N.C. university wins grant for biofuel, biochar project

By Chris Hanson | August 01, 2013

Researchers at Appalachian State University received $45,000 from the North Carolina Agriculture Foundation to economically convert biomass to biofuel and biochar.

Professors David Domermuth and Ok-Youn Yu aim to develop the sustainable energy source to use in the absence of solar or wind power in addition to providing a potential revenue stream for farmers and forest owners. Yu, the co-principal investigator, explained the system is designed to be as simple as possible so farmers can easily adopt the technology. 

The system is designed around three large vessels and currently uses propane gas to heat woodchips to produce pyrolysis oil, fuel gas and biochar. However, Yu noted they Plan on trying to use wood as a fuel source in future methods.  The fuel gas produced by the technology is used to power a small engine, which can be used for electricity generation.

Yu explained one of the challenges of the study at the campus involves the logistics of securing feedstock. He said when the project is running low on woodchips, they have to work with a supplier to provide the material and wait for it to arrive, whereas farmers may already have waste wood or other material on-site.

Currently, the college plans to use bio volatilization technology’s waste heat to warm its greenhouse at the Watauga County Landfill. Furthermore, the produced fuel gas will run a generator to produce electricity to illuminate the greenhouse during shorter daylight periods in winter. Research is set to continue throughout the upcoming months, with the goal of providing a sustainable energy source that can be used in the absence of sunlight for solar power or wind for turbine power. Once the process is optimized, the campus will host workshops to introduce and educate local farmers to the technology.