Donation Drives New Direction of Bioenergy Research at University of Idaho

Monday, January 3 2011


Written by Alecia Hoene

MOSCOW, Idaho – A $25,000 donation from Texas entrepreneur Randy Hill and his company, APT Advanced Trailer and Equipment LP, to the University of Idaho has funded research focused on converting woody biomass to energy.

The gift has allowed the university to install a pilot-scale pyrolysis unit at its steam plant. Pyrolysis is a type of incineration that uses almost no oxygen. When applied to an organic material like wood, pyrolysis yields biofuel plus a small amount of charcoal.

Armando McDonald, professor of wood chemistry and wood composites, researches pyrolysis of woody biomass to create bio-oil.

“This involves thermally cracking the wood to break it down into smaller molecules,” said McDonald. “The process yields about 60 percent bio-oil; 20 percent syngas, a gas mixture that is then used to fuel the operation; and about 20 percent char that can be used as a soil amendment.”

McDonald said the value of bioenergy methods like pyrolysis resides in the usability of all products generated. Such processes have the potential to generate substantial amounts of clean energy with little to no waste.

Hill also donated a biomass drying trailer and funding to install it at the university steam plant, and funding to formalize bioenergy and bioproducts efforts at the University of Idaho. In June 2010, the university received a proposal from Hill outlining a vision for the University of Idaho to establish a national level bioenergy research center. In that proposal, Hill committed to this and a number of other research projects and more than $700,000 in future licensing revenues benefiting the university’s bioenergy research. In August 2010, the university committed to the vision. University officials expect to make an announcement in the next two weeks.

“We are improving biomass drying equipment for faster drying equals less fuel, less cost and fewer carbon emissions. We see the University of Idaho as the go to place for innovative research in the future of bioenergy,” said Hill.

University of Idaho Sustainability Director Darin Saul sees research on woody biomass utilization as part of a larger bioenergy and bioproducts effort focused on regionally important feed stocks, including manure, oil seeds and food processing waste.

“Each feed stock has its own needs, byproducts and waste streams,” said Saul. “With this approach, we keep going cradle-to-cradle until each waste stream is turned into energy or a commercial byproduct. The goal is no waste, only energy and value-added products.”

McDonald, Saul and the bioenergy and bioproducts working group plan to collaborate with private sector partners to address identified bottlenecks in bioenergy/bioproducts industry development.

For more information about the university’s sustainability efforts, contact the University of Idaho Sustainability Center at uisc@uidaho.edu or visit www.uidaho.edu/sustainability.
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About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s land-grant institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year. The University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation classification for high research activity. The student population of 12,302 includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars, who select from more than 130 degree options in the colleges of Agricultural and Life Sciences; Art and Architecture; Business and Economics; Education; Engineering; Law; Letters, Arts and Social Sciences; Natural Resources; and Science. The university also is charged with the statewide mission for medical education through the WWAMI program. The university combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities and focuses on helping students to succeed and become leaders. For more information, visit www.uidaho.edu.

About Randy Hill
Randy Hill is president and chief executive officer of APT Advanced Trailer and Equipment LP, a company whose invention revolutionized the American peanut industry by developing semi-trailers that procure (dry) and transport peanuts and various other agricultural products. In 2007 an Advanced Trailer was used to dry woodchips by researchers at the Herty Advanced Materials Development Center in Savannah, Ga. Since that time Advanced Trailer has provided funding and or equipment to a number of universities and companies for biomass and crop residue drying research. In 2009, Advanced Trailer announced that the University of Idaho had been selected as the recipient for funding related to biomass drying research. On Dec. 8, 2010, Hill received national headlines for funding the ChargerTech initiative at Dallas Christian School in Mesquite, Texas. The nation’s first K-12 school to implement use of Apple iPads in the classroom. www.globenewswire.com/newsroom/news.html?d=208736






About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals, and competes in the Western Athletic Conference. For information, visit www.uidaho.edu.