Feedstock Conversion/Refining

The goal of Feedstock Conversion/Refining is to prepare a detailed economic analysis of the performance of a biorefinery based on pyrolytic processing of biomass into liquid fuels.

  • Develop a lignin catalytic (ZSM5) pyrolysis response model for various temperatures and catalyst to biomass ratios;
  • Integrate the response data into a technoeconomic analysis model to assess the potential of converting perennial grasses, lignin and other biorefinery co-products to value‐added fuels and identified chemicals via catalytic pyrolysis; and
  • Provide technical and market targets to stakeholders of the commercialization objective; and
  • Develop high value markets for the biochar co‐product of biomass pyrolysis.

Our Feedstock/Conversion team members have produced an extensive resource library with material for everyone involved in the conversion and refining of perennial grasses. Click the links below to jump to each one on the page: 

Feedstock Conversion/Refining Project Director

  • Robert C. Brown, Iowa State University

Feedstock Conversion/Refining Collaborator

  • David Laird, Iowa State University
  • Akwesi Boateng, ARS (Wyndmoor, PA)

White Paper

Emerging Markets for Biochar: Challenges & Opportunities

2017 Overview

CenUSA Feedstock Conversion, Refining and Co-Products

  • Ryan Smith (Bioeconomy Institute, Iowa State University) discusses how thermochemical processes convert biomass to liquid bio-fuel and produce biochar, a valuable co-product for soil quality and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Case Study

Renmatix Processes Biomass into Sugars for Industrial Use (Mar. 2016)

  • Technology patented by CenUSA research partner Renmatix enables the manufacture of industrial sugars from biomass on a scale that is commercially cost-effective.

Research Summaries

Switchgrass Hay Utillization as Roughage in Beef Diets (Jan. 2017)

  • Switchgrass hay could be a useful roughage in beef diets while offering a market alternative to biofuels.

2014 Extension Master Gardener's CenUSA Biochar Demonstration Gardens

  • Is biochar a good soil amendment for home gardens?

Biochar Can Improve the Sustainability of Stover Removal for Bioenergy (Oct. 2013)

  • David Laird (Agronomy, Iowa State University) discusses how the return of biochar created by fast pyrolysis to soil, can result in more stover residue harvested for bioenergy without degrading soil quality or hurting crop yields in the long run.

Fact Sheets

CenUSA Biochar Research Flyer (PDF) (2016)

Fast Pyrolysis Efficiently Turns Biomass into Renewable Fuels (May 2015)

  • Robert Brown (Bioeconomy Institute, Iowa State University) discuses how fast pyrolysis holds promise for producing heating and transportation biofuels for the renewable energy market. 

Biochar: Prospects of Commercialization (Oct. 2014)

  • Learn all about biochar--what it is, and how it benefits soils and the climate by sequestering carbon.

Master Gardeners' Safety Precautions for Handling, Applying and Storing Biochar (Apr. 2012) 

Peer Reviewed Journal Articles

  • Allen, R.M., & Laird, D.A. 2013. Quantitative prediction of biochar soil amendments by near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 77:1784-1794.(Abstract Only)

  • Brown, T. & Brown, R. C. 2013. A review of cellulosic biofuel commercial-scale projects in the United States. Biofuels. Bioproducts & Biorefineries 7(3):235-245. doi: 10.1002/bbb.1387

  • Brown, T. & Brown R. C. (2013). Techno-economics of advanced biofuels pathways. RSC. Adv. 3 (17):5758 – 5764

  • Brown, T. R., R. Thilakaratne, R.C. Brown & Hu, G. 2013. Techno-economic analysis of biomass to transportation fuels and electricity via fast pyrolysis and hydroprocessing. Fuel. 106:463–469

  • Dang, Q., W. Hu, M. Rover, R.C. Brown & M.M. Wright. 2016. Economics of biofuels and bioproducts from an integrated pyrolysis biorefinery. Biofuels, Bioprod. Bioref. doi: 10.1002/bbb.1681
  • Dang, Q., M.M. Wright & R.C. Brown. 2015. Ultra-low carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants through bio-oil co-firing and biochar sequestration. Environ. Sci. Technol. 49(24):14688-14695. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.5b03548
  • Fidel, R.B., D.A. Laird & M.L. Thompson. 2013. Evaluation of Modified Boehm Titration Methods for Use with Biochars. J. Environ. Qual. 42:1771-1778

