Making waste products more powerful at OSU

By Oklahoma State University | February 04, 2016

Turning what is widely considered waste into valuable resources is a priority for Oklahoma State University’s BioBased Products and Energy Center.

There is an increasing demand for low-cost, small-scale, portable power generation units that utilize local carbonaceous feedstocks. Rather than burning up nonrenewable fossil fuels, Ajay Kumar, associate professor in OSU’s Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, is leading a team of researchers in a project to use local biomass materials to create portable power.

“This research is beneficial because we are developing a technology that can utilize wastes and produce electricity without using any fossil fuels. This reduces landfills and cuts greenhouse gas emissions that are linked to global change in climate,” he said. “This directly supports the mission of BioPEC by developing sustainable technology to utilize agricultural and other wastes. Using agricultural wastes adds more revenue to rural economy and makes it more sustainable.”

This research that resulted from the patented downdraft gasifier was a collaborative effort between several BioPEC researchers and was funded by the USDA and U.S. Department of Transportation, through the South Central Sun Grant Program.

Kumar’s team hopes to use these power generation units as both stand-alone and supplemental soureces, in providing electricity, especially in areas destroyed by natural disasters. These units would be a good alternative to conventional diesel or gasoline generators, since locally available biomass resources could fuel the units.

Biomass gasification technology provides an opportunity to utilize biomass and waste carbonaceous material while simultaneously generating electric power at decentralized and isolated locations. Primary tests, using switchgrass as feedstock, showed the commercial scale downdraft gasifier system operation was stable and consistent.

In addition, a slipstream of syngas was routed through a gas cleaning system to remove the impurities before introduction to the internal combustion engine to produce electricity. Major engine exhaust emissions were well below the federal limits.

“Design and performance analysis of the gasifier is complete,” Kumar said.  “However, electric generation is still being investigated with wide variety of feedstocks, including wastes and eastern redcedar.”

The research team has successfully demonstrated the operation of the unit to representatives of the military, congressional staffers, Central Rural Electric Cooperative, National Energy Solutions Institute-Smart Energy Source, OSU Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources administrators and potential investors of the mobile electricity generation technology.