By Daniel Estep, intern, College of Engineering and Architecture
Professor works to improve biomass conversion
PULLMAN, Wash. - Manuel Garcia-Perez, assistant professor and scientist in the Washington State University Department of Biological Systems Engineering, recently received a National Science Foundation CAREER award for his work to develop better methods for producing and refining biofuels.
According to the NSF website, the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program offers that agencyís most prestigious awards for junior faculty for outstanding research and integrated education and research efforts.
With the five-year, $400,000 grant, Garcia-Perez is trying to control pyrolysis reactions and develop more selective pyrolysis reactors. Pyrolysis is a method for converting biomass, or organic waste, by heating it in the absence of oxygen to more than 500 degrees Celsius. The process breaks the molecules down and converts more than 70 percent of the materials to liquid.
Garcia-Perez is working to better understand how the pyrolysis reaction creates crude bio-oils. He is also working on strategies to refine these oils.
Fossil fuels like gasoline are made up of carbon that contains six molecules. Garcia-Perez would like to improve the pyrolysis process so that it can produce biofuel precursors with a similar carbon makeup.
After itís produced and refined, the crude oil could be used for aviation fuels and chemical production.
Biochar and climate change
Garcia-Perez is also working to use pyrolysis to create biochar, which could be used to mitigate climate change. Biochar, which is charcoal that is used as a soil amendment, is an excellent way to store carbon due to its resistance to microbial attack.
Garcia-Perezís program is part of a university goal to develop critical research in biomass processing and bioproduct development. As part of the grant, Garcia-Perez also will train students to work in a multidisciplinary environment in this type of energy research. As an educator he gives students of different disciplinary backgrounds a comprehensive understanding of the ways biomass can be processed by thermochemical means to produce power, biofuels, and biochemicals.