Scientists save energy by lubricating wood

Mar 09, 2012 By Simon Levey
Photograph shows ground wood chips after treatment at 90 °C for 1 h with various ionic solvents and other liquids: (a) no liquid, (b) Organosolv, (c) DMSO, (d) silicone oil, (e) [C4C1im][HSO4], (f ) [C4C1im][MeCO2], (g) [C4C1im][NTf2], (h) Fomblin.

(PhysOrg.com) -- A little bit of lubrication could make a big energy saving when manufacturing sustainable biofuels and bio-chemicals from timber, according to research published in the journal Green Chemistry this month.

Scientists at Imperial College London have demonstrated that a key part of biomass processing could be made 80 per cent more energy-efficient by taking advantage of the slippery properties of fluids called ionic solvents. They say this could reduce the cost of biofuels by 3p per litre, around 10% of its current cost.

The efficiency savings can be made during one of the energy-intensive stages of the biomass , when solid timber chunks are turned into a 'soup' of fluids and fine wood particles in an industrial grinder, which works in a similar way to a giant coffee grinder. The discovery paves the way to making the biomass industry greener.

Treating timber with ionic solvents has previously been shown to help processing wood into biofuels and chemicals. While initially this effect was only attributed to the solvents' ability to partially weaken wood's tough, fibrous structure, this new study suggests the are predominantly due to the way that these fluids lubricate the as they go around in the grinder.

Lead author of the study Dr. Agnieszka Brandt, from the Department of Chemistry at Imperial College London, said: "Tree wood is a mine of really valuable chemicals locked up in a safe that we need to unlock before we can use the different components. Breaking down the timber into a fine powder helps us to access these chemicals, but it needs to be an energy-efficient process to make it sustainable. Our previous work showed how the chemical action of ionic solvents improved in the processing, but we were surprised to discover how much more energy could be saved when take advantage of their lubricating physical properties."

'Green' biomass products are often hailed as environmentally friendly alternatives to fossil fuel and its derivatives. Trees such as fast growing species of willow and pine will be an important source of biofuels and basis for manufacturing naturally occurring chemicals like vanillin (a flavoring in the food industry), valuable oils and biomass-derived plastics, such as polystyrenes or polyesters (used for plastic bottles). Scientists are working to ensure biomass lives up to these expectations, assessing and reducing the environmental impact of every part of the product cycle, including the source of its raw materials, how and where they are transported, and what happens to the by-products of the industry.

Research author Tom Welton, Professor of Sustainable Chemistry and Head of Imperial’s Department of Chemistry, said: "Sustainable development has been defined by the UN as development to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

"The alleviation of poverty and improvement of all of our living standards cannot continue without us also ensuring that our planet is in a condition to support these. As our petrochemical resources run out and we need to turn to other places for our energy and materials needs, we have an opportunity to build these new industries in a sustainable way. This is an opportunity that we can’t afford to miss."

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User comments : 15

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bewertow
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 09, 2012
How is making fuel from trees environmentally friendly? People are already tearing down forests.

This is incredibly stupid. It's much worse than burning oil and gas.
barakn
3.2 / 5 (6) Mar 09, 2012
...says the individual who is apparently unaware of the pine beetles sawing their way through millions of acres of forest.
hyongx
4 / 5 (6) Mar 09, 2012
"Scientists save energy by lubricating wood"
I always find it takes a little bit less energy when my wood is lubricated. At the very least, it feels better.
dschlink
4 / 5 (4) Mar 09, 2012
Almost all of the wood used in the USA comes from log farms, not forests. And, contrary to what many people think, virtually all of the logs are used, there is very little waste. It's probably a good thing though that people are coming up with alternative uses for wood pulp as the newspaper industry continues to shrink.
61SD
3 / 5 (4) Mar 09, 2012
...Log Farm? I grew up in one of these farming communities...the gardners would go out every day and work the log fields. oh wait, they were loggers...chopping down trees...in the forest. That being said, the logging industry is completely renewable and there truly is very little waste. Additionally, logging clears out flammable underbrush and protects the rest of the forest from fire. And finding a new purpose for the industry re-invigorates the economy and creates more jobs. ...And, most logging corporations plant more trees than they harvest. And finally, (last thing I promise) it's more than just the newspaper industry that logging supports so next time you take a break with some charmin, thank a logger.
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) Mar 09, 2012
Almost all of the wood used in the USA comes from log farms, not forests. And, contrary to what many people think, virtually all of the logs are used, there is very little waste. It's probably a good thing though that people are coming up with alternative uses for wood pulp as the newspaper industry continues to shrink.