  • Hu, W., Q. Dang, M. Rover, R.C. Brown & M.M. Wright. 2016 Comparative techno-economic analysis of advanced biofuels, biochemicals, and hydrocarbon chemicals via the fast pyrolysis platform. Biofuels, Bioprod. Bioref. 7(1): 57-67. doi: 10.1002/bbb.1681
  • Kauffman, N., J. Dumortier, D.J. Hayes, D.J., Brown, R.C. & D.A. Laird. 2016. Producing energy while sequestering carbon? The relationship between biochar and agricultural productivity. Biomass Bioenergy 63:167-176.
  • Laird D.A. & C.W. Chang. 2013. Long-term impacts of residue harvesting on soil quality. Soil Tillage Res. 134:33-40

  • Lawrinenko, M. & D. A. Laird. 2015. Anion exchange capacity of biochar. Green Chem. 2015, 17 9: 4628–4636. doi: 10.1039/C5GC00828J.
  • Lawrinenko, M., D.A. Laird, R.L. Johnson & D. Jing. 2016. Accelerated aging of biochars: Impact on anion exchange capacity. Carbon 103:217-227
  • Lawrinenko, M., J. (Hans) van Leeuwen & D.A. Laird. 2017. Sustainable pyrolytic production of zerovalent iron. ACS Sustainable Chem. & Eng. 2017(5):767–773. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acssuschemeng.6b02105. doi: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.6b02105
  • Lawrinenko, M., Z. Wang, R. Horton, D. Mendivelso-Perez, E. Smith, T. Webster, D.A. Laird & J. (Hans) van Leeuwen. 2017. Macroporous carbon supported zerovalent iron for remediation of trichloroethylene. ACS Sustainable Chem. & Eng. 2017(5):1586–1593. Abstract Only: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acssuschemeng.6b02375. doi: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.6b02375
  • Li, W., Q. Dang, R. Smith, R.C. Brown & M. Mba Wright. 2016. Techno-economic analysis of the stabilization of bio-oil fractions for insertion into petroleum refineries. ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng. 2017(5):1528-1537. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acssuschemeng.6b02222. doi. 10.1021/acssuschemeng.6b02222
  • Li, B., O. Longwen, Q. Dang, M. Pimphan, S. Jones, R.C. Brown & M.M. Wright. 2015. Techno-economic and uncertainty analysis of in situ and ex situ fast pyrolysis for biofuel production. Bioresour. Technol. 196:49-56
  • Thilakaratne R, M.M. Wright & R.C. Brown. 2014. A techno-economic analysis of microalgae remnant catalytic pyrolysis and upgrading to fuels. Fuel. 128:104-112

  • Thilakaratne, R., T. Brown, Y. Li, G. Hu & R.C. Brown 2014. Mild catalytic pyrolysis of biomass for production of transportation fuels: a techno-economic analysis. Green Chem. 16: 627-636

  • Zhang, Y., G. Hu & R.C. Brown. 2013. Life cycle assessment of the production of hydrogen and transportation fuels from corn stover via fast pyrolysis. Environ. Res. Lett. 8(2): 025001

Instructional Videos and Webinars

Biochar: An Introduction to an Industry 

  • David Laird (Agronomy, Iowa State Univ.) provides an introduction to biochar, and research being done by CenUSA to investigate it's potential for use as a soil amendment. [4:42]

Biochar 101: Intro to Biochar 

  • Kurt Spokas (Research Soil Scientist for USDA/ARS ) presents an introduction to biochar at the 2014 CenUSA Annual meeting. [14:51]

Role of Biochar in Achieving a Carbon Negative Economy 

  • David Laird (Agronomy, Iowa State University) discusses how biochar can be created as a by-product of the fast pyrolysis process, turning biomass like corn stover into useable energy(19:41)

University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener Biochar Research Summary 

  • CenUSA Bioenergy is working with University of Minnesota Extension and their Master Gardener program to research the effects of biochar in home garden style test plots. Julie Weisenhorn (Extension Educator, Univ. of Minnesota discusses project goals, preliminary results, and next steps. [4:15]

Thermochemical Conversion of Biomass to Drop-In Biofuels

  • Robert Brown (Bioeconomy Institute, Iowa State Univ.) discusses thermochemical processing of biomass to produce biofuels and bio-based products. [51:36]

Thermochemical Option: Thermochemical Conversion of Biomass to Fuel

  • Robert Brown (Bioeconomy Institute, Iowa State University) focuses on using thermochemical processes for production of liquid biofuels. (31:29)