Scientists at the University of Minnesota have developed a new way to convert biomass into syngas without relying on fossil fuel.
Syngas is a mixture of gases including hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Current methods of biodiesel production require adding methanol to convert soy oil to biodiesel, but the new process turns the soy oil directly into gases by heating it to around 1,000 degrees C.
This superheating process works 10 to 100 times faster than current methods and is carbon-neutral - that is, no more carbon enters the production than leaves it. This solves the issue researchers had in trying to convert biofuels, in which carbonized matter plugged pores of syngas catalysts.
Lanny Schmidt, the project's team leader and professor of chemical engineering and materials science at the University of Minnesota, says the process heats the fuel so quickly that it becomes gas and mixes with oxygen before getting a chance to smoke.
"It's a way to take cheap, worthless biomass and turn it into useful fuels and chemicals," says Schmidt.