Iowa State University, BEI Partner in RAPID Institute

[LOGO]Rapid InstituteIowa 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.

[IMAGE]RAPID Institute trading card (front)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. Modular manufacturing has the goal of enabling chemical processing in small, distributed plants that can be built close to feedstocks and markets.  This is made possible by factory assembly of processing subsystems into modules designed to fit in standard shipping containers that are field assembled into a complete chemical processing plant.

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.

BEI Leads Renewable Bioproducts Program

“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.
Iowa State researchers are managing the project’s renewable bioproducts efforts because they are “an extremely talented and well-known team that’s highly regarded in the industry,” said Karen Fletcher, RAPID’s chief executive officer. In addition, she said the Iowa State team has already pulled in multiple partners willing to help commercialize distributed biorefineries. “We can make big leaps with shared funding instead of small steps with individual projects,” Fletcher said. “We’re very focused on the commercial value of this work, and Iowa State gets that.”

The proposal that won the DOE’s approval includes $8 million to support development and testing of biorefineries that feature modular design and construction for ease of manufacturing and mass production.

The “Pyrolysis-based Modular Energy Production Systems” project, which focuses on conversion of wastes and biomass into fuels, chemicals, and other products, is already underway.  The project is receiving $3.2 million from the DOE, with additional support from Easy Energy Systems of Emmetsburg; the State of Iowa; Stine Seed Co. of Adel; and the Iowa Energy Center.

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 preperation, autothermal pyrolysis, and subsequent refining into end products. Click on image to view larger version.
The new process produces sugars that can be fermented to biofuels and a solid fuel suitable as a coal 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.

As for the entire RAPID effort, the DOE sees the new manufacturing institute as a problem-solver for America’s chemical industry. “Our investment in this cross-cutting technology is an investment in the future of U.S. manufacturing,” said David Friedman, acting assistant secretary of the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, in a statement announcing the institute. “As we expand the Manufacturing USA network, we provide greater opportunities for businesses of all sizes to solve their toughest technology challenges and unleash major savings in energy-intensive sectors like oil and gas, pulp and paper-making and other industries.”

BEI and its partners are working on proposals for further RAPID projects.

See the original news release: Iowa State to manage biorefinery projects for new Manufacturing USA Institute

Bioeconomy Institute trading card