New lab will test ND biomass feedstocks

By Lisa Gibson
North Dakota State University and the USDA's Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory south of Mandan, N.D., are teaming up to establish the state's first biomass testing laboratory.

The facility will be configured into existing infrastructure at the NGPRL for the study of dimensional, mechanical and thermal characteristics of North Dakota biomass. "The goal is to determine the characteristics of the input material, namely biomass feedstocks of North Dakota and serve the users," said Igathinathane Cannayen, NDSU research and extension engineer and researcher in the project. "These characteristics are the first stage in the utilization of biomass through various pathways such as bioenergy (cofiring, pyrolysis, gasification), bioproducts (bio-oil, biochar, chemicals) and biofuels (hydrolysis, fermentation). The lab will be serving the needs of the farmers, biomass producers and industry personnel," he said, adding, it will have a model similar to soil testing labs or plant diagnostics labs.

It's safe to say the facility will be up and running in one year, Cannayen said. The collaborative was awarded $225,000 from the North Dakota Industrial Commission's Renewable Energy Program to cover the cost of the major equipment considered to be the starting point of the lab. Funding from NDSU has also been used and more will be sought from other sources to ensure it is fully equipped. "For the required operating funds, industries and other organizations will be contacted," Cannayen said. The immediate roadblock is an operating grant that would provide salary for a technical assistant. Without that position testing and productivity would be limited, as Cannayen is working on several other research and extension projects, he said.

The NDSU departments involved in the collaboration are the Department of Agricultural Biosystems Engineering and Agribusiness and Applied Economics, by virtue of the departments of the project investigators-Cannayen and NDSU Professor Cole Gustafson. NDSU and NGPRL work together through a number of specific cooperative agreements. The NGPRL extends office and research facilities to NDSU's faculty members, Cannayen said.