distinctlyOKLAHOMAOklahoma is Leading the Way in Alternative Energy Development and ProductionOklahoma is Leading the Way ...
distinctlyOKLAHOMAcatalytic conversions to efficiently convert it into finished products that meet current and future requ...
distinctlyOKLAHOMAOklahoma’s Role in Biofuel ResearchSwitchgrass as a biofuel alternative was a hot topic at the rec...
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Published on: Mar 4, 2016
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  • 1. distinctlyOKLAHOMAOklahoma is Leading the Way in Alternative Energy Development and ProductionOklahoma is Leading the Way in Alternative EnergyDevelopment and ProductionBy Debra Levy MartinelliIn the 1985 classic comedy/science fiction movie Back to the Future, Marty McFly and “Doc” Brown travelthrough the history of their hometown in a garbage-fueled DeLorean time machine.The idea of using a waste-based energy source may have seemed futuristic at the time, but the concept of biomass-to-fuels, i.e. biofuels, has been around for at least a century.Rudolf Diesel demonstrated his engine at the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris by running it on peanut oil. Henry Fordexpected his Model T, first manufactured in 1908, to run on corn-based ethanol. In the 1930s and ‘40s, vegetableoil was sometimes used for diesel fuel. Petroleum, however, was the most logical fuel source because of supply, efficiency and price. Today, of course,that’s changing… and biomass is once again at the forefront of energy development.Four Generations of BiofuelsAt the Center for Biomass Refining based at the University of Oklahoma, chemical engineers Daniel Resasco, LanceLobban and Richard Mallinson lead a team that is developing the third generation of biofuels.To put that into perspective, a few words about the first two generations:Generation one is corn-based ethanol, like what Ford envisioned for his Model T. The most common type of ethanol inthe United States, corn ethanol is considered inefficient because only a portion of the crop is used in fuel production.It’s also controversial, since using corn crops for fuel reduces the amount available as a food source for humansand animals. Besides, corn ethanol cannot replace currently used fossil fuels because the two are not fungible, orinterchangeable.The second generation is cellulosic ethanol, made from grasses like switchgrass, alfalfa and sorghum, which are bothplentiful and sustainable. Like corn ethanol, the cellulosic form isn’t fungible. “Ethanol made from anysubstance is still ethanol,” notes Resasco.Which brings us to generation three, being developed by the CBR team: Biofuels made from ligno-cellulosic materials, acomplex mixture of lignin, an integral part of plant cell walls, with cellulose and hemicelluloses, both carbohydratepolymer fibers. The team’s unique method integrates two distinct chemical processes – pyrolysis, thechemical decomposition of a condensed substance by heating, and catalysis, the process in which the rate of a chemicalreaction is either increased or decreased by means of a catalyst.This approach produces two usable products, gasoline and diesel fuel, from grasses. And, unlike its predecessors, thebiofuels made with it are both sustainable and fungible.Another family of biofuels being investigated by CBR researchers comprises diesel fuels made from vegetable oils,including recycled restaurant fats. While easily produced, biodiesel made from vegetable oil using current technologies isknown as transterification – the converting of natural vegetable oils into methyl alcohol esters, which aren’tinterchangeable with petroleum-based fuels. By contrast, the process developed by CBR utilizes triglycerides fromvegetable oils and fats to produce diesel components compatible with standard diesel fuels.For several years, the CBR group and other researchers have used the molecular engineering approach in the upgradingof fossil fuels. In the case of biofuels, a comparable approach has been used more sporadically. “The everincreasing severity of environmental regulations on fuels has made refiners during the last decade embrace the conceptsof molecular management engineering. A number of the properties that determine the quality of a given fuel –among them octane and cetane numbers; water solubility and viscosity; freezing, flash and cloud points; thermal andchemical stability, and storability – can be modified by catalytic upgrading,” explains Resasco.“The goal is not to replace gasoline or diesel, but make them from biomass rather than fossil fuels like oil and gas.By understanding the nature of the molecular structures present in biomass, we can design the optimal thermal andhttp://distinctlyoklahoma.com Powered by Joomla! Generated: 3 August, 2009, 20:09
  • 2. distinctlyOKLAHOMAcatalytic conversions to efficiently convert it into finished products that meet current and future requirements.” The center’s biofuel conversion work has captured the attention of the international scientific community and theenergy industry and is supported with funding from the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy, Proctor& Gamble, Oklahoma Bioenergy Center, and Oklahoma Secretary of Energy.Triglycerides and GrassesWhile triglycerides, a type of saturated or “bad” fat, are typically associated with high cholesterol andcardiovascular disease in the human body, they can be converted into an efficient engine fuel. “We have inventeda novel method for changing triglycerides into fuel molecules to make what we call ‘green diesel,’”Lobban says. Green diesel dramatically lowers the emissions and odor of