A method of converting biomass into desired fuels and chemicals is by using thermal gasification or pyrolysis technology. Gasification technology converts various forms of biomass into gaseous mixtures containing hydrogen, carbon monoxide, methane, and carbon dioxide and these molecules can be used as building blocks for a variety of chemicals and fuels. The gasification system depends heavily on the type of feedstock and correct matching is required for optimal results. The technology for large-scale biomass processing and subsequent gas cleaning using advanced catalysts has still not been demonstrated. Furthermore, the conversion of syngas to biofuels via the Fischer-Tropsch reaction has not been demonstrated and further research into catalysis and technology is required - 55]. There are a number of gasification plants around the world which generate electricity such as Guessing, Austria (2 MWe), Lahti, Finland (15 MWe), and Vermont, USA (15 MWe). Cofiring of syngas in existing pulverized coal and natural gas combustors has been successfully commercialized. In order to make gasification technology feasible for fuel and power production, any potential large-scale plant will require vast amount of biomass to be transported to the site. The transportation of biomass to central processing locations such as gasification sites or power stations could be made more efficient by using technologies such as pyrolysis.
The products of pyrolysis are in the form of gas, liquid, and solid which have direct uses for chemical, heat, fuel, and power applications. Pyrolysis occurs in the absence of oxygen and a variety of biomass feedstocks have been investigated such as wood chips, straws, and energy crops. Furthermore pyrolysis technology could be integrated in biorefineries, for example, glycerin from biodiesel production could be processed to produce valuable products. Lignin is an abundant coproduct of cellulose hydrolysis and has no use in fuel production. Due to evolution, its structure has developed to resist chemical and microbial attack from the environment and, therefore, it is an extremely difficult material to process. Lignin can be easily broken down using pyrolysis to biochar and bio-oil. The bio-oil can be used directly as a fuel in modified combustion engines, and as it contains a cocktail of chemicals it can be used as a feedstock for the chemical industry. The biochar can also be used as a fuel for energy production in coal-fired power stations and biomass boilers. However, there still remain significant challenges with separating the chemicals within the bio-oil. Furthermore stability of the bio-oil is a key issue and as yet no commercialization of the oil has taken place. The biochar can be used as a soil additive or as a solid biofuel; however, research on the effectiveness of the char still remains to be done.
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