Examining Minerals Present in Biomass

Image: © Ashley Cooper/Corbis

Image: © Ashley Cooper/Corbis

As the search for low carbon fuels continues, biomass has become increasingly more attractive to various industries. Biotechnology researchers are therefore looking into pyrolysis — gasification and combustion methods that would take regular organic material and convert it into a high-yield energy source. Several substances in ash chemistry influence corrosion and slag creation after combustion has occurred. Researchers are also looking into this to see if anything can be done to increase the amount of thermal energy that industries can get out of these fuels.

Potassium more than likely has the biggest influence on thermal conversion properties. It acts as a catalyst in the pyrolysis phase as well as the combustion and gasification stages. Potassium speeds up regular volatile combustion as well as the creation of char.

Interestingly enough some research suggests that calcium doesn’t have the same effect on fuel. Alkaline earth metal chlorides certainly influence the burning of cellulose, but beyond these relationships it doesn’t seem that too much is known about it. That’s where the biotechnology industry is stepping up.

Image Credit: Riomay

Image Credit: Riomay

Historically people know quite a bit about alkaline catalysts when it came to burning things. A good deal of anecdotal evidence came from the field of ceramics. Nevertheless, scientists have been slow to catalog this information and are only now starting to really increase the amount of tests they’re doing to see what these alkaline metals and potassium in particular have to do with pyrolysis.

Now, this probably sounds like a ton of abstract information. That’s probably true. Most people who don’t directly work in a scientific field wouldn’t be particularly interested in these studies. Nevertheless, this is important work being done. While flashy new technologies are always attracting people’s eyes, it’s this sort of development in the biotechnology industry that really does change the world.

This research holds a great deal of promise. Renewable biological fuels are a great alternative to fossil energy sources although fuel crops have been controversial. They take resources away from agriculture projects aimed at providing sufficient food stocks for growing populations.

As biotechnology researchers learn more about the way that organic material burns, fewer fuel crops will be needed to supply the world’s energy needs. For that matter there could be a device that re-sequences the molecular structure of waste products to remove certain organic compounds from them. These organic compounds could then be used as a source of energy.

That would certainly shift the direction of conversation as far as waste to energy projects go. Of course there are plenty of other uses for this kind of research as well. New minerals could be derived from different pieces of plant matter if enough attention is paid to it. Plants actually have a good deal of mineral content within their molecular structures.

In fact many biotechnology researchers have proposed growing crops in polluted areas to remove certain compounds from the soil. Understanding how these minerals interact during different chemical processes will allow biotechnology researchers to do some pretty amazing things. This alone should prove that paying attention to some of these lesser well-known studies is quite fruitful.

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