There are several barriers to the success of converting biomass to biofuels including harvesting, transportation and storage. But of these three challenges, one of utmost importance is not only how to store the biomass but how long can it be stored without compromising the feedstock?
The most advanced commercial scale corn stover to ethanol project in the U.S. is Project Liberty, a biomass project funding by POET. Ultimately, the plant will produce 25 million gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol, but how much biomass will that take? According to POET, the plant will need 770 dry tons of biomass (corn cobs, some leaves and husks) for each day of operation. Yet how do you store that much material?
This is the very question that the Project Liberty team is working on with researchers at Idaho National Laboratory (INL). They are studying factors at POET plants in Hurley, SD and Emmestburg, IA, like the heat and moisture content of the biomass bale to determine how different types of piles and configurations will affect the quality of the bale. The answer to this question will aid farmers in storing the biomass in their fields until it is needed at the plant.
INL currently has 800 different bale configurations under study and they are attempting to discover the best balance of heat and moisture in the biomass bale. Kevin Kenney, and INL researcher, notes that they are looking at two areas in their research. First, the risk of biomass storage to farmers. Second, how the biomass degrades over time. After this year’s study is complete, the research team will discard the least effective methods and move forward with refining those configurations that hold the most promise.
You can lean more about the project in this video featuring INL researcher, Kevin Kenney.