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Center for Sustainable Biomaterials & Bioenergy
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  • Improved Advanced Biomass Logistics Utilizing Woody and other Feedstocks in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest 
    The principal objective of this project is to lower the delivered cost of short rotation woody crops feedstock by optimizing and demonstrating a commercial-scale supply system using an iterative process. The target is to deliver hybrid poplar on the west coast and shrub willow on the east coast to the throat of the conversion process reactor of our commercial partners for less than $80/DT including both grower payment and logistics cost. Additional objectives include overcoming current technical hurdles, optimizing harvesting, transport, storage and delivery logistics so that feedstock of consistent quality and quantity can be delivered to end users. This goal will be primarily achieved through an iterative process of harvest and logistics optimization modeling that will inform large scale harvesting trials on both the east and west coasts. Improvements in the operation of single pass cut and chip New Holland harvesting system and in the functionality of the chip collection and storage systems will be implemented and tested in the field. At all stages in the process the quality of the feedstock being produced will be assessed and the impact of variations in key quality parameters on the yield of biofuels will be determined by our key biorefinery partners. The feedstock team will use the feedback from biorefinery partners to alter harvest and preprocessing operations to produce feedstock to meet key biorefinery partners specifications. 
  • Enhancing the Nanostructure of the Lignocellulosic Cell Wall as a Natural Template for Highly-ordered Mesoporus Carbons 
    The goal of this project is to elucidate the mechanisms of the thermostabilization of lignocellulosic cell walls and the oxidative transformation of the enhanced nanostructure into a precursor for highly-ordered mesoporous carbon (HOMC). A novel green technology will be developed to produce HOMC using the naturally-ordered nanostructure of lignocellulosic cell walls as a template. The specific objectives are to: (1) characterize lignocellulosic biomass materials and determine the cellulose-to-lignin ratio of selected plant species; (2) determine the processing parameters for effective thermostabilization of lignocellulosic cell wall nanostructures and selective removal of cellulose microfibrils for production of nano-channels in the thermally stabilized cell wall; (3) produce HOMC material and verify the electrochemical properties of the proposed HOMC for capacitive applications; and (4) conduct techno-economic and life cycle analyses to evaluate the commercialization potential of the proposed technology and carbon product. 
  • Strengthening a Wood Energy Team to Facilitate Bio-Business Development in West Virginia 
    West Virginia (WV), the third most heavily forested state in the U.S., has abundant woody biomass in both National Forest System and private lands. Woody biomass can be procured from many sources, such as residues from forest harvesting, stand improvement, fuel load reduction and traditional forest products manufacture, for use as a renewable energy to further diversify the State’s energy production. However, the development of wood energy to take advantage of the renewable resource has, to date, been scarce. To boost the productivity and viability of the wood energy sector in West Virginia, it is critical to strengthen a wood energy team to facilitate the bio-business development in the State. 
    This 17-member team consists of extension experts, engineers, wood energy professionals and industrial representatives across West Virginia University (WVU), state and federal agencies, and commercial companies. The team will analyze the techno-economic feasibility and the engineering of woody biomass heating systems for WV’s large users of liquid propane and heating oil (>500MBTUs per year). Potential conversion opportunities for wood energy will be specifically identified, as well as potential wood energy users.
  • NEWBio: The Northeast Woody/Warm-season Biomass Consortium:Harvest, Preprocessing, and Logistics of Integrated Biomass Supply Chains 
    The Northeast Woody/Warm-season Biomass Consortium (NEWBio) is a regional network of universities, businesses, and governmental organizations dedicated to building robust, scalable, and sustainable value chains for biomass energy in the Northeast (NE). Driven by the broad societal benefits that sustainable bioenergy value chains could provide, NEWBio aims to overcome existing barriers and dramatically increase the sustainable, cost-effective supply of lignocellulosic biomass while reducing net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, enhancing ecosystem services, and building vibrant communities. 
    For perennial crop systems like willow, miscanthus and switchgrass, harvesting and transportation can account for 40-60% of the delivered cost of biomass. Preprocessing of biomass through drying, size reduction, storage and compaction can increase transportation efficiency, reduce delivered costs, and improve conversion efficiency. Reducing these costs associated with biomass logistics, including harvest and collection, processing, transportation,and storage unit operations, is key to establishing a commercially-viable, sustainable biorefinery.
