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Cover story Biofuels Research in Brief
ROADMAP FOR BIOFUELS AND BIOMATERIALS
photo by Gary Meek Art Ragauskas and bioreactor.
Researchers at Georgia Tech, Imperial College London and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory formed the AtlantIC Alliance for BioPower, BioFuels and Biomaterials in 2003. Researchers including Georgia Tech’s Art Ragauskas developed a roadmap that contained a series of comprehensive research and policy plans to increase the practicality of using biofuels and biomaterials as a supplement to petroleum. A condensed version of the roadmap was summarized as a review article, called “The Path Forward for Biofuels and Biomaterials,” which appeared in the January 27, 2006 issue of Science. For a summary, see gtresearchnews.gatech.edu/reshor/rh-ss06/ragauskas.html.
RISING DEMAND FOR IMPORTED OIL
photo by Gary Meek
Annual U.S. oil imports increased from approximately two billion barrels in 1981 to more than five billion barrels in 2005. With domestic oil production declining, the U.S. is becoming more dependent on other countries for its energy supplies. In 2005, the top five countries from which the U.S. imported oil were Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Nigeria. At $70 per barrel, these expanding oil imports are adding significantly to the nation’s balance of payments deficit. “A near term solution to our growing transportation oil demand is urgently needed,” says Roger Webb, interim director of Georgia Tech’s Strategic Energy Institute. Webb testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry in January 2007.
WORKING WITH GEORGIA TECH
“Georgia Tech excels at collaboration with industrial partners. A very important attribute is Georgia Tech’s ability to maintain balance between an industrial partner business objective and the independence of the faculty. Georgia Tech has a good appreciation for how to develop and share in the development of intellectual property with industrial partners. Couple these points with our successful ongoing relationship in other areas of technology research, and we have a win-win for this new area of distributed manufacturing to support the growing biofuels technology field.”
-- Rick Zalesky, vice president of the biofuels and hydrogen unit of Chevron Technology Ventures
photo by Rick Robinson
Professor John Muzzy in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CHBE) is evaluating a process called pyrolysis. Biomass is heated with catalysts to form a synthetic natural gas and create volatile compounds that can be condensed for blending with oil. Since current pyrolysis techniques require very high temperatures, Muzzy aims to perform catalytic pyrolysis at lower temperatures and create a stable bio-oil with reduced oxygen content.
Professor W. J. (Jim) Frederick, Jr. and principal research engineer Kristiina Iisa, also of CHBE, study a similar process called gasification. They add oxygen or steam to the biomass mixture to create a gaseous mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Their research focuses on both gasification and removing contaminants from the product gas so that it can be converted into ethanol, synthetic diesel and other fuels through catalytic processes. Using a large-scale reactor on the Georgia Tech campus, they can study the high pressure, high temperature conditions the gas encounters in the catalytic reactors.
BIOENERGY RESEARCH CENTER
photo by Gary Meek
The U.S. Department of Energy research center will support development of biofuels. (300-dpi JPEG)
Georgia Tech is one member of a new $125 million U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Science Center, intended to accelerate basic research in the development of cellulosic ethanol and other biofuels. The Center aims to advance President Bush’s Twenty in Ten Initiative, which seeks to reduce U.S. gasoline consumption by 20 percent within ten years through increased efficiency and diversification of clean energy sources. Georgia Tech’s primary role in the center will focus on biomass characterization and the fundamental chemistry of plant cell walls. The goal will be to study the chemical bonds of poplar and switchgrass to help create more efficient methods of breaking the plants down into the sugar needed to make ethanol.
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Last updated: November 3, 2007