Biofuels from Biomass

Faculty: Randy S. Lewis

Dr. Lewis is conducting research on the conversion of biomass to biofuels. Specifically, he is focusing on the biological conversion of syngas (hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide) to biofuels. Syngas is generated via the gasification of biomass. The research involves (1) assessing the effects of syngas impurities on the biological conversion process, (2) modeling the effects of syngas composition on enzyme efficiency, (3) optimizing the reactor design for the most efficient syngas conversion, and (4) developing methods to incorporate multiple biological processes to obtain the most sustainable overall process.

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Direct Carbohydrate Fuel Cells

Faculty: Dean R. Wheeler

Glucose and other carbohydrates are among the most abundant and renewable sources of energy in the world. Yet, there has been a longstanding unmet need to utilize efficiently such biologically based sources of energy in batteries and fuel cells. As part of a team of researchers (chemical engineering and chemistry) we recently uncovered a class of organic catalysts that are able to extract electrical energy from a variety of carbohydrate fuels (i.e. sugars) to a degree that has not previously been reported. This catalyst system has the potential to operate at low temperatures and relatively high efficiencies, while avoiding use of expensive noble metals (like platinum) as do competing fuel cell technologies. Our best catalyst, methyl viologen, is also used industrially as an herbicide, and so is inexpensive and widely available. The promise of these catalysts is to enable a new type of fuel cell that can directly power remote and portable electrical devices from biologically derived fuels. Current work is to improve the performance of this catalyst system and bring a new type of fuel cell product to market. This work is supported by the National Science Foundation.

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Gas turbines and vaport sensors

Faculty: Thomas Fletcher

Integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) systems send the syngas produced in a gasifier through particle filters and then to a gas turbine. Small amounts of flyash particles (less than 10 microns in diameter) make it through the filter and form deposits on turbine blade surfaces. We are studying how these deposits form at Mach 0.25 and temperatures up to 1400 C in an atmospheric laboratory facility.

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