From the Ground Up: Bio-Mass Fuel

For many years there’s been a lot of discussion about alternative fuels and a lot of research has been done on the subject, but a Texas A&M chemical engineer is very close to having a commercially viable process to convert bio-mass into gasoline and jet fuel.

His blue print for the project was a cow.

“What happens when a cow eats food, is it makes organic acids, primarily vinegar, inside the rumen of the cow, and the cow extracts that vinegar into the blood stream, so a cow is a vinegar powered creature.”

Mark Holtzapple is a chemical engineering professor at Texas A&M University.

“So I said as a chemical engineer if I could take that process that’s naturally occurring in the cow and just scale that up, it seems like it would be much simpler and more robust than the technologies that most people are pursuing which require the use of expensive enzymes and sterile operating conditions.”

In contrast to ethanol production that uses corn or grain that is also used for food, Holtzapple’s process to make fuel from bio-mass can use anything that will decompose when it’s set outside.

“We can use any feed stock. Anything that’s biodegradable can go into our process. That includes things like sewage sludge, manure, chicken manure is what we often use. We can use municipal solid waste, food scraps, agricultural residues like corn stover or sorghum straw, energy crops like miscanthus or energy cane.”

And, unlike ethanol, the fuel produced is not simply an additive that makes a gallon of gas go further.

“We’ll actually make two fuels, jet fuel which is similar to kerosene, and we’ll make gasoline, and he idea is to make these fuels nearly identical to what we’re making from petroleum, so that when you put it into your tank, you really don’t care whether it’s bio-fuel or petroleum derived fuels, it behaves the same in your automobile.”

Holtzapple has been working on this process for twenty years, and expects it will be commercially available in another ten years.

“When I got started on this I said, well this will be my life’s work, and little did I realize, it really is going to be my life’s work.”

I’m Kailey Carey, looking at Brazos Valley agriculture, From The Ground Up.


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