Biomass Research Collaboration to Improve Biofuel Efficiency

A biochemical engineer at the Kansas State University is part of a national collaboration that is working to advance biomass as a leading source for more efficient bio-power, drop-in biofuels, and animal feed.

Biomass is a renewable energy source that can be converted into biofuels and other energy sources. Drop-in renewable biodiesel are very similar to current transportation fuels and can be developed with existing infrastructure and technology to make petroleum-based fuels, which could provide substantial savings on fiscal overhead for new technology.

Praveen Vadlani, the Gary and Betty Lortscher associate professor of renewable energy in Kansas State University's department of grain science and industry, is a co-principal investigator in a more than $6.5 million biomass research project between universities, industries, and federal agencies. The three-year project, a jointly funded effort by the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy, seeks to refine and improve the conversion of biomass into better drop-in biodiesel, bio-lubricants, jet fuel, and other value-added products.

Vadlani and colleagues are studying biomass made from switchgrass and sorghum, both bioenergy-rich crops. Switchgrass is a warm season grass that can be converted into large amounts of biomaterial. Sorghum is a major grain crop, livestock feed, and the primary source for biofuels production. Biomass was selected because it is a more cost-efficient sustainable energy source to produce.

"Along with making advancements to biofuels and industry, I'm looking at this as an opportunity to mentor undergraduate students who will one day go on to make future advancements in biofuels and eco-friendly materials," said Vadlani.

Vadlani, who will work with a graduate student and postdoctoral research assistant, will focus on pretreatment and fermentation steps in the production cycle to convert biomass into drop-in biodiesel, jet fuel, and bio-lubricants. This includes deconstructing biomass to its core components; separating the sugars from the bio-contaminants; fermentation of useful products; scaling up the production levels from test tubes to liters; and evaluating the energy efficiency of the biofuels produced from the modified production cycle.

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