In the future, mobile processing plants may roam the Midwest foraging for biomass, converting such stuff as leftover cornstalks and even wood chips and switchgrass into easily transportable liquid biofuel, via hydrogen produced by the sun.

It sounds like science fiction, and for the moment it is. But this new mobile biofuels refinery concept from researchers at Purdue (which comes to us via Cleantechnica) works to address an important issue in the emerging world of biofuels: transportation. While we know it’s a good idea to use all those leftover byproducts of farming to produce fuel to power our vehicles, all that biomass tends to be heavy, and transporting them to a centralized refinery takes, well, a lot of gas. Which sort of cancels out the environmental benefits of biofuels in the first place.

Purdue Mobile Biomass
image via Purdue

The mobile refinery tackles this hurdle by making use of a new method of biofuels production, called fast-hydropyrolysis-hydrodeoxygenation, which works by adding hydrogen into a biomass-processing reactor. This hydrogen would be derived from natural gas or the biomass itself, though Rakesh Agrawal of the Purdue University School of Chemical Engineering, envisions the eventual development of solar power to produce the hydrogen by splitting water.

“Material like corn stover and wood chips has low energy density,” said Agrawal, in a statement. “It makes more sense to process biomass into liquid fuel with a mobile platform and then take this fuel to a central refinery for further processing before using it in internal combustion engines.”  The full text of the article on this concept is available here.

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