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Potentially Toxic Chemicals in Thermal Conversion of Biomass Need to Be Investigated, Controlled
Bio4Energy PhD researcher Qiuju Gao checks torrefied material for toxic organic chemicals in a laboratory at the University of York. Photo by courtesy of Qiuju Gao.
In large-scale production of heat and electricity in the developed world, emissions from biomass burning are generally well controlled. Recently, however, new high-technological methods have been invented that are designed as a pre-treatment step to various forms of temperature-dependent conversion of renewable biomass to fuels, chemicals and materials, often in combination with heat and/or electricity production.
Because in such thermal conversion every new process step could be a potential source of undesirable emissions, and because these need to be controlled for the purpose of safeguarding human health and the environment,
scientists set out to investigate the matter with a focus on toxic emissions in relation to pre-treatment technologies that are still in their infancy: Microwave-assisted pyrolysis and torrefaction. While the former is designed to produce a bio oil using microwave technology (and which oil then may be further refined into value-added specialty chemicals), the other is a form of roasting of the biomass which renders light-weight and hydrophobic solid pellets or briquettes. Both methods are performed in an oxygen free, or near oxygen-free, environment.
In a set of studies carried out by Bio4Energy PhD student
Pyrolysis Oil from Biomass Could Be Early Alternative to Fossil Oil in Transition to Society Fuelled by Renewables
Magnus Marklund and his team at the SP ETC will be able to continue the development of applications of biomass-based pyrolysis oil, thanks to new funding grants from the Swedish Energy Agency and Kempe Foundations
. Photo by Maria Fäldt.
Pyrolysis of biomass—thermochemical decomposition of wood or organic waste at elevated temperatures and with minimal presence of oxygen—could be an "interesting" option in a transition to replacing today's fossil oil with renewable alternatives, according to a
expert on the thermal conversion of biomass to fuels and chemicals. Thus far, however, lack of knowledge about the composition of the bio-oil obtained from pyrolysis of wood or woody waste has been a hindrance efficiently to design techniques for producing and using such bio-oil, to believe researchers in Bio4Energy at the
SP Energy Technology Center
(SP ETC) at Piteå, in Sweden.
After five years of research in Bio4Energy, and three new funding grants enabling the start of two research projects and the purchase of state-of-the-art instrumentation, that may be about to change.
Until recently, "perhaps 50 per cent of the contents of the oil made by way of pyrolysis could be mapped by ordinary gas chromatography and other methods", said
Swedish Energy Agency
, plus support for highly advanced analytical equipment called GCxGC MS from the
. GC is short for gas chromatography, which in this case is two dimensional, but in this new instrument it has been coupled with a technique called mass spectrometry.
"With the new funding from the Energy Agency for the research projects and for a state-of-the-art analytic instrument from Kempe we are going to complement, strengthen and inventory what is being done on an international top level.