diesel-powered trucks and buses.Where do the triglycerides come from? One of the most abundant sources is algae, which need only light, water andcarbon dioxide to flourish. Among the fastest growing plants on the planet, algae are able to double in size in a matter ofhours. A typical algae pond is more productive per acre than most crops and can continue to grow and be harvested yearround. In addition to the oils produced, the algae plant also makes proteins and starches that can be used for food forfeedstock, thus there is little waste.Because algae thrive on carbon dioxide, they are excellent carbon sequesters. “The best place for algae ponds isnear power stations, where carbon dioxide is an operational byproduct. The algae can absorb an enormous quantity ofthe gas. By using algae grown in that environment, we add one more path for the carbon dioxide,” Mallinsonexplains.Switchgrass, on the other hand, is a ligno-cellulosic material. Native to the American Great Plains, switchgrass is toughand hardy, growing up to 10 feet high and measuring as much as 20 inches in diameter at ground level. Its permanentroot system penetrates more than 10 feet into the soil. Like algae, switchgrass grows rapidly.Last year, the Oklahoma Bioenergy Center planted more than 1,000 acres of switchgrass near Guymon for biomassproduction. “These fields provide a unique environment that will help us understand the production and long-termimpact of bioenergy crops,” says Oklahoma Secretary of Energy Bobby Wegener. “Additional acreage,including switchgrass and sorghum, has also been planted in the central part of the state.”Oklahoma Commerce Secretary Natalie Shirley says the advance of renewable energy sources in Oklahoma, includingbiofuels, means creating “green collar” jobs for Oklahoma citizens and capitalizing on the state’smost abundant natural resources. “Continued growth in biofuels and the renewable energy arena is a top priority of Oklahoma’s overalleconomic development strategy,” Shirley explains. “With the state-of-the-art research being done in ourstate, we are paving the way for a bright future in alternative energy development. With bold initiatives that are energizinglocal economic development, promoting strong public/private partnerships, and creating an attractive businessenvironment for research and development, renewable energy sources like biofuels are making the state’s energyportfolio stronger and more diverse.”With an unlimited supply of source material and viable production technology, a start-up company is the next logical stepfor Resasco and his colleagues. He has some solid experience in that arena.In 2001, Resasco founded SouthWest NanoTechnologies Inc., created to commercialize the single-wall carbon nanotubetechnology he developed at OU. Since then, SWeNT has grown into a privately held independent company that in 2008moved into an 18,000-square-foot manufacturing facility on an eight-acre site in Norman. A global leader in single-walledcarbon nanotube production, the company has helped Oklahoma establish itself as a center for nanotechnologyinnovation and commercialization.Resasco hopes this new venture will do the same for Oklahoma’s biofuels industry.“Oklahoma is emerging as a leader in biofuel development and production,” he says. “We expectthat the work we’re doing at CBR and the company we plan to create will support and enhance thatposition.”Marty McFly and Doc Brown surely would be impressed.http://distinctlyoklahoma.com Powered by Joomla! Generated: 3 August, 2009, 20:09
  • 3. distinctlyOKLAHOMAOklahoma’s Role in Biofuel ResearchSwitchgrass as a biofuel alternative was a hot topic at the recent 2009 BIO International Convention, the largest globalevent for the biotechnology industry.And Oklahoma was at the epicenter of the discussion. That’s because some groundbreaking switchgrassresearch and development is being conducted throughout the state, from Ardmore to Norman and Stillwater. Fromincreasing crop yields to developing novel methods to convert switchgrass into biofuel, Oklahoma is taking on thechallenge from beginning to end.Switchgrass is a perennial, drought-resistant grass that grows on marginal cropland. The native prairie grass indigenousto the American Great Plains can be grown in abundance. It has a higher energy output than corn as an ethanolfeedstock and does not compete with human or animal food sources. The U.S. Department of Energy and U.S.Department of Agriculture have identified switchgrass as a prime feedstock for producing next-generation biofuels andbioproducts.Through the Oklahoma Bioenergy Center, a world-class research center focused on biofuel research, development andeducation, some of Oklahoma’s leading research organizations are collaborating to advance the development ofcellulosic ethanol from switchgrass.Researchers at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation are studying conventional and molecular breeding of switchgrassand other perennial grasses for use in renewable transportation fuel production.At Oklahoma State University, research is under way to produce greater bioenergy yields from switchgrass and developunique fermentation technology that ensures a high rate of energy output from the crop.And scientists at the University of Oklahoma are exploring a wide array of biofuel options, ranging from production andprocessing techniques to engine design and consumer applications.When it comes to developing switchgrass as an alternative biofuel, Oklahoma is doing it all.http://distinctlyoklahoma.com Powered by Joomla! Generated: 3 August, 2009, 20:09

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