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ConocoPhillips Establishes $22.5 Million Biofuels Research Program at Iowa State; Interest in Fast Pyrolysis

10 April 2007

ConocoPhillips will establish an eight-year, $22.5 million research program at Iowa State University dedicated to developing technologies that produce biorenewable fuels. The grant is part of ConocoPhillips’ plan to create joint research programs with major universities to produce viable solutions to diversify US energy sources.

ConocoPhillips will make an initial $1.5 million grant in 2007 to support Iowa State researchers, with additional grants of $3 million per year for seven years.

Robert C. Brown, the Iowa Farm Bureau Director of Iowa State’s Office of Biorenewables Programs, said ConocoPhillips is especially interested in converting biomass to fuel through fast pyrolysis, a process that uses heat in the absence of oxygen to decompose biomass into a liquid product. The resulting  bio-oil can be used as a heating oil or can be converted into transportation fuel at petroleum refineries.

Fast pyrolysis operates at atmospheric pressure and modest temperatures (450° C). Yields of pyrolysis liquid (bio-oil)—a low viscosity, dark-brown fluid with up to 15 to 20% water—can exceed 70 wt%.

While bio-oil can be combusted directly in a stationary engine, for transportation use it needs to be upgraded either by hydrocracking, gasification or fermentation.

Brown said ConocoPhillips also will sponsor studies of other thermochemical technologies that produce biofuels.

ConocoPhillips will fund research to understand and support environmental sustainability and rural economies. Studies will emphasize crop improvement and production, the harvesting and transportation of biomass and the impacts of biofuels on economic policy and rural sociology.

According to Brown, the details of specific projects have yet to be determined. He estimates the research program will involve 10 faculty members plus graduate students in the first year with additional researchers added in subsequent years. He noted that ConocoPhillips turned to Iowa State as a research partner, in part, because of Iowa State’s expertise in a wide range of biorenewable technologies.

Iowa State’s Office of Biorenewables Programs includes 145 faculty members with ties to 18 academic departments and 19 research centers and institutes across campus. Those researchers have attracted more than $57 million in sponsored research funding since 2002.

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April 10, 2007 in Biomass, Biomass-to-Liquids (BTL), Fuels | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)

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That's a eight year project. It will be decades before we see any product in the market, if at all. If they are really serious about energy diversification, they can do a lot with the existing technology.

Seems like a PR strategy.

Yes please stop funding multiyear research programs.You might learn stuff.

This amount spent over eight years is probably not intended for significant research although something useful may get done.

The last two paragraphs, IMO, tell what this is about - people, people, people.

The most valuable commodity in a huge and complex industry is people. Technical companies want contacts at engineering schools.

The schools benefit by having the means to attract and retain top graduate and postgrad students and junior faculty.

Just as you know, Iran is now enriching uranium at a very fast pace.

And like the nuke power plant technology, Russia is now delivering anti-aircraft missile batteries to protect Iranian nuke sites from Israeli or American airstrikes.

The window of opportunity for Israel to stop Iran’s nuke weapons program will be short.

And if attacked, Iran has promised to make the Strait of Hormuz (outlet of the Persian Gulf) impassable. And thereafter Iran may attack Saudi oil platforms.

Clearly, we pay big-time for the profitable brinksmanship by oil exporting countries like Iran, Russia, and Venezuela.

There have been a few alternatives for decades, but oil companies didn’t develop them and didn’t want you to know about them. For example, bio-oil was developed by Canadian governments and non-oil companies such as:

http://www.dynamotive.com/

Bio-oil can be used to fuel external combustion engines (Stirling and steam), turbines, and slow diesel engines. It’s not directly suitable for current Otto cycle (spark-ignition) engines, but perhaps could be suitable with some inexpensive processing - perhaps even onboard immediately before combustion. Such inexpensive process development would not likely cost $Billions, and maybe not even $Millions – it could be just $1000s for some clever mechanic somewhere (if they ever get to see any bio-oil).

But guess what – Conoco wants to muscle into this bio-oil action. Hey, Chevron did great with NiMH batteries – they bought the patents, then took those electric-car batteries off the market. And now Chevron’s buying (again, more like burying) lithium-ion battery patents. Bio-oil looks like Conoco’s assigned target. Maybe our only hope to see plug-in and/or bio-oil-fuelled cars is to get the Oil Collusion Party out of power ASAP.

NG can be used to run cars and buses. If we put a hold using so much for tar sands in Canada, we can pipe it down and use it here.

Quote: "Yes please stop funding multiyear research programs.You might learn stuff."

