Monday, May 21, 2007

New Biofuel From Trees Developed 2


Update: Oils derived from wood chips could reduce cost of biofuel

Athens (GA) - The search for renewable energy sources is gaining
traction and researchers from the University of Georgia now say they
have found a way to use wood chips for the generation of biofuel that
can be blended with biodiesel and petroleum diesel to power conventional

The idea to extract oils from wood isn't an entirely new idea. What
makes the approach of the University of Georgia research team
interesting, however, is that they have developed a simple method of
extracting oils that by itself may not be suited to power engines, but
it may help to reduce the price of producing fuels from biomass. The
scientists claim that the yet to be named fuel can complement biodiesel
and even petroleum-based diesel to run traditional engines.

To create the wood-fuel, the research team uses a process known as
pyrolysis, in which wood chips and pellets are heated in the absence of
oxygen at a high temperature. About one third of the dry weight of the
wood turns into charcoal, the rest turns into gas. Most of this gas can
be condensed into a liquid bio-oil and chemically treated. Currently,
about 34% of the bio-oil created in this process can be used to power
engines, the scientists estimated and added that they are working on
improving the process to "derive even more oil from the wood."

University of Georgia researchers say they can generate biofuel that can
complement biodiesel or petroleum diesel from wood pellets

The downside, at least for now, appears to be that the approach appears
to be requiring a lot of wood. The researchers estimate that about
15-17% of the dry weight of the wood can be converted into biofuel,
translating into about 41 pounds of wood to generate 1 gallon of biofuel
with a weight of roughly 7 pounds per gallon. Even as an add-on to
regular bio-diesel or petroleum diesel, this approach would require a
lot of trees to be cut down to power, for example, car engines on a mass
market basis.

However, the University of Georgia researchers say that the approach has
its advantages, including cheap production cost and environmental
benefits. According to said Tom Adams, director of the UGA Faculty of
Engineering outreach service, the fuel is nearly carbon neutral, meaning
that it does not significantly increase heat-trapping carbon dioxide in
the atmosphere as long as new trees are planted to replace the ones used
to create the fuel.

Replanting and re-growing those trees in fact may be the major challenge
for this technology. While "Georgia has 24 million acres of forested
land," according to Adams, and the state could use the technology to
increase employment and tax revenues and somewhat decrease the amount of
fuel the U.S. needs to import from other countries, tress have a
tendency to grow not that fast. According to the Ohio Department of
Natural Resources, relatively fast growing trees such as pine trees,
need about 50 to 60 years to reach a mature height between 100 and 120
ft. and about 25 years to reach a harvestable height of 40 ft. Sycamore
trees, which are typically used for oil extraction projects, are also
estimated to need about 20 to 25 years to reach a height of 40 ft.


Tom Adams from the University of Georgia followed up with us and our
concerns that generating biofuel from wood may result in cutting done
many trees. In fact, he shared our concern saying that growing pine
trees in a farm currently provide only about 2 tons of wood per acre per

However, he suggested that he suggested that other plants that can be
harvested once a year, such as grasses, may provide more bio-mass and
may end up more suited to become a source for bio-fuels. For example, he
said that switchgrass grows about 6 tons of biomass per year. Also,
Adams believes that currently unused bio-mass when trees are harvested
could be used for his method of producing bio-fuel – he estimates that
about 15% of bio-mass is wasted when trees are cut down these days.

So, how much bio-fuel could be generated in this way and how much would
it cost? According to Adams, there is enough low-quality bio-mass (as
opposed to high-quality biomass that is also used for food products) in
the U.S. to cover about 30% of the fuel needs of Americans. It is not
enough to completely make the country independent from fuel imports
today, but combined with petroleum available in the U.S. and a more
conscious use of energy it could minimize oil imports to the U.S., Adams

In terms of cost, the scientist estimates that low-quality biomass-based
crude oil that has the same density as today's bio-diesel could be
produced for about 50 cents per gallon. However that excludes the
process to refine the bio-fuel for a mass market use. Add this cost as
well as a profit margin and you could be imagining bio-diesel that is
available to Americans for less than $1.50 per gallon.

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