Researchers at Kansas State University and in China are leaning on math to improve the process of converting wheat straw into pellets for production of ethanol.
“Mathematical modeling is a powerful tool because it can save both the time and resources required for experimental studies,” said Zhenzhen Shi, of Kansas State’s Institute of Computational and Comparative Medicine.
Wheat straw is an abundant Kansas agricultural residue with low commercial value. An alternative is utilization of straw for fuel production.
Work by scientists at the Kansas State institute and Yangzhou University in China, published in the journal Applied Energy, investigated issues with biomass temperature rise during pellet production, which can undermine ethanol output. Risk factors of temperature rise were calculated and put to the test, said Majid Jaberi-Douraki, assistant professor of math at Kansas State.
“By applying the model recommendation to experiments, we found out the percentage of burned-out pellets was reduced, while the pellet density, pellet durability and sugar yield from pellets were significantly improved,” Shi said.
Condensed biomass, in the form of pellets, can be easily handled and transported to ethanol processing plants. Ethanol extracted from pellets can substitute for fossil fuels and mitigate accumulation of greenhouse gases.
The experimental work of the study was partially supported by National Science Foundation and researchers also had assistance from the Kansas Bioscience Authority.