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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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Research Project: Distributed on-Farm Bioenergy, Biofuels and Biochemicals (Farmbio3) Development and Production Via Integrated Catalytic Thermolysis

Location: Sustainable Biofuels and Co-Products

2013 Annual Report


1a.Objectives (from AD-416):
The objective of FarmBio3 is twofold: (i) to leverage the existing synergies among partners to further research and optimize pyrolysis pathways to commodity fuels and chemicals and improve the TRL 4 status already achieved at ARS and (ii) increase to on-farm scale that will enable the current state of technology to, TRL 6, commercial status.


1b.Approach (from AD-416):
The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, along with several university and industrial partners, proposes a research program focused on moving on-the-farm distributed pyrolysis for biofuels and biochemicals production from its current status of TRL 4 to demonstration ready, TRL 6. In the proposed project we will focus on three feedstocks that are important to U.S. agriculture including switchgrass, horse manure and woody biomass. The primary conversion platform will be catalytic and non-catalytic fast pyrolysis for production of stable fuel intermediates. Because barriers to utilization of such intermediates are high we will develop more robust multi-functional heterogeneous catalysts to balance deoxygenation pathways to minimize oxygenate production while increasing carbon efficiency for the selected feedstock pool. Bifunctional catalysts will be developed to upgrade and optimize carbon distribution in the condensed phase pyrolysate to achieve C6-C14 hydrocarbons and target entry to gasoline, diesel and jet range fuels markets. We will develop and optimize homogeneous catalysts to break C-O bonds of the lignin fraction of lignocellulosic pyrolysate to produce specialty chemicals. Pyrolysis process improvements will be integrated at on- the-farm scale using an existing patent-pending dual fluidized bed, combustion-reduction integrated pyrolysis, unit (CRIPS) designed to mimic the fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) process. Using real process data from this scale up and optimized upgrading, an exergetic LCA will be performed to describe not only economics and greenhouse gas emissions but also resource depletion and loss of quality for distributed on-farm thermolysis; this will be the first complete economic, environmental, and social sustainability analysis for on-farm pyrolysis.


3.Progress Report:

$6.87 million NIFA’s Biomass Research & Development Initiative (BRDI) grant to develop an on-the-farm distributed technology for converting forest residues, horse manure, switchgrass and other perennial grasses into biofuels and high-value specialty chemicals. The process will be implemented at on-the-farm scale using a patent-pending unit that will mimic the petroleum industry’s catalytic cracking process. The project integrates a life cycle assessment from collection and handling of the biomass to end products and will use thermodynamic principles to assess its sustainability.

The project has been divided into four main tasks, each with several sub-tasks. The four groups are (i) CRIPS reactor design and construction, (ii) Feedstock availability and logistics, (iii) conversion and catalyst development and (iv) measurements, which encompasses technoeconomic, life cycle and social sustainability analyses. Appropriate agreements have been set up with each of the partner universities. An all hands in-person kick-off meeting was held at ARS-Wyndmoor, PA on November 7, 2012. Each sub group has held biweekly or monthly research update meetings since that time. An all hands in-person meeting with presentations from each partner institution will be held at ARS-Wyndmoor, PA on August 22, 2013.

For the two-ton per day demonstration pyrolysis unit, the CRIPS reactor design is complete including solids and gas handling. Separations design is in-progress with Condenser design completed and ESP design at 75%. Electrical design is in progress with major components identified. Control design is being developed. Specification of control architecture is in progress. Siemens, Inc. is providing the control system. Skid layout is at the 75% level with all major components identified. Piping design is at 35%. Construction of CRIPs reactor is complete. Cold flow testing of fluidizing and circulating systems has been completed. Fabrication of chimneys, cyclones and condensers are complete. The trailer which the system will be mounted has been ordered and received. Renovation of a high-bay satellite building at ARS-Wyndmoor has been completed. This building will house the trailer mounted CRIPS system.

The feedstock portion of the FarmBio3 project partners are ARS, Mesa, Inc., University of Maine, Morrisville Sate College (NY) along with input from PA switchgrass farmers. The group has made progress on the logistics required for each of the feedstocks and on quantifying the amount of each feedstock that could be available for conversion via pyrolysis is each of the regions selected (PA, NY, ME).

The conversion and catalysts development group FarmBio3 project partners are ARS, University of Oklahoma, Villanova University, University of Delaware, University of South Carolina, University of Maine and University of the Sciences. This group encompasses both catalysts for the pyrolysis process (catalytic pyrolysis) and also catalysts for post-production upgrading (hydrodeoxygenation of pyrolysis oil and utilization of lignin). In the area of catalytic pyrolysis, substantial progress has been made on understanding the role of catalyst properties on their rates of deactivation during pyrolysis utilizing small scale reaction. These studies are advising custom synthesis of novel catalytic materials with the goal of making a more robust catalyst. Screening of these novel catalysts for determining which to scale up for larger scale testing is underway. For post-production upgrading substantial progress has been made on modeling the hydrotreating reactions of p-cresol, a model compound for oxygenates in catalytically produced pyrolysis oil. Studies of synthesis of novel coke-resistant supports and custom mono-metallic and bimetallic catalysts are underway. Testing of these catalysts for hydrodeoxygenation of pyrolysis oil has started. Development of homogeneous catalyst systems for breaking C-O bonds in pyrolytic lignin is also underway.

The measurements group consists of ARS and Drexel University. Drexel is subcontracting to Swarthmore College and SUNY-ESF for input on exergetic life cycle and social sustainability metrics, respectively. The group has defined the parameters it needs from the other partners on energy and materials input required for feedstock production, collection, logistics, handling, conversion and upgrading. A preliminarily exegetic life cycle analysis has been done for switchgrass pyrolysis. For social sustainability, the structure of an interview for farmers on their attitudes about and willingness to participate in a distributed pyrolysis scenario has been developed.


Last Modified: 9/10/2014
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