- Written by Anna Strom
funding from one of Sweden’s most well-respected research funding bodies, to conduct research on emissions from biomass combustion and on using ionic liquids to separate carbon dioxide (CO2) from synthesis gas or biogas, respectively.
The announcement came last week with the posting of an Excel file on the website of the Swedish Research Council, revealing this year's list of award-winning projects in its Science and Technology category. While procedure has it that no grant is confirmed before a project instigator holds in his or her hand a physical letter from SRC, attesting to the veracity of the grant, at least the posting of the online list should be an indication of which applicants will get lucky.
Health effects of emissions from biomass burning under the loup
Based at Umeå, in northern Sweden, the UmU associate professor Boman will be looking at the chemical and toxicological characteristics of aerosols formed as a result of biomass combustion, in a “unique experimental and analytic approach”, according to the title of his project proposal. More specifically, his project was designed to assess the chemical properties of particulate matter emitted during the combustion of biomass in small-to-medium-sized heating systems, and across various organic feedstock, attempting to link these properties to toxicity, Boman said. While there was ample evidence that emission of particulate matter were a culprit in certain pulmonary afflictions, the specifics and relative impact of the chemicals' properties were relatively unknown, he added;
“We know that particulate matter is linked to (negative) health effects, but we know little about what chemical properties produce which effects and which are dangerous” in terms of their effect on human health. “This work is a continuation of that which several groups at Umeå are involved in doing”.
Indeed, Boman said, in this research project he would be drawing on a “unique” constellation of researchers clustered in northern Sweden and the facilities they had access to. This uniqueness was brought about by the fact that the cluster included chemists and technicians, experts on biomass combustion, as well as specialists in pulmonary medicine and researchers in cross-cutting environmental and health research fields, such as metabolomics. Moreover, the researchers in the cluster had access to top-of-the-line experimental equipment such as laboratory scale biomass combustion reactors, he said.
"We will (be running experiments to) mimic many types of combustion processes based on a range of fuels. This project will deliver the knowledge based on which predictions about future scenarios may be made (of health effects) of combusting fuels that may not even be in common use yet", said Boman.
Separating CO2 from synthesis gas or biogas, using ionic liquids
Thanks to the SRC grant, the LTU associate professor Ji, for her part, would be continuing a multi-study collaborative project by targeting the viscosity of a certain type of ionic liquid which the researchers hope to use to facilitate separation of CO2 from synthesis gas or biogas made from forest-sourced raw materials or organic waste.
Technologies for this type of CO2 separation had already been invented but none had proven cost efficient to the point of having a commercial uptake, said Ji on a phone line from Luleå.
“This is a new technology to cut cost”, she said, adding that, in a best-case scenario, commercialisation could be five years down the line.
“This project is a co-operation with J-P (professor Jyri-Pekka Mikkola of Umeå University and Bio4Energy) on the CO2 separation using ionic liquids… There is also a part of experiments to verify the method. CO2 separation is a very important step in the (scrubbing) of biosynthesis gas and in biogas purification” to render the gases fit for use as automotive or heating fuel with a low environmental impact, Ji went on. At present, these processes were "all quite energy intensive”, she added.
However, the type of ionic liquid targeted in this project was a “promising solvent for this process”, she said. So while in previous research steps the researchers had assessed gas solubility and selectivity, the time had come to study an aspect of the ionic liquid itself, namely its viscosity, which was "one of the most important physical properties for process design because it strongly affects the mass and heat transfer rate and flow behavior", Ji said.
Notably, the researchers would be looking to render the target ionic liquid less viscous.