Bio-oil gasifier developed at Iowa State

By Luke Geiver | November 09, 2012

Researchers at Iowa State University continue to show why the school’s Bioeconomy Institute may be leading the push to develop bio-oil. A pair of researchers has developed a bio-oil gasifier that combines a stainless steel pressure vessel capable of withstanding 700 pounds per square inch of pressure, with silicon carbide-based reactor that can operate at temperatures exceeding 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, according to ISU.

Following a fast pyrolysis step to produce bio-oil from feedstocks like corn stover or wood chips, the gasifier uses a finger-sized nozzle to spray bio-oil and oxygen into the top of the reactor. The reactor then produces a mix of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, or syngas. Although the unit is currently a demonstration-based piece of equipment, it could be capable of continuously performing the gasification process.

Since June, the researchers at ISU have been converting pine wood into syngas using the gasifier. The gasifier was built as part of a two-year, $1 million grant from the U.S. DOE, and according to ISU, another grant totaling roughly $450,000 from the Iowa Energy Center will allow the researchers to continue working on the gasifier.

Song-Charng Kong, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the school, is working on a computer simulation that will allow the entire team to predict the gasifier’s operability and to perform improvements based on the model.

In addition to further work on the physical gasifier and the gasifier’s computer modeling, researchers plan to develop a simulation tool that will examine the technical, economic and real-world implications of using the technology. Part of that research will involve a simulated plant that might operate a bio-oil gasifier. “We can use these models as a tool to understand what will happen as this technology is scaled up,” Kong said.