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Iowa State University, BEI Partner in RAPID Institute

RAPID logoIowa State University and the Bioeconomy Institute bring expertise in biorenewable technologies and pilot plant operations to the RAPID (Rapid Advancement in Process Intensification Deployment) Institute. This advanced manufacturing institute focuses on improving productivity and efficiency of chemical manufacturing through process intensification and modular manufacturing.

RAPID Institute trading card Process intensification includes increasing rates of processes as well as combining processes such as mixing, reaction and separation into single steps, which could boost manufacturing productivity while cutting costs and reducing waste. The technology could potentially save the chemical industry more than $9 billion annually.

RAPID is the country’s 10th Manufacturing USA institute and is led by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, New York. Additional information about the RAPID Institute and its objectives can be found at its Website:

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Energy announced it would support the institute with $70 million over five years, subject to federal appropriations. Another $70 million is expected from RAPID’s partners, including companies, universities, laboratories, and other organizations. Funding for the RAPID Institute includes $8 million to support development and testing of biorefineries that feature modular design and construction for ease of manufacturing and mass production.

Autothermal Pyrolysis Project Underway

“This institute is intended to take technologies – ideas that are well beyond basic research – and translate them into workable processes that can be demonstrated in the field,” said Robert C. Brown, BEI director, an Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering, and leader of RAPID’s Renewable Bioproducts program.

[PHOTO] Jordan Funkhouser
Jordan Funkhouser, pilot plant specialist at Iowa State, works with an autothermal pyrolysis reactor. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

The “Autothermal Pyrolysis of Lignocellulose Wastes to Sugars and Other Biobased Products” project, which focuses on conversion of wastes and biomass into fuels, chemicals, and other products, is receiving $3.2 million from the DOE, with additional support from the State of Iowa; Stine Seed Farm of Adel; and the Iowa Energy Center. Frontline Bioenergy, LLC, is the engineering partner on the project.

Pyrolysis as traditionally practiced involves quickly heating biomass without oxygen to produce a biochar for fertilizer and a liquid bio-oil for energy. BEI researchers, however, have improved the process by using air, partially burning some of the biomass as a source of heat for the reactor. Called autothermal pyrolysis, this technology dramatically increases the rate that biomass can be converted to products, allowing construction of smaller and simpler reactors suitable for modular systems.




[DIAGRAM] Py refinery
BEI’s concept for converting biomass into energy, fuels, and chemicals is based on a modular system for biomass preparation, autothermal pyrolysis, and subsequent refining into end products.

The new process produces sugars that can be fermented to biofuels and an oil that can formulated into bio-asphalt or upgraded to diesel fuel substitute. The big idea is to develop small, efficient biorefineries that can process local biomass, saving the cost and trouble of transporting and storing biomass from a larger region.