Biofuels, Chemicals, and Energy Stories
FWRC Scientists Explore Natural Materials for Water Purification
Water treatment plants have always used petrochemical-based filters to remove contaminants from public water sources. However, FWRC scientists are now developing water filtration materials from renewable resources. Dr. El Barbary Hassan, professor in the Department of Sustainable Bioproducts, has led this effort, working with MSU colleagues and the USDA Forest Products Laboratory. The team developed gel-based adsorbents from cellulose, which comes from trees, and chitin, which is derived from shrimp exoskeletons. At the time of the study, Hassan said that most water treatment facilities were still using carbon filters but that some were shifting toward adopting hydrogel and aerogel-based filtering methods because these adsorbents are just as effective at removing contaminants as the carbon-based ones.
Hassan has also planned future studies testing the aerogel adsorbents in air filters and masks to remove dust, bacteria, and viruses from the air.
Improving Alternative Energy Products
Global interest in pelletized pine as an energy source is growing, and U.S. exports of wood pellets are increasing each year. Partnering with Drax, a U.K.-based renewable energy company, sustainable bioproducts associate professor Dr. Jason Street is working to develop a cost-effective, reliable product that is sturdier in transport and burns cleaner than current products. To decrease the off-gassing from burning, Street and his team tested alternative additives in the pelletizing process in the laboratory. The additives tested, such as bio-char, bio-oil, sweet potato, and vegetable oil, had the added bonus of being recycled waste products. They were also able to reproduce a mill setting at the MSU Pace Seed Lab's industrial-sized mill.
The team had to closely analyze many variables that affect the outcomes, such as the additives used, the moisture content of the pellets, and the pressure and heat applied to the pellets. After three years, the project is beginning to yield positive results. The researchers have found ways to make a better, stronger pellet that burns cleaner and costs less.
A Better, Stronger Wood Pellet
Wood pellets are a big export items for the U.S. bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars in sales annually. Since much of the pellet production in the U.S. comes from southern yellow pine in the Southeast, researchers in the Forest and Wildlife Research Center are studying ways to make a better, stronger wood pellet out of southern yellow pine. Dr. Jason Street, associate professor in the Department of Sustainable Bioproducts, and FWRC researcher, is finding ways to improve wood pellet strength, durability, and water resistance. The three-year project investigates how different additives effect the performance and characteristics of southern yellow pine pellets. Street and his team hope to continue to find ways to use limited-value materials while helping pellet manufacturers make more money.