  • Using dendroisotopes in North America and Asia to examine how temperate forests respond to changes in acid deposition 
    Forest ecosystems play a fundamental role in the global C cycle; they contribute ~50% of global net primary production, store ~45% of terrestrial carbon, and are a major part of the terrestrial C sink that removes almost 30% of anthropogenic C emissions each year. Consequently, state-of-the-art climate models require a mechanistic understanding of how simultaneous changes in key environmental variables affect carbon cycling in trees and forest ecosystems. Dendrochronological techniques, in combination with measurements of stable isotopes, can be useful in disentangling the environmental complexity of historical changes in forest productivity since tree rings provide an annually defined record of response to the environment. This project uses the dendroisotopic approach to examine simultaneous environmental influences on tree growth in temperate forests and focuses on the changing levels of atmospheric pollution over the past century in the United States ( historically high acid deposition, currently low acid deposition) and China ( historically low acid deposition, currently high acid deposition).
  • Feasibilities of a Coal-Biomass to Liquids Plant in Southern West Virginia: This project determined the feasibility of a CBTL facility in southern West Virginia. The study included economic, technical, financial feasibility, and market analyses for CBTL fuel. For the analyses, three production scenarios were used to determine the best technology and a multi-objective programming tool was used to identify the best strategies for feedstock management, facility operations, and siting.
  • Alternative woody biomass pretreatments for biofuel production. It is to advance an interdisciplinary and highly competitive bioenergy research team at West Virginia University to promote bioenergy research and development in the region. This bioenergy research team will facilitate the advancement of research needed to successfully bid on multi-million-dollar research awards under the USDA, DOE, and DOD. The empowered bioenergy team at WVU will be positioned to lead innovative research project teams that are comprised of existing and newly developed collaborators. The team will focus on developing biofuel and bioenergy programs using West Virginia’s abundant resources of biomass, coal and natural gas in four major categories: (1) Feedstock development, (2) Biofuel and bioenergy development, specifically “drop-in” biofuel and bioproduct development, (3) Biofuel development analysis, and (4) Education and outreach.
  • An economic assessment of woody biomass availability and utilization for bioenergy in central Appalachia. West Virginia is the third most heavily forested state in the U.S. (Griffith and Widmann 2003) and produces 2.42 million dry tons of wood residues annually (Wang et al. 2006). The utilization of these renewable resources has not been efficient in the state. The state has 166 sawmills and 58 dry kilns with relatively lower energy efficiency and a typical sawmill uses $100,000 a year in electricity. Currently, there is no large scale commercial facility to utilize wood residues to produce biofuels due to lack of proven biomass conversion technologies, limited information on costs and product marketing. This thus necessitates the need to develop an outreach program to promote woody biomass utilization for biofuel production and improve sawmilling energy efficiency through a pilot project demonstration, offering workshops and transferring findings to the community. To achieve these goals, we will base on the existing and ongoing lignocellulosic biofuel facilities on West Virginia University (WVU) campus to produce biofuels and to power a small-scale sawmill located on the WVU Research Forest operating on approximately 172 kWh for demonstrations. The proposed project will potentially improve the wood residue utilization and help position West Virginia on the forefront of a new economy fueled by bioenergy creating new job opportunities across the state for rural community development. 
  • Assessment of coal/woody biomass to liquid fuels(CBTL) and carbon sequestration. The amount of biomass and coal was estimated at different plant capacities and different coal/biomass ratios (from 85/15 to 65/35). Approximately 2.58 million dry tons of biomass and 14.63 million dry tons of coal are needed annually (assuming 365 working days/year, coal/biomass=85/15) for 100,000 barrels of liquid fuel per day. The biomass requirement is linearly related to plant capacity and would increase significantly with decrease of coal/biomass ratio. Although WV has enough coal to support a coal/biomass to liquids facility, the state does not have enough biomass for a facility with 100,000 barrels of liquid fuels per day at coal/biomass ratio of 80/20. Under this circumstance, biomass including logging residue, mill residue and switchgrass should be extracted from West Virginia’s surrounding states. For a plant of 40,000 barrels of liquid fuels per day with coal/biomass ratio of 85/15, the biomass needed is 1.03 million dry tons, whereas it is 5.37 million dry tons for a plant of 100,000 barrels of liquid fuel per day with coal/biomass ratio of 70/30. 
