Renewable Bio-Fuel Being Developed by NRRI

Fuel Could Replace Coal in Many Applications

COLERAINE, Minn. – Researchers are working to convert natural biomass into products that can be used in place of coal.

Some of this groundbreaking biomass research is happening right here in the Northland.

UMD’s Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) has a lab in Coleraine dedicated to developing solid fuel from biomass. That fuel could soon be used by many industries as a substitute for coal.

“Nature takes about four hundred million years even the lowest ranked coals. We’re doing it in about twenty minutes,” said Donald Fosnacht, Associate Director of NRRI.

Biomass is organic matter that can be taken from plants. NRRI researchers have converted it into fuel that’s made in the form of compact pellets.

“Really the challenge was getting the pressure that mother nature can give you, getting the temperatures that mother nature gave us and putting those into a package to densify the material into an effective compact,” said Tim Hagen, Chemical Engineer at NRRI.

Though it costs more to develop than burning coal, the bio fuel they create is renewable and much cleaner.

“Biomass does not have sulfur in it,” said Hagen. “It does not have mercury in it. so those are two priority pollutants for every pound of bio-fuel that you burn, your emission profile will go down.”

The fuel has potential applications across many industries.

“Anybody that needs a coal substitute and that can be in an industrial complex, it can be a power plant, and we also know that there’s potential in the steel industry,” said Fosnacht. “They use a lot of coal injection. This could be a natural substitute for coal injection.”

Researchers say that bio-fuel can extend the life of many coal power plants and can create jobs in the areas surrounding them.

“It’s going to keep loggers busy,” said Hagen. “It’s going to provide an outlet for that biomass species to be utilized.”

Because biomass is made from plants, it can be harvested while removing invasive species.

“We know that we can take material that grows along rivers and infests things, can cause breeding grounds for mosquitoes which cause malaria and convert that into very similar products,” said Fosnacht.

NRRI officials believe that, in the near future, this renewable solid fuel will be used by industries across the world.

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