Thesis Defense: Zachary Herde
Chemical Engineering Department
“Towards a Cost-Effective Biorefinery: Production of Activated Carbons from Residual Biomass for Energy Storage Devices”
Biomass processing for industrial products and biofuels has gained an increasing presence as society looks to using sustainable resources for manufacturing and renewable fuels for energy. However, these sustainably produced materials and products cannot gain a competitive edge because of the manufacturing expenses that are a result of high process temperatures and pressures. In order to lower these costs, theoretical modeling has described a value-added co-product strategy as one of the best ways to combat high bioprocessing prices. Biomass has been shown to make effective carbons for energy storage devices such as supercapacitors and batteries. These carbons, with the right qualities, would be considered high value and have the potential to bring in large revenues.
In this work, corn fiber in the form of Dried Distiller’s Grains and soy hulls that have been subjected to a hydrolysis process to remove 5-Carbon sugars are carbonized with KOH as an activating agent. The carbons were then characterized to explore the effect of hydrolysis on the carbons made from both pre and post-hydrolysis biomass. In addition, the carbons were tested in three energy storage applications: supercapacitors, solar cells, and hydrogen storage modules. Based on the characterization, device testing, and further economic analysis, it was determined that these carbon materials could provide substantial revenues that would allow for reduction in processing costs, ultimately lowering biofuel or bioproduct consumer prices. This research has also established baseline data on which different biomasses can be explored, opening the door to research with other biomasses of interest.