  • Depolymerization and fermentation of wood wastes to ethanol and butanol fuels.           Poplar trees (native cottonwood and aspen species) are suitable candidates for genetic improvement for biofuels production due to their modest genome size, fast growth, amenability to genetic engineering and vegetative propagation, and adaptability to a wide range of planting conditions. In order to examine the potential of hybrid poplar for efficient production of biofuels and bio-nanocomposites, hybrid poplar samples were collected from a plantation at the West Virginia University Agronomy Farm, including stumps and roots from a two-year old plantation, and stem-wood specimens from one-year coppice growth in a stool bed. An anatomic analysis for each sample was conducted in cross section, radial section, and transverse section using a scanning electron microscope (SEM). Although the vessel distributions in cross sections are visually different among the five types of poplar, the anatomic result tends to suggest that the hybrid poplar has more resemblance with Populus trichocarpa with fewer vessels per unit area, than to the pedigree father (Populus deltoideis clone PD1). In general, all other anatomic features such as vessel size, fibers, and pits located at the cross, radial, and transverse sections did not reveal much difference among the five types of poplar. Future study may include the comparisons of average sizes of vessels with variations, void contents among the five samples. It is also necessary and important to perform an experiment to further study and in-depth anatomical properties like fiber length, fiber strength, rays and pits. 
    • Development of an outreach program to promote wood residue utilization for bioenergy in West Virginia. Outreach program for biomass and bioenergy education, multi-disciplinary conference on biomass and bioenergy was developed. Three Levels of  workshops, feedbacks and refinement were held, targeting biomass/bioenergy research/development professionals, state and federal agencies and industry people, and rural communities especially in AFHA, including farmers and forest landowners.
    • Feasibility study for the development of an automated log to lumber tracking system for hardwood sawmills: Examine the feasibility of the potential application of encoding and scanning technology used in other industrial sectors for the tracking of logs and lumber through the hardwood manufacturing process.
    • Hybrid structural wood composites engineered from underutilized hardwood species combined with reformulated waste materials: The project seeks to develop value-added reconstituted structural wood composites using underutilized hardwood and including compositions with residues and waste products being discarded by the decorative veneer and furniture industry, as well as synthetic fibers and resins.
    • From woody biomass to biofuels: A research demonstration project to promote wood residue utilization in West Virginia: Examine the possibilities of utilizing wood residues to produce biofuels to promote business development in the Appalachian region.
    • Design of a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) based log scanning set up for improving the quality of wood products from saw mills: Hidden or subsurface defects such as knots, decays, embedded nails, and metallic objects in the wooden logs are of major concern for sawmills. These defects reduce the quality of lumber, and embedded metals often damage the saw blade thus increasing the factory downtime. This leads to significant yield losses and productivity. This project aims to develop an automated nondestructive scanning system that is suitable for on-line implementation in saw mills.
    • New processes and products from lignocellulose biomass: Potential opportunities for economic development in West Virginia: To produce cellulose nanocrystals from recycled pulp, pine, and hardwood dissolving pulps in enzyme mediated process, incorporate the cellulose nanocrystals into polymer matrices including polycarbonate and polyimide to form cellulose nanocrystals reinforced nanocomposites, and determine the mechanical and thermal properties of the resulting polymer nanocomposites (PNC).
    • Development of an Outreach Program to Promote Wood Residue Utilization for Bioenergy in West Virginia: Working together with the state agencies, local community and industry people, this proposed project will develop an outreach program, which will be conducted through workshops/industry tours to agencies, professionals, farmers, woodlot owners, and the general public. The Appalachian Forest Heritage Area has been selected as the target area for this pilot program. Information will be relayed during the workshops, but will also be extended through the Biomaterials and Wood Utilization Center website at West Virginia University. There will be examples provided to the audience concerning wood residue utilization for heating and energy requirements for small rural communities or school systems. The workshops will also cover wood residue estimation, economic analysis, biomass policies, and biomass conversion techniques. Upon completion of this project, a comprehensive outreach education packet for wood residue utilization for bioenergy will be provided, which can be used as a framework to facilitate the sustainable forest management, business development, and promotion of the rural community economy in West Virginia.
