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The Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) in Grand Forks, N. D., is developing alternative liquid fuels for military and commercial applications.

EERC deputy associate director for research, Mike Holmes, notes developing the alternative liquid fuels will improve energy security, improve cost and efficiency, improve sustainability and develop the availability of a system that can coproduce electricity and liquid fuels.

“The military has been good at developing products that private companies and consumers can benefit from,” he states. “This has the possibility for development of moderate-scale systems that allow distributed production of power and fuels, utilizing coal and regional sources of biomass.”

The Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, Inc. (CCAT) in East Hartford, Conn., awarded EERC a $906,000 contract to develop the alternative liquid fuels. The EERC will demonstrate gasification-based technologies for converting nonpetroleum feedstocks, such as coal and biomass, into liquid fuels.

Dr. Tom Maloney, CCAT’s director of technology, research and applications, states the military will benefit from technologies that are commercially viable.  He adds there are at least two reasons CCAT and EERC are working together on the project.

“We would rather use an existing facility rather than duplicate facilities,” he says. “We also want to utilize the best resources, like EERC, to save money. The collaboration among EERC, DoD, DOE, CCAT, and project partners Arcadis and Avetec have allowed us to leverage the existing EERC resources to the benefit of everybody involved.”

According to a joint press release, the EERC is supporting the CCAT team by using the EERC’s transport reactor development unit and bench-scale entrained-flow gasifier (EFG) systems to evaluate the impact of fuel quality and operating conditions on synthetic gas composition, gas cleanup, system performance, overall process efficiency and CO₂ emissions.

The EERC is a research, development, demonstration and commercialization facility recognized as one of the world’s leading developers of clean, more efficient energy technologies, as well as environmental technologies to protect and clean air, water and soil.
CCAT helps private and public entities to apply innovative tools and practices to increase efficiencies, improve workforce development and boost competitiveness.

In January 2010, CCAT started looking at different gasification techniques to assist the military’s mandate on becoming more energy independent through the utilization of sustainable energy and fuels. EERC’s previous gasification testing drew CCAT’s attention and a partnership was formed between the two entities to test the viability of wood and algae as biomass for jet fuel.

Previous testing performed in the EERC’s gasification systems shows that a highly clean gas can be produced from coal and coal-biomass mixtures, which is essential for the production of quality liquid fuel, according to the joint press release.

“This will show the versatility of the system for various biomass feedstocks to be utilized at different bases,” Holmes says.

Maloney envisions a plant system in either the military or consumer sector. “The goal is to have a commercial plant up and running by 2020,” he says.

The major challenge is gathering more data and conducting more testing in order to prove the economic and technical viability of making liquid fuels from coal and biomass mixtures. “We still have a lot to learn,” Maloney says.

Alan Van Ormer, Prairie Business Magazine