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Crop Biotech Update

University of Minnesota-Duluth Develop "Instant Coal"

November 22, 2017

A team of researchers from the University of Minnesota Duluth has developed the "instant coal", an energy-dense biofuel made from wood and agricultural waste from the Natural Resources Research Institute's (NRRI) Renewable Energy Lab.

The new biofuel's characteristics were comparable with coal. In laboratory tests, the fossil coal yielded 8,000 to 9,500 British thermal units or BTUs per pound, while briquettes of the biofuel yielded 10,000 BTUs per pound. A second biofuel, called "energy mud," packed even more energy per pound.

These "instant coal" briquettes could help salvage energy from trees killed by the emerald ash borer, as well as biomass from invasive plants and other excess plant material. The team uses a process similar to coffee roasting in which raw biomass is dried, heated in a low-oxygen atmosphere, and compressed. To make energy mud, the researchers used a process similar to pressure-cooking that requires no drying.

While more research is needed to determine the new fuel's future impact, it can be foreseen that these briquettes will reduce the emission of carbon dioxide and impurities in coal-fired powered plants.