    • Development of a dynamic business analysis model to promote the production and utilization of wood residues for bioenergy and bioproducts.
    • Development of a West Virginia Biobased Materials Center.
    • Value Recovery through Merchandizing Hardwood Log Products: Investigate the current log merchandizing and optimal bucking processes in West Virginia, develop a handheld-based and a 3D Windows-based merchandizing systems to aid the optimal bucking in the woods or at the landing, and promote the application of the merchandizing/optimal bucking of hardwoods.
    • Increase Use of Low-Quality Wood in the Upland Hardwood Region: Increase utilization of oak by investigating knife angles and projections during stranding for OSB panel production. Determine the feasible use, by weight, of oak species that can be pressed into a panel while maintaining third party trade marking standards.
    • Oak Logging Residues in the Upland Hardwood Region: Determine lumber and component yields of low quality logs and bolts remaining after timber harvesting in West Virginia. Determine economic feasibility of converting logging residues into value-added products for the lumber, tie, pallet, and component industries.
    • Condition Assessment of Logs Using GPR: Use ground penetrating radar (GPR) to develop nondestructive scanning technology for identifying sub-surface defects in hardwood logs. Use of GPR technology combined with an expert system will provide imaging of sub-surface defects such as decay, knots, or foreign objects which will enable optimal orientation of saw blade to maximize production of higher grade wood and minimize waste.
    • Enhancement of Commercial Competitiveness: Application of Advanced Technologies:Produce cellulose nanocrystals from Appalachian hardwoods using both chemical and enzymatic methods. Determine the chemical composition of wood residues chemically using near-infrared spectroscopy and chemometrics. Determine in-situ types and concentration of organic biocides in the “new wood preservative system.” Determine non-destructively decay in wood-plastic composites.
    • A Regional Log and Lumber Yield Initiative: Develop a log evaluation system that is easily adapted to a variety of log grading systems as a basis to analyze lumber yields from logs. Data collected on individual logs will be made available to the industry through an online database system developed for the project.
    • Transforming Veneer-Mill Residues into Value-Added Composites: Develop products and technologies for a range of highly engineered wood composite panels, consolidated from high quality veneer residues.
    • Development of a Dynamic Business Analysis Model to Promote the Production and Utilization of Wood Residues for Bioenergy and Bioproducts in West Virginia: West Virginia is one of the most heavily forested states in the United States. Over 40,000 tons of wood residues are produced by the primary and secondary wood products industries in West Virginia on a weekly basis, most in the form of bark, chips, and sawdust. Likewise, during the timbering process, over 10 tons per acre of wood residues are left on the ground after harvest. Together, these wood residues represented almost 5 million tons of wood fiber available annually in West Virginia. To date, very little of this “waste” is ever utilized for energy or to create new or value added products. No large-scale commercial facility is currently operating and new opportunities for the development and adaptation of technologies have, to date, been limited. To expand the productivity and viability of the forest products sector, new uses and products focused on “waste wood” are critically needed. Based on the recent established Bio-based Materials Center at West Virginia University with the assistance of West Virginia Development Office, the goal of this project is to develop a dynamic business analysis model to promote the utilization of wood residues for bioenergy and bioproducts. The model will be used as a framework to facilitate the woody biomass-related business development in West Virginia and help position West Virginia on the forefront of a new economy fueled by bio-based materials.
    • Development of an expert system to assess the opportunities to use wood residue as a commercial and industrial fuel source in the Appalachian Region:Due to rising energy costs, many industries are interested in developing new energy systems based on woody biomass. Those industries interested in converting existing systems or in developing new systems for energy production from biomass, face a number of challenges. These include the development of detailed feasibility analyses for the conversion process as well as current information on the availability, characteristics, and economic constraints of woody biomass resources. The goal of this project is to develop a fully integrated life cycle study for the development of a biomass based energy system for a major manufacturing firm in West Virginia. Components of the life cycle study will be integrated into an expert system that will be made available to other companies interested in developing wood biomass based energy systems. The West Virginia Development Office Energy Efficiency Program will coordinate the use of the developed expert system.