Creating Biofuel

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One production technique for biofuel converts agricultural waste through pyrolysis. These systems heat biomass particles in a mixture of sand and nitrogen gas until the biomass particles release tar and syngas, a key ingredient of biofuel. All this heating and mixing takes place in a fluidized bed, where the injected nitrogen gas helps the particle mixture move like a fluid.

Building prototypes of these systems can be costly, so industry has largely relied on computational studies to predict performance. But capturing the complicated physics behind turbulent gas and particle interactions is tough, and some models discard key information in favor of faster and cheaper simulations. In this study, the authors found that clustering between particles has a major effect on syngas production, something that industrial studies must account for. 

This is one of the challenges of computational fluid dynamics; although the codes have become more and more accessible over time, getting reliable results still requires a solid understanding of the strengths and limitations of each model used. (Image, video, and research credit: S. Beetham and J. Capecelatrosource; submitted by Jesse C.)

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