Biomass to Natural Gas, the Combustion Connection

Diesel engines bring to mind oil fields and fuel from fossils, but the Energy and Environmental Research Center (EERC) at the University of North Dakota is trying to change that. Researchers at EERC have generated electricity from a diesel engine run on gas from a biomass gasification technology. Biomass used for the research includes forest residues, wood chips, sawdust, and agricultural by-products.

“We believe this demonstration project utilizing biomass to produce a gas that is burned in a diesel engine is the first of its kind in North America,” said Darren Schmidt, EERC Research Manager in charge of the project. EERC researchers completed a demonstration of the biomass technology that ran a 100 hp John Deere diesel engine powered by the gasified wood chips continuously over 100 hours. The conversion process extracts a gas from wood chips that is similar to natural gas. Fuel produced from this process can be fired in a small gas turbine, a diesel engine, or a conventional combustion engine. Researchers also used the demonstration to test emissions from the engine. “The major opportunities for this technology are at remote sites where it’s difficult to bring in fuels, such as many Indian reservations in the West,” said EERC Director Gerald Groenewold. “This provides many exciting opportunities for enhancing national energy independence and could significantly reduce the use of landfills.” Project sponsors include the U.S. Department of Energy, the California Energy Commission, FlexEnergy, the North Dakota Department of Commerce Division of Community Services, Primeboard, the Biomass Energy Resource Center, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. To further demonstrate and support commercialization of the technology, the EERC is looking to establish partnerships with industries interested in biomass management, and forest product sites interested in demonstrating the technology.
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