Tuesday, March 02, 2010

A Non-Profits' Bonfire

Our series continues on the companies and organizations that were awarded grants from the Department of Energy to pursue renewable energy sources. Private investors are left out in the cold on the award given to Renewable Energy Institute International (REII), a non-profit organization. Eventually some of the institute’s technology will find their way into commercial projects - at least that is the idea - and within reach of investors.

REII is receiving just under $20 million to produce green diesel from agriculture and forest residues using advanced pyrolysis and steam reforming technologies. They are to establish a pilot plant that can process up to 25 tons of feedstock per day.

I have been somewhat critical of the DOE for awarding large grants for development of technologies that appear to be well established and already in commercial stage. We have already seen several green diesel concepts and plenty who are targeting ag and wood waste. However, this project does not involve the usual cellulosic ethanol processes and proprietary enzymes.

Pyrolysis - combustion in the absence of oxygen - is worth exploring further. There are yet unanswered questions about pyrolysis. What is the energy requirement to kick-start the process? What is the real output in terms of finished product and waste or pollution streams? What scale is needed to make a pyrolysis operation breakeven? Then where can a pyrolysis plant be located to ensure both access to adequate raw material supply and distribution?

Investors may not be able to invest in REII, but it is worthwhile to watch the outcome of this project as it will provide valuable insight into the economic viability of pyrolysis technology as a viable energy resource.

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