Grants Boost AU Biofuels Research

Published: Apr 10, 2008 1:00:00 AM
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Source: AU Report

An engineering center at Auburn is receiving grants of up to $1 million each from the state and federal governments for research into developing and refining alternative sources of energy from byproducts of rural Alabama industries.

Although separate from each other, the grants are part of efforts at both the state and federal levels to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil and improve the competitiveness of American industries, said Harry Cullinan, director of the Alabama Center for Paper and Bioresource Engineering in AU's Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, which has received the grants.

The state support is the second half of a $1 million grant to help agricultural and timber producers convert
biomass from their operations into liquid fuels for commercial use.

"The vision is to provide the basis upon which a new and prosperous natural resource-based economy can be built in Alabama," said Cullinan.

"This will reinvigorate Alabama's established industries while creating new ones, satisfying state and national needs and moving Alabama toward sustainable development," he added.

The AU-based center is leveraging the state funds with other support from industry and the federal government to support research involving commercial demonstration projects in the state. These include small-scale biomass gasification to provide heat and power for farms and mills, pilot plants to convert biomass to ethanol or other liquid fuels and other projects to help agricultural and forest-related industries convert byproducts of production into alternative fuels.

The first project under the state grant involves conversion of process waste sludge to ethanol at a pulp mill in Alabama.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy has designated the Alabama Center for Paper and Bioresource
Engineering for a grant of up to $1 million to support a project to convert paper mill waste wood into diesel fuel.

The Ginn College of Engineering center is the academic partner in a $30 million project involving NewPage Corp. The company will invest $32 million in the project, which will involve construction of a conversion facility at a paper mill in Wisconsin.

The other partners include TRI, Syntrolem and the DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. AU researchers will aid in the development of an on-site plant to gasify wood wastes, yielding diesel fuel.

The applied technology will be especially beneficial to Alabama, where 14 pulp and paper mills across the state are a vital part of the state's economy, especially in rural areas, noted Cullinan.

He said a successful project will reduce or eliminate an environmental problem while solving an energy problem and providing an additional revenue source for a manufacturing sector that faces increasing competition from abroad.

"Our project is one of the first biorefining projects in the U.S. based at an existing pulp mill, and it will lead the way for many more such projects in the future," Cullinan added.