Adding a little coal and processing the papermaking industry's black liquor waste into synthesis gas is a better choice than burning it for heat, improves the carbon footprint of coal-to-liquid processes, and can produce a fuel versatile enough to run a cooking stove or a truck, according to a team of Penn state engineers.
"Black liquor is routinely burned in a recovery boiler," says Andre Boehman, professor of fuel science. "But it has more energy value as a synthesis gas which is then used to create other fuels."
Black liquor is a combination of lignin from the wood, the chemicals used in papermaking and water. Normally, after burning, mills extract the inorganic chemicals and recycle them. Synthesis gas or syngas can be made from a variety of organic wastes and is a combination of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. The final product looked at by the researchers is DME or dimethyl ether.
"DME could be used as a fuel for cooking in the U.S. and Japan," says Boehman. "DME has recently grown in both production and use and is replacing coal for home heating and cooking in China."
DME is building new markets in both heat producing fuel applications and transportation. In Japan and China, some demonstration diesel trucks and buses already run on DME. Volvo has a third generation experimental truck that runs on DME and other companies are also testing vehicles.
"Penn State actually had the first transit vehicle use of DME," says Boehman, who is also treasurer of the International DME Association, a nonprofit advocacy group. "A Penn State Staff Shuttle was fitted to run on the fuel and ferried faculty and staff around campus in 2002."
Graduate students carried out the research on co-processing of coal and biomass, during a class, Design Engineering for Energy and Geo-Environmental Systems, and Boehman reported the results at the 234th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, today (Aug. 20), in Boston. The students looked at the
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