Date: Nov 01, 2013 Source: SBIR Success Stories (
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Air Force Requirement:
The main base landfill at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., should reach full capacity by 2017. Similarly, many other landfills across the country are also reaching capacity. Faced with the prospect of having to truck waste over long distances to alternative landfills, the Air Force sought out processes that could divert organic material from the landfill and extend their useful life. In addition, the Air Force recognized the potential advantage of producing usable fuel from the organic waste material, thereby addressing a waste problem while also producing sustainable energy on base.
Under this Air Force Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) contract, Mainstream Engineering, a small business in Rockledge, FL., developed a fast-pyrolysis process to convert waste organic material to a liquid fuel commonly called “bio-oil”. Mainstream engineers designed the process and constructed a pilot reactor with a throughput of 1 ton per day. The pilot reactor has been tested with pine-wood and a mixed waste stream containing office paper, cardboard and several types of plastic. The bio-oil can be used raw as a replacement for heavy fuel oil or further refined as gasoline, diesel or jet fuel. The full-scale fast-pyrolysis process will be packaged in a standard semi-trailer for flexible deployment.
Fast-pyrolysis was first discovered about 25 years ago, but has yet to be adopted at large scale except in niche applications. The engineers at Mainstream worked to circumvent key technical barriers; such as process economics and the sale of the bio-oil that have prevented biomass fast pyrolysis from taking hold commercially. Proprietary technology was developed to improve the bio-oil yield and to use process energy more efficiently.
Extending the life of landfills at Air Force installations simplifies waste management logistics and reduces operating costs. In addition, expanded on-site generation of renewable energy improves energy security and helps mitigate the risk of power outages. The transportable fast-pyrolysis technology supports the Air Force’s goal of producing 25 percent of on-base power from renewable sources by 2025, as described in the “Air Force Installation Energy Plan”.
The transportable fast-pyrolysis process also has the potential to benefit deployed troops. Solid waste at small combat outposts is often disposed of by incineration in open burn boxes or burn pits, which presents health concerns about inhalation of airborne toxins. This technology could allow for cleaner waste remediation and fuel production in the field, leading to improved operational effectiveness and soldier safety.
The Air Force’s SBIR funding allowed Mainstream to address several key risk elements related to the technical approach. After those risks were mitigated, Mainstream decided to invest more than $100,000 in internal research & development funds for commercial market analysis, business plan development, and bio-oil upgrading research. Mainstream Bioenergy, a separate business unit, was established to transition this technology.
Recently, the company was awarded additional SBIR funding from the Office of the Secretary of Defense to develop smallscale, containerized pyrolysis reactors for waste remediation at combat outposts. Mainstream is also aggressively pursuing the development of this technology for commercial applications, such as processing agricultural residues like sugar cane bagasse and logging waste. The company has received commitments locally from both the South Florida Water Management District and Brevard County for in-kind donations (valued at over $300,000) to support further testing and demonstration. Mainstream is currently seeking additional funding for the next project phase, which includes engineering tasks to take the reactor out of the laboratory and into a field demonstration.