Pyrolysis Results From Wood

With the very knowledgeable folks in a stunned sense of realization that biomass is the oil reserve that dwarfs Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and all of OPEC, and everything else combined and would not deplete, the connections to the excitement are to a chemical process called pyrolysis, that everyone else is wondering about.

Pyrolysis is cooking. Cooking hot and in a vessel free of oxygen so the “food” won’t burn up. Humans have been at this for thousands of years when making charcoal. You can do it too. (Link 1, 2) The idea is to trap the wood in as oxygen free a vessel as possible and apply heat. What happens is the wood as it heats up gives off its light elements, first water vapor and then higher densities of carbon and hydrogen gases form and are driven off until what’s left is carbon in charcoal form. What you have is a very high-density carbon based fuel, light in weight and easy to keep burning once it’s lit off, just as you use it in the charcoal grill in the back yard. Old, but very effective technology for concentrated fuel. It’s just hard to get burning and is a solid.

Pyrolysis Flowchart

Modern science is exploring and improving on pyrolysis. Scientists know what temperatures yield what products and how time at temperature can affect the product production. The modern goal is to have no oxidized products and yield products that can be made into other products. What is common is to try to yield pyrolysis oil, a complex mixture of oxygenated hydrocarbons that can be refined into most things that crude oil can also be used to make. The advantage is that modern techniques yield liquid products that are much easier to use, easier to transport and can be made into a wide array of products.

The latest technology is in gaseous pyrolysis. Gaseous pyrolysis has been around for well over 100 years when coal was first treated by pyrolysis to make “coal gas” that was piped around to homes and businesses for lighting lamps before electricity became commonplace. Today the target is “syn-gas” or “syngas” and to achieve the highest yield with the least possible liquid and solid products.

Its not all that simple, pyrolysis is a complex reaction and results can be products out of equilibrium with difficult to predict properties. Nevertheless, technology marches on and the control expertise has good results now in managing the process temperatures, the timing, ambient surroundings, and the “contaminates” of oxygen, water and other gases. A pure or consistent feedstock can yield excellent results. Keep in mind that only a very small fraction of the energy locked in the feedstock is all that’s required to make the necessary heat run the pyrolysis.

The knowledge then is that for a given feedstock, the lower the temperature and longer times of runs yields solids or charcoal while hotter and quicker runs yield liquids and even hotter and faster runs will yield gas products.

Pyrolysis is currently in the fast track mode of development with new information and application clues. The research is still in process and the development of the new knowledge quite expensive and as yet, not established conclusively. This also means that the research will bring great operating cost reductions. In addition, all of the research is headed to the “fast” pyrolysis method that yields oil and gas products.

Fast Pyrolysis From Dynamotive

Fast pyrolysis is when the heating up takes place very quickly. The decomposition then is mostly vapors, aerosol products and some charcoal rich in the mineral ashes becoming high quality products that list from mineral fertilizers to oil and gas. While cooling, some of the gases condense into an oil with about half of the energy density of diesel or heating oil. [Link to animated Flash Demonstration] The remaining gas is rich in CO, CO2 and other trace gases that can be made into methane or natural gas or fed to microorganisms.

The process needs very quick introduction of the heat energy into the feedstock that should be in small particulates. The temperature needs fine control and vapors quickly condensed to produce the biomass oil product. Many experimental advanced processes give high yields of excellent quality liquid oil products. The potential is astonishing across a wide range of fuel and oil based products.

Pyrolysis doesn’t seem to end there. There are ventures involved in assorted refinements and innovations beyond high speed heating. Such ideas labeled as “Flash Pyrolysis” for even faster processes and even developments in the slower methods offer new useful products. It looks to be a topic that will expand fast. The engineers will point out that pyrolysis is a close cousin to petroleum distillation and reforming which is true. A lot is known in the broad sense and a huge amount of innovation from connecting technologies is on its way.

It looks like pyrolysis will deserve a category of its own here soon. Just keep in mind that pyrolysis is a first step on the biomass path to fuel. It has competition now from the professors at the University of Maryland we saw yesterday. Other cellulosic and lignin decomposition solutions will likely appear over time. The drive to the low cost ‘biomass to fuel’ solution is on, may the cheapest fuel provider win.

What a couple of weeks!


8 Comments so far

  1. Anonymous on March 18, 2008 7:27 AM

    Industrial application already working, see :

  2. physical therapist on November 8, 2010 4:50 AM

    Beneficial info and excellent design you got here! I want to thank you for sharing your ideas and putting the time into the stuff you publish! Great work!

  3. Fuel pyrolysis | Easytm on July 10, 2012 2:14 PM

    […] What Is This Pyrolysis Fuel Making Thing? | New Energy and FuelQuick overviews and basic info on Pyrolysis. The pyrolysis of wood, which starts at 200–300 °C (390–570 °F), occurs for example in fires where solid fuels are b… Latest news and videos on Pyrolysis… […]

  4. RESEM Pyrolysis Plant on April 9, 2013 12:10 AM

    Fast pyrolysis is when the heating up takes place very quickly.

  5. Limengyao on August 10, 2016 3:30 AM

    Thank you for sharing. Pyrolysis industry not only can produce fuel oil, but also can reduce waste pollution.I agree with this article.

  6. Limengyao on August 10, 2016 3:33 AM

    I think pyrolysis technology is helpful.

  7. Arnion Zhang on July 3, 2017 9:12 PM

    Pyrolysis is popular in particular industries which are associated with the thermal and chemical decomposition of certain materials. It typically involves some type of organic material, or in the case of materials like plastic or tires, the thermochemical process can lead to the production of what exactly is called bio-oil.

  8. Sorting Plant on August 3, 2017 8:46 PM

    Quite helpful technology. I like.

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