Recent rises in oil prices and concern about global climate change have increased interest in renewable sources of energy. One option that has been commercialized recently is the production of “bio-oil” from wood and agricultural waste (“biomass”).
Bio-oil is made through a ‘fast pyrolysis' process. When wood is heated it breaks down into various flammable gases and charcoal. In a camp fire, oxygen is available and these products burn (combust) to release heat and light. In the fast pyrolysis process, the wood or other biomass is heated but oxygen is excluded – preventing combustion - and vapors are condensed to form the bio-oil.
Bio-oil is a light brown, free-flowing liquid that has roughly the same fuel value as ethanol. As a liquid, it is a convenient fuel that can be pumped, trucked in tankers or stored until needed. It can be used for power generation and heating using traditional equipment with minor modifications. Bio-oil also has a number of environmental advantages: low sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide emissions and, as a renewable fuel, it is “carbon neutral” terms of global warming potential.
The production of bio-oil is beginning to be commercialized in North America . A company in Canada is building plants that will eventually process 200 tons of wood waste per day. A new business in Alabama is developing a smaller bio-oil reactor that can be brought from sawmill to sawmill on a flat-bed truck. A small scale, portable bio-oil mill might be a good fit for the wood products and agricultural industries in Tennessee , where many operations individually produce relatively small amounts of waste.
Forest and farm industries are a big part of the economy of Tennessee . Bio-oil technology may provide an efficient way to convert the biomass waste from these businesses into a clean, sustainable and valuable fuel byproduct.