular weight phenols and synthesis gas. The synthesis gas is then used to produce "green diesel" while the liquid product can be used for high-value applications. Contact Foster Agblevor, [email protected]

* A holistic animal waste management practice for bioenergy production, nutrient recovery, and pathogen reduction

A significant enhancement of biogas production and struvite phosphorus recovery has been achieved through anaerobic digestion. A holistic approach is used achieve a high biogas yield, nutrient recovery, and pathogen reduction simultaneously. Contact ASABE members Zhiyou Wen, [email protected], and Jactone Arogo, [email protected]

ASABE member Percival Zhang of Virginia Tech uses a new process to identify enzyme mutants for biofuels production.

Copyright American Society of Agricultural Engineers Apr 2008

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