In Sept. 2010, Tyler started his research related to tar reduction in biomass gasification as a graduate student at UBC under the supervision of Profs. Bi, Ellis and Grace. The potential of biomass as a primary energy source comes from the energy stored in its chemical bonds. These bonds can be transformed by biological or thermochemical processes to yield gaseous or liquid products that can be effectively converted to heat, electricity, or liquid fuels. Bioenergy is poised to increase its market share because of growing anthropogenic CO2 emissions and lack of energy security. The International Panel on Climate Change treats biomass as a CO2-neutral energy source, as its carbon is synthesized from atmospheric CO2 over a relatively short time span. This status has the potential to improve the economics of future bioenergy facilities when governmental carbon management practices, such as carbon taxes, are introduced. Biomass gasification is a preferred route for bioenergy production because it can achieve higher conversion efficiencies than biomass combustion. However, the product gases from biomass gasification systems often contain levels of high-molecular-weight hydrocarbons, commonly referred to as tars, which must be reduced or removed prior to downstream processing. Tyler’s project was poised to deal with the reduction of tars in biomass gasification using low-cost catalysts. Nexterra Systems Corp., a global leader in advanced biomass gasification energy systems, was working with UBC through Tyler to test his catalytic tar reduction scheme in their demonstration unit which has been in operation at UBC since 2012.
The research which Tyler had started for his Master’s/ PhD project is now being carried out by Dr. Luisa Burhenne funded by Fraunhofer Institute in Freiburg, Germany. She comes from a vast experience in biomass gasification due to her previous work at Fraunhofer ISE. There she was involved in the development and demonstration of a new fixed bed biomass gasification process for the production of a tar-free synthesis gas. During her PhD work, she specialized in catalytic tar cracking using wood char as catalyst. Luisa has now acquired various catalysts and is working with the tar cracking unit built initially by Tyler to test potential catalysts for tar reduction. Once a suitable catalyst is found, it will be tested in the tar cracking unit at the Nexterra gasification plant located at UBC with the objective of product gas cleaning and improvement of overall energy efficiency.