Researchers develop burner, ethanol catalyst

By Anna Austin | March 05, 2009
Web exclusive posted March 11, 2009, at 4:06 p.m. CST

Researchers at Iowa State University are working to develop a low-emissions burner and a new catalyst for ethanol production, an effort funded by a two-year, $2.37 million grant from the Iowa Power Fund.

The Iowa Power Fund is a state program to advance energy innovation and independence. It provides financial assistance to entities or projects conducting business or research; accelerating research and development; knowledge transfer; technology innovation; and improving the economic competitiveness of energy independence efforts.

The project team includes individuals from numerous research organizations and renewable energy industry members, including: Song-Charng Kong, Iowa State professor of mechanical engineering and project leader; Robert Brown, Iowa Farm Bureau director of Iowa State's Bioeconomy Institute; Victor Lin, director of ISU's Center for Catalysis and director of chemical and biological sciences for the U.S. DOE's Ames Laboratory; Samual Jones, assistant scientist for the Center for Sustainable Environmental Technologies; gasification system designer Frontline Bioenergy; ethanol producer Hawkeye Energy Holdings; as well as seven graduate students and two post-doctoral researchers.

Kong is leading development of the burner, which is intended to replace natural gas in conventional ethanol production by efficiently burning biomass-based gas.

Initially, a conventional gas burner, currently at the Iowa Energy Center's Biomass Energy Conversion Facility in Nevada, will be studied to gather baseline data to develop computer models of the burner's performance. The models will be used to test new designs that optimize the combustion of produced gas from biomass, in order to build and test a new burner at the energy center's facility.

Lin is leading development of the catalyst, which will be designed to convert biogas directly into ethanol, while working at lower temperatures and pressures to deliver a higher yield of ethanol compared to existing catalysts.

Although not yet certain that the new technologies could be commercially viable, Lin believes the preliminary results have been exciting.