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NRRI Renewable Energy Lab

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What if Minnesota could harness the potential
in forest residue, agricultural waste and invasive vegetation to produce efficient and
clean-burning biomass-based fuel products? At the Natural Resources Research Institute,
we’ve built a Renewable Energy Lab to do just that. The process, called “torrefaction,” is
a lot like roasting coffee. Maybe you like light roast coffee, it’s
not as concentrated, or you can take it further and have a dark roast coffee. We can do the same thing here. The technology is complicated but the idea
is simple: Raw material goes into a drying system before it enters a giant kiln where
it’s heated to about 480 degrees Fahrenheit. The roasted material is then pressed into
a variety of shapes to meet the needs of the energy industry. NRRI is also piloting an alternative system
that is more like a pressure cooker. Hydrothermal carbonization eliminates the
drying stage of the process, turning wet plants into a mud-like material that can be used
as a binder that holds solid fuels together. Hydrothermal Carbonization as we say or HTC
to speak very short, is a process of high temperature pretreatment of biomass and other
materials in order to produce solid fuels, solid renewable fuels. We think this technique with the pressure
and temperatures that we’re going to be using actually make some very interesting
products that can take green biomass directly without drying and use it directly to create
what we call an energy mud. The Lab is also collaborating with an industry
partner to develop liquid biofuels, like jet fuel. The Renewable Energy Lab and its capabilities
for scaling from the lab to pilot to production facilities is unique in the United States. It provides energy related industries the
opportunity to test processes, reducing their risk and helping to ensure success. At this time, from our point of view in terms
of economics, it’s the frontrunner in terms of producing renewable fuels. It allows us to be at the forefront of actual
development of how you can take different biomass materials ranging from cattails to
woody materials to create an economic value so you can better manage some of these resources. And they complement our business. Our background is mainly in petrochemicals
and in process development. One of the key things that NRRI brings to
it is their understanding of the front end of the process, particularly in wood products,
which we think will probably be the most viable biomass feed to be developed into renewable
liquid fuels. I like it because we’re doing something
that I think will have an impact. Ultimately, this is a big step in moving Minnesota
toward a bio-economy built around excess biomass resources. It keeps money in the state and can help coal-based
power plants meet their clean air standards. Here in the U.S. we find this exciting because
for people to develop backend technology, there is no place for them to go. And I think that’s one of the things we
find exciting in developing our technology in conjunction with the folks here at NRRI
is that this center will actually be a magnet for drawing those other businesses here to
take advantage of what we put together. Funding to NRRI supports a variety of innovative
research. From this Renewable Energy Lab to high value
products from Minnesota resources to environmental remediation and protection. We provide data for informed decision-making
and reduce the risk in pursuing new opportunities. It is unique. I’m not aware of another institution like
this with the mission that they have at NRRI in the United States Visit nrri.umn.edu to learn more.

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