Complexities of biofuels adoption detailed in new report

Biofuels may present a promising alternative to the nation’s existing fuel crisis, but before they can be widely adopted, a series of technological hurdles must be overcome in order to facilitate large-scale production, says Daniel Shantz, a chemical engineering professor at Texas A&M University.Photo of Daniel Shantz

Working with 20 authorities from academia, industry, national laboratories and federal funding agencies, Shantz developed an extensive report detailing the complexities associated with biofuel production and adoption.

“Developing New Paradigms for Biofuel Separations to Enable an Alternative Fuels Future” was released this month and is based on an NSF-sponsored workshop, co-facilitated by Shantz. The report, Shantz says, is intended to serve as a research roadmap that will help address the current issues associated with the thermochemical conversion of biomass.

“In addition, our group hopes this report assists federal agencies in setting funding priorities when it comes to this beneficial area of research,” added Shantz who is co-editor of the report along with Mukund Karanjikar of Technology Holdings.

According to the report, the issue of separations is critical to large-scale production of biofuels.

“Separations technologies involve methods for extracting the useful part of the biomass mixture,” Shantz explains. Biomass refers to biological feedstocks including energy crops, agricultural residues, trees, grass, manure, sewage sludge and even household garbage.

The identification of transformative approaches is needed to generate separation technologies that will enable large-scale production, Shantz said. The report outlines a set of recommendations for fundamental research themes required to meet the associated challenges.  Some recommendations from the workshop include the development of next-generation materials to achieve separations, the development of separation schemes at high temperatures, and the development of low-energy approaches of removing water from processed biomass streams.

At Texas A&M, Shantz is holder of the Ray Nesbitt Development Professorship III. His lab is involved in materials development, with particular emphasis in the development of catalysts and membranes for use in alternative energy production.

The full report can be downloaded at http://futurefuels.che.tamu.edu. Individual presentations from workshop participants also are available for download.

For more information, contact Daniel Shantz at 979.845.3492 or via email:shantz@mail.che.tamu.edu.