May 4, 2009

Solar tower powers biofuel process

Drive chemical reactions with sunlight-generated heat and electricity and you can produce biofuel using a third of the biomass required by today's processes.

A computer simulation shows that converting biomass to biofuel can be extremely efficient when the process is heated to very high temperatures in a solar-concentrating tower. A solar-concentrating tower is a large pillar surrounded by reflectors that focus sunlight on a chamber in the pillar.

The carbon dioxide generated in the process can be converted to water and carbon monoxide using hydrogen extracted from water with solar-generated electricity. This keeps the process from emitting carbon dioxide.

The simulation shows that the solar-concentrating-tower process uses 33 percent of the biomass and 38 percent of the total land compared to today's biofuel processes.

Building a solar-concentrating tower is expensive, and the biofuel process is economically viable at intermediate biomass and carbon dioxide prices.

Research paper:
Concentrating-Solar Biomass Gasification Process for a 3rd Generation Biofuel
Environmental Science & Technology, published online April 30, 2009

Researchers' contact:
Edgar Hertwich
Xiangping Zhang

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