The technology sounds ultra-futuristic: concentrated solar heat that can vaporize biomass (wood, crop waste, etc.) into synthetic fuels. But the process, developed by Sundrop Fuels, is real, and it can produce twice the amount of gasoline or diesel than conventional biomass gasification systems.
Sundrop’s process works using a network of solar mirrors that point sunlight to a gasifying unit. The unit heats up ceramic tubes to 1,200 to 1,300 degrees C–hot enough to vaporize any biomass and turn it into synthetic gas. Since the unit operates at such a high temperature, it doesn’t leave behind nasty tar like conventional systems. And while other gasification units require biomass for heating, the Sundrop system relies solely on solar power–so all of Sundrop’s biomass can go directly towards manufacturing syngas.
There are still hurdles to overcome, however. Sundrop readily admits that the richest biomass sources aren’t always located near the best solar resources. Nevertheless, Sundrop is beginning construction on its first commercial facility this year, and a full-scale biorefinery is expected to be ready by 2015.