I used to do some work in the biomass power and biofuels sectors early on. Had also the opportunity to work on an exciting area called third generation biofuels, specifically algae biofuels.
Along the way, learnt how you can actually make pretty much any hydrocarbon fuel from any organic material, especially wood waste, agricultural waste and garden waste. That means, you can make petrol, diesel, kerosene, whatever, from wood!
Many folks had been asking me whether this was some kind of a fraud or whether technology already exists for this. So I thought I’d have a short post on this.
It is a fairly simple process, conceptually. The process contains the first step, which is gasification that turns the biomass material into an organic gas called the synthetic gas (syngas), comprising CO (carbon monoxide), H2 (hydrogen), CO2 (carbon di oxide) and CH4 (methane). This organic mixture is then used in a process called the Fischer Tropsch mechanism, which essentially facilitates chemical reactions between the constituents, in the presence of catalysts, under varying temperatures and pressures. Different combinations of temperatures and pressures lead to different end products.
Just in case you thought this was a new idea. it will interest you to know that South Africa used this process to produce most of their petrol and diesel from coal, during the apartheid period when they were not able to import oil! The difference now is that, with advanced technologies, the costs are coming down drastically for this process, making it possible in the not-far-off future to have this wood-to-petrol operate on commercial scales.