In Tennessee, the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers are studying approaches to cleaner energy conversion of biomass. Using neutron scattering at ORNL, they are investigating how biomasses degrade as they are exposed to extreme temperatures. Insights from their experiments could also point to possible applications for the byproducts of bioenergy production.
“A near-term objective of this is to provide insight into the way that biomasses pyrolyze—that is, how they degrade in thermal environments—to improve the models that researchers use for these processes,” said Charles Finney, a researcher in ORNL’s Fuels and Engines Research Group in the Energy and Transportation Science Division.
Neutrons are well suited for these types of experiments because they are nondestructive, can penetrate materials more deeply than x-rays, and are highly sensitive to light elements such as hydrogen.
Ossler and Finney observed biomass samples of wood, straw, and cork as they were exposed under vacuum to temperatures as high as 1,000°C (1,832°F). They used the CG-1D IMAGING beamline at ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR). By analyzing the hydrogenous and other gases emitted, the researchers can understand how the biomass structures change as they degrade.