University of South Florida - Southeastern Universities Research

Bio-energy Research
At the
University of South Florida
Contact Persons
Dr. D. Yogi Goswami
John & Naida Ramil Professor and
Co-Director, Clean Energy Research Center
Tel. (813) 974-0956
Fax: (813) 974-2050
Dr. James Garey
Chair, Department of Biology
Tel. (813) 974-3250
Fax: (813) 974-3263
Dr. Robert Chang
Vice President, Office of Research
University of South Florida
4202 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa, FL 33620
Bio-energy Research
At the
University of South Florida
Bio-energy research at the University of South Florida is being conducted in the colleges of
Engineering and Arts & Sciences. Below are some examples of the typical on going research in
the areas of conversion of Biomass to liquid fuels and hydrogen and fundamental research in
Hydrogen Production from Biomass
The Clean Energy Research Center (CERC) at the University of South Florida has been working in the
broad areas of renewable hydrogen production, hydrogen storage and fuel cells for the last 10 years. Since
2002 we have focused on renewable hydrogen production from biomass as part of a project supported by
the US Department of Energy. Thermochemical biomass gasification has been identified as a promising
technology for renewable hydrogen production. Our overall objective was to improve the hydrogen yield,
total gas yield and process efficiency. A detailed thermodynamic analysis of biomass gasification was
conducted and the process parameters that influence the hydrogen yield in gasification were identified. A
parametric modeling study gave the optimal conditions for hydrogen production in biomass gasification.
The study also found that the maximum hydrogen yield is constrained by the CO2 formed in the product
gas. Further investigation led to the development of a novel technique that can significantly enhance the
hydrogen yield, reduce the tar impurities and CO2 formed in the product gas. The novel technology also
has the potential to lower the capital cost of the conventional biomass gasification process.
It makes use of suitable materials called sorbents which absorb the CO2 formed during biomass
gasification and thereby influence the water gas shift (WGS) reaction in favor of hydrogen. Theoretical
simulations carried out in ASPEN Plus® process simulator showed a 19% increase in the hydrogen yield
and 50% reduction in the product gas CO2. Moreover the gasifier could be operated at 200oC lower
temperature than conventional, still giving the same or even more hydrogen than conventional
gasification. Experimental studies were then carried out by gasifying South Eastern Pine bark (an
abundant woody biomass found in Florida and Southern Georgia) in presence of calcium oxide. The
hydrogen yield and overall gas yield had more than doubled at gasification temperature as low as 500oC
(Figure 1). The tars in the product gas had reduced significantly. The carbon conversion efficiency (which
is a measure of the effectiveness of gasification) increased drastically from 23% to almost 63% when the
gasification was conducted in presence of the sorbent. The calcium oxide not only played the role of
sorbent but also acted like a catalyst. The exothermic CO2 absorption reaction can be coupled with
endothermic steam biomass gasification to provide in-situ heat thereby lowering the external heat supply.
This will lead to reduction in the gasifier heat duty, making it more compact and reducing the capital
costs. The product gas coming out of the system has less hydrocarbon and tar impurities than a
conventional biomass gasification system, and this will reduce the gas cleaning and conditioning
equipment and the associated costs.
The concept of using sorbents for biomass gasification has shown substantial promise at the laboratory
scale. We propose to continue this work aimed at developing a pilot-scale plant that can employ the
sorbent enhanced gasification concept to produce a hydrogen rich gas stream with reduced CO2 and tars.
This gas can be sent to a storage unit, fuel cell or gas turbine with greatly reduced gas cleaning cost. The
electricity so generated would be renewable, CO2 neutral and sourced locally, thereby increasing
Florida’s energy independence. We also plan to investigate conversion of the CO2 coming from sorbent
regeneration into agricultural fertilizers such as ammonium bicarbonate or urea. Hence there is potential
to actually remove CO2 from the atmosphere, making sorbent enhanced biomass gasification a CO2
negative technology. This will have a significant positive influence on the environment while
simultaneously boosting the economy and agriculture of Florida.
Gas yield without & with sorbent at 500 C
Yield (ml/g) .
Without CaO
With CaO
Figure 1: (a) Effect of sorbent addition at 500°C (b) Tar laden condensate—without sorbent (left) and
with sorbent (right) showing substantial reduction in tars in presence of sorbents.
Production of Liquid Fuels from Florida Biomass via Thermochemical Conversion
The objective of this project is to develop an economically viable thermo-chemical process for
converting readily available Florida biomass to clean burning liquid fuels. This is the first phase
of a two phase project leading to commercial production of synthetic gasoline from biomass in
Florida. In this first phase we will establish the best technology and best processing conditions
for the types of biomass produced in Florida, along with the design and cost specifications for a
pilot plant project. During the second phase, Biomass Investment Group is committed to build
the pilot plant and to bring the technology to full scale commercialization.
Florida has large amounts of biomass from sugar industry (Bagasse), citrus industry (citrus
peels) and forest products (easily grown pine and tall grasses). Many of these biomass products
are rich in lignin and hence more suited to conversion via the thermo chemical process as
opposed to biochemical conversion to alcohols. In the thermo chemical process the biomass is
first partially oxidized to form a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen (syngas) and then
converted to clean burning liquid hydrocarbon fuels such as ethanol or gasoline via the well
known Fischer-Tropsch synthesis projects developed in Germany during the 1920s and 1930s.
The key technology development here is the design of the gasifier which involves fine tuning of
processing conditions ( contact method, temperature, pressure, biomass to oxygen ratio etc.) to
achieve optimum production of syngas while minimizing pollutant formation and maximizing
energy production. The technology for FTS also need to be adapted to take into account the
economic conditions and fuel supply needs of the state of Florida.
Our preliminary investigations will focus on the fine tuning of this process for sugar cane
bagasse and switchgrass through bench scale experiments for determining yield, kinetics and
optimum processing conditions. This will be accompanied by modeling and simulation studies to
establish the process design for pilot plant construction and commercial production. Using this
model we can establish the best mix of products (liquid fuels, syngas or methane gas) that will
lead to eventual commercialization of the process.
The potential impact on the agriculture and energy production in Florida will be significant. The
long term implications point to decreasing the dependence of the state on imported oil and
gasoline and the development of a strong renewable energy industry tailored specifically to take
advantage of the unique biomass production capacity available in Florida.
Genomics, Computational Biology and Bioinformatics at USF
Biological systems function by generating and distributing energy in a variety of ways. Modeling
these biological systems will lead to new engineering approaches to energy generation and
distribution of that energy to human populations. The Division of Cell Biology, Microbiology and
Molecular Biology (CMM) at the University of South Florida is undergoing an expansion focused
on using proteomic and genomic approaches to studying cell signaling pathways in prokaryotes
and eukaryotes, including those involved with the generation and distribution of energy in the
cell. We have recently hired new faculty in the areas of genomics, proteomics and
computational biology and are in the process of hiring four more this year. Common interests
involve analyzing large data sets of DNA or protein sequences to understand cellular processes
and the application of those findings. In addition, we have an interest in biosensors and are
closely associated with the new Florida Center of Excellence in Biomolecular Identification and
Targeted Therapeutics, which has a significant proteomics/genomics component. Other groups
at USF with significant interests in proteomics/genomics and biosensors include the Moffit
Cancer Center and the School of Marine Sciences. The Mathematics and Chemistry
Departments have faculty pursuing computational approaches to biological and chemical
problems. In summary, USF is in a strong position to be involved with bioenergy research
involving genomics, proteomics and computational biology.