Dr. Paul Dauenhauer of the Chemical Engineering Department received word of a $149,234 grant from the 2011 Northeast Sun Grant Initiative (NESGI) Competitive Grants program, bringing to almost $1 million the total funding he has been awarded from three sources in little more than a month. From early March until mid-April, his dovetailing research projects were also funded with an $800,000 Early Career Award in Basic Energy Sciences from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), plus $15,000 from a highly selective 3M Nontenured Faculty Award.

The NESGI grant will support his research to design a catalytic-cone reactor for direct conversion of woody biomass to transportation fuels.

"Conversion of biomass to fuels requires small-scale, portable pyrolysis reactors,” Dr. Dauenhauer describes the research funded by his NESGI grant. “A fully integrated reactor that can pyrolyze biomass directly to biofuels while simultaneously separating ash and generating heat can potentially change the way that biofuels processes work by producing biofuels at distributed locations.” 

With only a limited pool of $1.1 million available for the NESGI program in 2011, Dauenhauer’s project was one of only 12 proposals accepted for funding out of 82 applications. 

“By the introduction of oxidation catalysts within pyrolysis reactors,” adds Dauenhauer about his project, “it becomes possible to significantly shrink biomass reactors and eliminate the need for secondary reactors. If successful, this technology could put biomass reactors on the back of a truck rather than at a fixed biorefinery location."

Dauenhauer’s NESGI, DOE, and 3M studies are spinoffs from his much publicized research into a new method of “gasification” for converting biofuel feedstock into sustainable fuel, which, according to the highly respected Technology Review, could have a “profound” effect on the chemical industry. His gasification process would not only greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but double the amount of fuel that can be made from an acre of biomass feedstock. His website is at www.ecs.umass.edu/~dauenhauer/. (May 2011)