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Bioenergy at CAER

The demand for renewable green energy has grown in recent years for many reasons including its sustainable nature, lower emissions of SOx, NOx, and mercury, and the fact that green energy is neutral with respect to carbon dioxide emissions, a suspected contributor to global warming. This surge in public interest has spurred both a state and federal emphasis on biomass/bio-energy research.

Soybean Leaf
Soybeans

The CAER is responding by broadening its scope of research to include green energy as it relates to our state's resources. The projects described below represent some of our efforts to expand our energy research portfolio to include relevant, renewable energy research. These three projects were funded through the Kentucky Rural Energy Consortium (KREC). The KREC "seeks to advance research, development and deployment related to biomass, renewable energy and energy efficiency of Kentucky agriculture, rural communities, and industries." KREC was established in 2005 and has awarded seven competitive research grants, three in which involve the CAER.

Catalytic Upgrading of Bio-Oil

Supplementing petroleum consumption with renewable biomass resources is a first step to securing a petroleum-independent future. One solution to reducing petroleum consumption is the use of ethanol and biodiesel blends as transportation fuels. Biodiesel is a fuel derived from vegetable oils or animal fats. Regular diesel blended with biodiesel can provide nearly the same engine torque and horsepower, and decreased engine emissions without engine modifications.

Soybean Bus
Bus running on soybean-oil derived biodiesel, Nebraska

Biodiesel is more expensive to produce than petroleum diesel. There is a need to improve processing in order to lower the cost. This project explores improving catalysts used in the process. For more information on this project go to this factsheet.



Novel Catalytic Approaches for Bio-Crude Upgrading

This project addresses the technical issues relating to catalyst-assisted stabilizing of crude 'bio-oils' to produce fuels and high-value chemicals. The current methods of upgrading bio-oil are hydrotreating or cracking, neither of which is commercially feasible. A low severity method for bio-oil deoxygenation is needed. We are looking at alternative methods of catalytic deoxygenation to stabilize bio-oil. For more information on this project go to this factsheet.

CAER researcher Mark Crocker (Email) is working with Professor Czarena Crofcheck (ccrofche@bao.uky.edu) of UK's Department of Biosystems & Agricultural Engineering on both projects.

Production of Biomass Briquettes as an Alternative Fuel Source

A formidable obstacle to expanded use of biomass for power generation or process heat is an inherently low energy density relative to coal, making transport over even moderate distances, cost prohibitive. Likewise, the capital investment required to process and combust biomass at the user site is also a major deterrent. Densifying biomass into briquettes addresses these issues by allowing the biomass to be economically transported greater distances and by taking advantage of existing transportation, storage, and processing facilities at utility, industrial, and agricultural facilities.

Soybean Stalks
Soybeans ready for harvest

The goal of this research is to produce a premium, durable briquetted fuel from agricultural and wood wastes that is an attractive alternative energy source for coal-fired boilers and for industrial process heat and steam generation. Specific tasks include investigation of corn stover, fescue, and wood waste as fuel sources; an assessment of the performance of inexpensive binders available from farms and agricultural processing facilities (e.g., poultry litter, gum residue from soybean oil extraction plants, and distillers grain from ethanol production facilities); the manufacture and measurement of the energy content, chemical composition, strength and attrition characteristics of the biomass briquettes; and estimation of the economics and net energy balance of a briquetted fuel produced from renewable resources.

For more information on this project, contact: Darrell Taulbee (Email) or Rodney Andrews (Email) at the CAER who are working with professors Mike Montross (montross@bao.uku.edu) and Scott Shearer (shearer@bae.uky.edu) at the Biosystems & Agricultural Engineering Department.