Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Biorenewable Resources and Technology

This week for me was the end of my first class as a graduate student. I took an independent study course in mechanical engineering and my goal was to learn a software package that specializes in modeling chemical and mechanical processes. My graduate research focus is on the economics of biomass-to-biofuels processes. This summer class for me was really an introduction into the work that I will be doing for my master's degree. Specifically, I created a model or simulation where the end product will be a "green" diesel fuel. Instead of calling it biodiesel, which is formed through vegetable oils and animal fats, "green" diesel is formed through the thermal conversion of biomass (plants such as the one in the picture). Biomass is heated and gasified (turning it into hydrogen and carbon monoxide) and then converted to diesel and other products like propane and octane (gasoline).

As I research the area of biorenewable resources, I am beginning learn that there is so much potential. There is a lot of work to be done and it will take years, but if you pay attention to the news, you will see lots of progress. I came across one paper in my research that mentioned that not only will biorenewables potentially be able to curb the United State's dependence on nonrenewable energy, but it has the potential to bring energy to developing countries and regions around the world. Some communities that are self-sufficient and live without electricity could live with electricity and still be self-sufficient by using biomass as a source for their energy. I know, I know, what about the biomass as the source of people's food? Doesn't using biomass take away possible food? It can, but one can use food and crop residues. Even the ash/char that is produced from gasification can be formed into fertilizer to put back on the fields. If used wisely we can balance the usage of plants and biomass to reduce the carbon emission from coal and petroleum. Hopefully as you pass by the next field of corn, swath of switchgrass, forest of trees, or even the next organic waste in your trash, you can begin to think of the potential it has.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Although the aural aspects of the article confuse me, with all the bio-whatnot. I agree that we need to turn America's view away from oil and onto these "renewable" energies. We need to get ourselves off of our oil addiction one way or another.