New portable biomass power plant draws visitors to Virginia Tech campus

Henry Quesada-Pineda conducts a demonstration of the portable biomass power unit.

BLACKSBURG, Va., March 28, 2013 - Thirty visitors from as far away as New

York and Guatemala recently journeyed to the Thomas M. Brooks Forest
Products Center in February to see demonstrations of the Department of
Sustainable Biomaterials (http://sbio.vt.edu/)' new
portable biomass power plant.

About the size of a Mini Cooper turned upright, the biomass power system
generates electricity by burning wood chips, corncobs, manure, and other
agricultural wastes. In demonstrations, Henry
Quesada-Pineda3> (http://sbio.vt.edu/contactlists/facultydetail.asp?facultyID=73),
assistant professor of sustainable biomaterials in the College of Natural
Resources and Environment (http://cnre.vt.edu), powered
shop tools with the unit.

"There is increasing interest in the community and around the world,
especially in off-grid situations, to learn more about how biomass energy
production can be integrated into small-scale systems," said Quesada-Pineda,
a Virginia Cooperative Extension
(http://www.ext.vt.edu/) specialist who is also assistant director of
Virginia Tech's Center for Forest Products
Businessducts-business/>
(http://cnre.vt.edu/college/research-centers/departmental/forest-products-bu
siness/), as he fielded questions from international development consultants
and forest-products industry managers during the demonstration.

The unit's generator is powered by a three-cylinder combustion engine using
syngas - a combination of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen produced
by biomass reacting with steam at temperatures over 750 C. Virginia Tech's
unit, which produces 1 kilowatt hour for every 1.2 kilograms of biomass, is
capable of generating 10 kilowatts, enough to power 100 100-watt light
bulbs.

With a price tag of $18,000, the unit is not a cost-effective investment for
most U.S. companies with access to electricity, Quesada-Pineda says, but his
department's research will seek to determine the optimal use for this
renewable energy source.

This gasification process itself has been in use for years, Quesada-Pineda
says. It was used in the mid-1800s to produce gas for streetlights and
cooking, before being replaced by natural gas. Wood gasifiers powered
thousands of European motor vehicles during World War II fuel shortages.

Today, biomass power plants represent the nation's second largest source of
renewable energy in terms of capacity, after hydroelectric.

The term "biomass" encompasses diverse fuels derived from timber,
agricultural, and food processing wastes as well as fuel crops grown for
electricity generation and can even include manure. Future department
research will analyze the effectiveness and emissions output of the many
different types of biomass feedstocks available, including sugar cane and
coconut shells.

In addition to research, the biomass power unit will be used to support
teaching efforts, giving students the opportunity to familiarize themselves
with this emerging technology, and to power entrepreneurial projects of the
department's student-run Wood Enterprise Institute
(http://www.vtwei.com/).

Those interested in seeing a demonstration of the portable power plant can
email Henry Quesada-Pineda (mailto:quesada@vt.edu) or
call 540-231-0978.

The College of Natural Resources and Environment
(http://www.cnre.vt.edu/) at Virginia Tech, which consistently ranks among
the top three programs of its kind in the nation, advances the science of
sustainability. Programs prepare the future generation of leaders to address
the complex natural resources issues facing the planet. World-class faculty
lead transformational research that complements the student learning
experience and impacts citizens and communities across the globe on
sustainability issues, especially as they pertain to water, climate,
fisheries, wildlife, forestry, sustainable biomaterials, ecosystems, and
geography. As a land-grant university, Virginia Tech serves the Commonwealth
of Virginia in teaching, research, and Virginia Cooperative
Extension (http://www.ext.vt.edu/).

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