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Making bio-oils via solvent liquefaction

By Mary Page Bailey |

At a pilot plant near Ames, Iowa, a team of researchers from Iowa State University (Ames; www.iastate.edu) and Chevron Corp. (San Ramon, Calif.; www.chevron.com) has validated the production of bio-oil via a new process technology called solvent liquefaction. Developed by Chevron, solvent liquefaction involves a proprietary solvent that is mixed with solid biomass, such as woodchips. At moderate temperatures and pressures, the mixture is processed into a slurry that is extruded into a heated reactor. The reactor operates in two distinct segments: an upper section where gases and vapors are handled, and a lower section for liquids and small amounts of solids. An array of filters and separation units serve to recover bio-oil and biochar, as well as the solvent, which is recycled back into the process. According to the team, the resulting bio-oil is low in oxygen, making it more stable than other bio-oils. The pilot plant processes about one pound of biomass each hour, and typically runs for 15–18-h shifts. The project is supported by a four-year, $35-million grant from the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s (DOE; Washington, D.C.) Biomass Research and Development Initiative. The collaboration began in 2013 when Chevron moved its $1.4-million…
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