A pilot plant capable of processing up to 1 ton of woody biomass per day into chemicals that can be used to manufacture bioproducts, including biofuels, biochemicals and advanced materials, was demonstrated in 100 hours of continuous operation beginning May 1 at the University of Maine’s Technology Research Center (TRC) in Old Town.
Chemicals made from biomass could one day be an important revenue source for the forest economy. Organic acid platform chemicals, as they are known in the industry, have multiple uses, including the production of plastics and other specialty chemicals.
At UMaine, these “green” chemical intermediates are critical in the university’s patented conversion technology to produce diesel and jet fuel from woody biomass, developed by the Forest Bioproducts Research Institute (FBRI).
Installation of the new Biomass to Bioproducts Pilot Plant was made possible by a partnership between UMaine and Biofine Technology, based in Massachusetts.
The Biomass to Bioproducts Pilot Plant occupying 10,000 square feet in TRC is the first step in scaling up UMaine’s jet fuel technology, which is still in bench-scale production. FBRI researchers hope to add another pilot plant that would use the platform chemicals to create larger quantities of biofuel — prototyping for commercialization. The two pilot plants would fully demonstrate the potential of creating diesel and jet fuels — and the chemical ingredients — entirely from biomass.
The 100 hours of continuous operation is providing reliable engineering data for companies considering such development, including the first commercial plant in Maine. The Biomass to Bioproducts Pilot Plant is the newest addition to UMaine’s research facilities that are dedicated to prototyping, and demonstrating technologies and new products to benefit commercialization of the emerging bioeconomy sector. UMaine’s other pilot plants focus on pulp and paper, food and nanocellulose.