April 11, 2011 {authors} {/authors}

A Texan’s gift funds biomass research in Idaho

It's all about turning wood into oil

{authors} By A Texan’s gift funds biomass research in Idaho {/authors}

A donation from a Texas entrepreneur to the University of Idaho has funded research focused on converting woody biomass to energy.

The gift has allowed the university to install a pilot-scale pyrolysis unit at its steam plant. Pyrolysis is a type of incineration that uses almost no oxygen. When applied to an organic material like wood, pyrolysis yields biofuel plus a small amount of charcoal.

Armando McDonald, professor of wood chemistry and wood composites, researches pyrolysis of woody biomass to create bio-oil.

“This involves thermally cracking the wood to break it down into smaller molecules,”  McDonald said. “The process yields about 60 percent bio-oil; 20 percent syngas, a gas mixture that is then used to fuel the operation; and about 20 percent char that can be used as a soil amendment.”

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