A traditional gasification plant
Turning biomass like switchgrass and other plants into usable fuel is no easy feat. Gasification, one method of converting feedstocks to fuels, traditionally produces greenhouse gas emissions and isn’t very efficient–until now, that is. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the University of Minnesota have created a gasification process that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and doubles the amount of fuel that can be converted from biomass.
Switchgrass is one feedstock that can be used to make biofuels
Conventional gasification works like this: The feedstock is placed in a reactor, where high temperatures break the substance down into carbon monoxide and hydrogen, which can then be used to make a number of different fuels. However, in traditional reactors, about half that carbon in the biomass gets converted into carbon dioxide rather than carbon monoxide, an inefficient and polluting process.
To remedy that situation, researchers created a special catalytic reactor and gasified the biomass in controlled amounts of CO2 and methane. By using this type of reactor, researchers were able to convert all the carbon dioxide in the biomass and methane into carbon monoxide. That way, all of the carbon dioxide in the biomass can be used to create biofuels, a huge step forward in boosting the process’s efficiency.
Scientists are still perfecting the system, but they say it could be market-ready in as few as two years.