Sunday, March 24, 2013

Construction of the first Bionic µBTL MF60D reactor on schedule

Manufacturing of the recently announced new Bionic mf60 reactor series is coming along as planned. Watch the short movie of the production process to see the high level of precision and quality that goes into this piece of equipment. It will be used for both, µBTL (biomass-to-liquid) and µWTL (waste-to-liquid) configurations and in addition, in a mobile configuration, for specialty applications like soil decontamination and clean up of oil spills.

A ship based version is also under consideration for a planned ambitious environmental project designed to clean up floating islands of plastic waste putting maritime life in great danger.

A high resolution version of this movie can be viewed here directly on Youtube.

The movie shows how high quality German design is manufactured at one of the oldest Czech machine builders, renown for its dedication to quality. This reactor is built to last for decades and is designed to undergo easy upgrades when more advanced microwave technology becomes available. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Jatropha for Dummies - Part 3 - The Farming

We have seen in the last segment of this series: Jatropha has a future which will be non-toxic. I pointed out that high yielding planting material will become available rather sooner than later to make JcL ready for commercial success as a feedstock for high revenue energy products and animal feed. But with the right planting material available, what will the ideal farm look like when we get there?

Looking for the proper farming concepts we should first understand that JcL is a tree crop (or rather a bush or shrub). Traditionally it was planted in hedges which primarily had a living fence function to separate cattle from farmed fields. Obviously Jatropha was doing well in such a planting pattern where mono cropping is not an issue which in JcL brings along problems like heavy pest attacks and scarcity of water and nutrients. Therefore the good old hedges planted alongside roads and fields with superior modern planting material can become a great way for the traditional small African farmer to make himself some extra income while fully sticking to his original farming practices.

Freshly pruned JcL double alleys
But, as a completely different playing field we also have to look deeper into large scale commercial farming. At Bionic Palm we have run an extensive Jatropha test farming project on more than 100 ha for many years to study the best agronomic methods. Very early we understood that true sustainability can never be accomplished with a mono cropping system. Thus, over a series of intermediary steps, we arrived at our optimal solution: double alleys with a minimum of 10 m in between for permanent intercropping with the most convenient annual crops.

The double alley approach has numerous advantages especially in semi arid climates. The hedges offer protection from soil erosion through wind and rain. They can also improve soil quality in many ways operating as a nutrient pump from deeper levels, adding carbon to the soil by shedding their leaves and by supporting and maintaining microorganisms added to the soil like mycorrhiza.

If irrigation is part of the farming strategy permanent piping can be installed in between the double hedges giving them good protection.

While many annual crops (maize, soy, beans, ground nut just to name a few) can be planted together with JcL hedges we actually prefer high value vegetable crops in combination with a no-till system, be it glyphosate (round-up) or cover crop based. Only these crops really bring the enormous profitability potential of an agroforestry concept built on non-toxic JcL backbones into reality.

Adding a comprehensive soil development and management concept utilizing biochar and organic fertilizer can help turning very difficult environmental conditions like in former mining areas around.  

Friday, March 1, 2013

Bionic µCTL brings microwaves to coal liquefaction

For the last few years Bionic has researched the possibilities of a fundamental change to the way coal liquefaction (CTL) is understood and has been done until today. The application of microwaves to the almost one hundred years old process of carbon hydrogenation with high pressure and a catalyst is making that change a reality. The basic process of direct coal-to-liquid conversion has been discovered first by the German scientist Friedrich Bergius, who received the Nobel prize in chemistry in 1931. The industrial application of the Bergius process supplied the German airforce during WW2 almost exclusively with much needed quality fuel from 1941.

Following is a most simple sketch of the Bergius-Pier process illustrating the logical lay out of the original coal liquefaction plants:

For more details on the principal Bergius process please check Wikipedia.

One of the microwave units used in the reactor
The Bionic microwave assisted version of the process has a number of impressive advantages compared to all earlier implementations which have been mostly abandoned for different reasons, but mainly due to the availability of cheap fossil oil (at the time) and the almost complete suspension of coal mining in Germany. As older implementations seem to come with environmental issues, with the  exception of South Africa and China even exploding oil prices did not revive interest in coal liquefaction. China however is said to invest 15 billion dollars in its current 5-year plan in liquefaction.

µCTL carbon liquefaction reactor vessel 
The Bionic process eliminates all emission problems of former plant designs. It combines a standard Bionic microfuel reactor like the mf60, which used for the production of a highly volatile carbon powder, with a patent pending liquefaction reactor designed from scratch, for synthesizing the liquid fuel products.

The highly sophisticated reactor vessel allows the application of microwaves to the reaction mass (a mix of the fine carbon powder with heavy oil recycled from the process) which is continuously rotating in a high pressure hydrogen atmosphere.

More details are revealed in this presentation:  Bionic Carbon Liquefaction Through Microwave Hydration.

Converting the char deriving from many industrial waste and biomass treatment processes using this method will maximize efficiency while further reducing overall carbon footprints.

Especially Bionic's own microfuel process is producing high quality char in addition to the liquid and gaseous fuel products. When using the microfuel process to treat waste materials like plastic waste or used tyres the char residue can today only be used as a drop-in solid fuel for the replacement of fossil coal. With biomass as feedstock the Bionic char product already has a high value as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration and top soil improvement.