SUNY Cobleskill

A SUNY Cobleskill professor has developed waste-to-energy technology that will eventually be commercialized, according to a media release from the college.

Caribou BioFuels, Incorporated signed an agreement Thursday, Dec. 12, with the Research Foundation for SUNY on behalf of the college to develop and commercialize the technology, developed by Agricultural Engineering Professor David Waage.

Caribou BioFuels is a new organization pulling together expertise in gasification, engineering, clean emissions and biofuels, CEO Kieran Mitchell said to The Daily Star in an email. He said the intent is to install a number of the SUNY Cobleskill gasifier units in California and New York in 2020.

A joint Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Defense program funded the initial research, according to the release. The two agencies granted the college $1.6 million this year to build and demonstrate a fully automated, portable rotary gasifier waste-to-energy system at a domestic military base, according to the release.

Waage’s invention turns combustible waste into biofuel and a soil conditioner. Biofuels are transportation fuels made from biomass, which can be plant or algae material or animal waste, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica’s website. Biofuels are important because they can be carbon neutral and even carbon negative depending on the feedstock, Waage said. They offset fossil fuel usage, reducing the overall carbon footprint, Waage said.

Drawbacks of biofuels include less land being available for growing food products and deforestation to make room for feedstock growth, according to www.biofuel.org.uk/disadvantages-of-biofuels.html. They produce less greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels, according to the website.

Waage’s technology is portable, allowing processing on site. This avoids additional carbon emissions from transporting biomass to a distant facility, Waage said in an email to The Daily Star.

Mitchell said Caribou BioFuels is working on mitigating California’s fire and forest management problems. The state addresses these things through controlled burns, he said. This involves intentionally lighting fires to meet needs such as reducing flammable fuels, restoring ecosystem health, recycling nutrients or clearing an area for new growth, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service website.

Before doing a controlled burn, undergrowth needs to be pulled out and placed in a pile, Mitchell said. Using Cobleskill’s mobile gasifier would allow that biomass to be processed on site to be turned into biofuel.

Gasification is a process that uses heat to remove flammable chemicals and oils from feedstocks, leaving a highly refined pure carbon mixed with ash and producing a very clean-burning gas, Waage said.

Up to 30% of the total carbon in the feedstock can be sequestered, he said. It can be used as a soil conditioner, a water treatment aid, refined into activated carbon or a variety of carbon-based environmental mitigation products, he said.

“The Cobleskill gasifier accelerates what naturally occurs in the earth over thousands of years to about 20 minutes, producing a fuel gas, oil and highly refined pure carbon solid that is environmentally inert,” Waage said.

Whereas most gasification technologies require some form of pre-drying, sorting, screening, shredding and pelletizing feedstocks prior to gasification,.The college’s gasifier can take unprepared, dripping wet feedstock that’s mixed with materials including metals, glass, soil and stones, Waage said.

Caribou Biofuels will initially focus on plant-based biomass and other agricultural materials with the potential to produce liquid fuels that are carbon neutral or carbon negative, Waage said. Any type of non-hazardous flammable material is acceptable including wood, paper, cardboard, food waste, manure, bedding, hay, field grasses, silage plastics, most plastics and rubber, he said.

Waage said he joined the project as a technical coordinator in April 2009 and development on the project started in 2013. The prototype machine is on campus and resources are being used to complete the engineering and build a new unit for the military demonstration system, he said.

“The invention and development of the rotary gasifier encapsulates SUNY Cobleskill’s mission,” SUNY Cobleskill President Marion A. Terenzio said in the release. “To grow, to sustain and to renew our world and its citizens.”

Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at skarikehalli@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter

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