Wood is a good insulator, you can squeeze wood pulp into panels where you can build stuff with it.

The first thing they should do is to try making the machine self sufficient with bio fuel, that could lower the operating costs of log farms by a lot.
robbor
1 / 5 (1) Mar 09, 2012
" How is making fuel from trees environmentally friendly? People are already tearing down forests. "......the lumber industry generates millions of tons of waste bark, branches and saw dust and in agriculture millions of tons of straw are burned yearly to get rid of it.
Vendicar_Decarian
1 / 5 (1) Mar 09, 2012
Hahahah.. I thought it said "Scientists save energy by lubricating their woodie."

Carry on.
alfie_null
not rated yet Mar 10, 2012
What are these "ionic solvents"? How much of them would be consumed by the process? Are they recycled? What are the environmental ramifications of production and consumption of ionic solvents? Would accidental release into the environment have potential adverse effects? Do they remain in the end product - if so, are there any associated concerns (i.e. exposure to)?
Callippo
1 / 5 (1) Mar 10, 2012
The discovery paves the way to making the biomass industry greener.
Whereas this research has some potential application in various technologies, just its application for biofuel treatment is the most problematic one. The ionic fluids are expensive chemicals in general and their application would ruin the economy of biofuels production, which is already problematic and fringe enough, especially when various externalities are considered. Biofuels are rather diluted sources of energy and the soil will become depleted from minerals and humus after few harvests. The biofuels production contributes significantly to reduction of tropical forests and spreading of deserts, thus making worse just the consequences of global warming, which is trying to fight against. It's a desperate attempt of researchers to delay the implementation of cold fusion, which would make their research and jobs unsubstantial.
Callippo
1 / 5 (1) Mar 10, 2012
The concept of biofuels is seemingly attractive, because the amount of solar energy exceeds two orders of the consumption of human civilization - so why not to use it in the same way, like the plants? The problem is, this sparse way of energy concentration is incredible resources and materials hungry. If we would use it, we would covered the world with GMO crops and fermenters, pipes for biogas and we wouldn't allow any free place for actual independent life. We would live essentially like the plants, which do consume whole their life environment just for their simple reproduction. So we shouldn't exist at the Earth just for energy production, conversion, transport and storage, the people should spend their lives with more attractive and qualified tasks. Instead of it, we should make the energetics as tiny and unobtrusive as possible. The energetic sources and engines should be the smallest parts of devices and technologies.
Dug
5 / 5 (2) Mar 10, 2012
You will note the source of these ionic solutions - petroleum, the energy - petroleum, and the non-renewables - petroleum that is going into the manufacture of the ionic solutions - are not mentioned and not part of this typically cherry picked view of "green." Nor is there a discussion about concern of pollution from ionic solutions themselves - some of which are quite toxic (check Wikipedia). If the "greenies" were as passionate about critical thinking as they are about their cause de jour, then they might actually contribute a lot more.
Dug
not rated yet Mar 10, 2012
P.S. The logging industry isn't renewable in that it is totally dependent on petroleum based fuel energy sources. Ever see a solar powered chain saw, saw mill, logging truck, barker, chipper, etc. etc. Think people.
tadchem
not rated yet Mar 14, 2012
Ionic liquids are very highly recoverable. They have high decomposition temperatures (they don't evaporate), and other types of solvents are easily separated from them.
I would consider using an emulsion of an ionic liquid and a non-polar solvent such as a terpene to extract the water-soluble and the oil-soluble fractions from the pulp simultaneously, to be separated and recovered later.
The 'washed' fiber should be well suited to further processing into commercial products, and the fraction recovered from the terpene wash would be a flammable liquid that included the biodeisel.
kaasinees
not rated yet Mar 14, 2012
P.S. The logging industry isn't renewable in that it is totally dependent on petroleum based fuel energy sources. Ever see a solar powered chain saw, saw mill, logging truck, barker, chipper, etc. etc. Think people.


Not if they can sustain themselves with biofuel made from by products of making the wood.

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