I am not suggesting to stop this. As you sarcastically pointed out, they might end up learning something new.

But they can do a lot with what we already know. Since they are not doing that and trying to find new science suggests they have a different motive - maybe Jay D is right.

These guys have distribution. If they are serious about developing it, they can get it into the distribution chain more quickly and more effectively than through some other methods. As much as some may not want to admit it, the oil companies CAN be part of a solution.

Bio-oil is great because it's produced from cellulosic residues otherwise without value. It's not corn ethanol which needs part of the food content of corn kernels (specifically, cornstarch). Bio-oil is economically produced from corn stover (stalks and leaves), bark otherwise dumped from pulp mills, etc., and right on the farm using portable processing modules !!! So bio-oil will provide another revenue source - and energy source - for poor farmers, instead of for Persian Gulf potentates (whose fossil fuels are warming the earth, and poisoning it with SO2, mercury, etc.).

Moreover, the char by-product of bio-oil production can be applied to soil as an excellent permanent fertilizer. So the farmer who produces bio-oil could end up producing a lot MORE food - not less !!!

The water-soluble compounds in bio-oil are readily degradable by many bacterial species because cellulose combustion is part of the natural life-cycle of the forest - unlike the water-insoluble straight-chain and especially aromatic (ring) hydrocarbons from petroleum which don't bio-degrade and are toxic carcinogens. Bio-oil is Mother Nature's Milk to the Living World when compared to Vile Petroleum which should remain locked up in Hell where it came from...

Bio-oil will become the feedstock for chemical processing industries that will supplant vile petrochemicals. And bio-oil, along with superior external combustion engines and carbon fuel cells, along with photovoltaics plus super batteries, and ultimately nuclear-waste-free hydrogen-boron fusion power, will replace the fossil fuels and nuclear fission that we'd otherwise kill ourselves with/for.

We need hope, but with bio-oil among these other developments, we've got a lot more than just hope in our favour. But I've also written to warn about vested interests like oil companies who will buy and influence a lot of people to undermine bio-oil and the other great works-in-progress.

I think we used the most easily obtainable energy sources first. When oil cost $2 per barrel to produce, we use that. What never occured to us was that the mineral resources like oil were finite, non-renewable and non-recyclable and as such should be saved for times when we have no other choice. We should have been using renewables from the start, and saving the non-renewables for later..but humankind is not that smart.

We need hope, but with bio-oil among these other developments, we've got a lot more than just hope in our favour. But I've also written to warn about vested interests like oil companies who will buy and influence a lot of people to undermine bio-oil and the other great works-in-progress.
Jay,
That would seem like an odd business model: buy promising technologies and kill it. Why would Big Oil do that? To watch us all suffer as we struggle to afford $10/gal gasoline? I guess they do terrible things to puppies too, right?

What happens if a competitor buys one of these technologies and bring it to market? Won't the company who sat on their invention look stupid and loose a lot of money? Or are you suggesting that all oil companies are in this together, coordinating behind the scenes like the mafia?

Maybe Big Oil is best suited to bring these technologies to market, since they have the refineries, pipelines, etc. Maybe Big Oil is starting to look for different feedstocks as more and more of the crude reserves gets nationalized by crazy authoritarians like Putin and Chavez. Maybe the fact that Big Oil is beginning to invest means that these technologies have some potential, unlike other technologies which serve mainly as unstated subsidies for select corporations with the right connections in Washington DC. Maybe Big Oil is bio-oil's best hope for success.

In the 1930s, "catalytic carburetors" (catalysts in heated carburetors) cracked kerosene in a small number of spark-ignition vehicles and tractors - to allow those engines to use kerosene (besides gasoline) without "knocking".

However, Standard Oil & GM killed that concept by forcing tetraethyl lead into gasoline using their economic and political dominance in the 1930s. Leaded gasoline was a environmental and health disaster which poisoned people and the catalysts in those catalytic carburetors. So leaded gasoline was effectively imposed on us by the corporatism (fascism) of that era.

Now we're in Bush's corporatist era which killed the electric car program in California (in 2003). Chevron bought and still sits on the then-best NiMH battery patents of that program.

If the current Congress is still afraid to fight big oil, then the emerging bio-oil economy will have to develop outside the US. China for example would be more than happy to dominate the World economy as the US withers under crooked corporatism like that from Big Oil.

(Although I'm very confident that catalytic carburetors could crack bio-oil for use in spark-ignition engines, there would need to be lots of design and testing to determine if this sort of vaporized fuel pre-processing could be done safely. Diesel engines and diesel gensets might be a safer bet to apply bio-oil.)

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