Fuel in forests

Innovative research focuses on adding value to woody biomass

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) will invest more than $4 million to help diversify and grow the Maine economy, which includes new funds designed to aid the forest sector, announced U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Matt Erskine in a news conference at the University of Maine in July.

In addition, an EDA Economic Development Assessment Team (EDAT) is evaluating new and existing economic strategies to address the state’s forest-based economic challenges. At the conclusion of the EDAT process, regional and local stakeholders will have a bottom-up strategy, developed with input from the federal partners, designed to foster robust economic growth and recovery.

Erskine also announced several new efforts by other federal partners that will provide support to the Maine economy. They include a $3.3 million award from the Defense Logistics Agency, Ft. Belvoir, Virginia to advance the wood to jet fuel initiative at the Technology Research Center of UMaine’s Forest Bioproducts Research Institute (FBRI), directed by Hemant Pendse. The innovative project is based on FBRI’s patented thermal deoxygenation process, which was shown to yield jet fuel test samples that have met key specifications.

test-tube-treeTo improve process economics, FBRI will investigate co-production of advanced materials, such as nanocellulose composites, as well as some high-value chemicals from woody biomass and liquid hydrocarbon fuels.

The project will explore conversion of cellulose and lignin to liquid hydrocarbon fuels, and use of hemicellulose extract and cellulose fiber slipstreams for developing high-value co-products.

UMaine’s research related to woody biomass focuses on finding new opportunities for high-value use as an alternative to direct combustion in biomass power plants, where energy efficiency is often very low. FBRI plans to finish reassembly of its recently relocated biomass hydrolysis pilot plant, designed to convert biomass into levulinic and formic acids, to keep the unique critical research infrastructure operating in Maine and train students.

read more: