Bio-Energy Laboratory

Laboratory Description

DRI’s Bio-Energy Laboratory is research-centered, looking at applications of renewable energy in the desert southwestern US and throughout the world. The primary focus of the Laboratory is on the development and application of renewable resources including biomass and biofuels, renewable power, and hydrogen generation and use. The laboratory has expertise in hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) treatment of biomass feedstocks to produce solid biofuels having high energy density and other properties similar to coal. The laboratory also investigates the production of renewable energy from solar PV, solar thermal, and wind sources. These multiple energy sources are integrated, controlled, and utilized in various ways, to enable off-grid operation of an experimental house by meeting all heating, cooling, and power needs of the facility. When available, excess renewable power is used to produce hydrogen, via electrolysis, and store it for use when additional electrical power is needed.

Applications and services
The Bio-Energy Laboratory conducts a wide variety of chemical processing and product analysis activities, and provides the following services:

  • Hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) treatment of Biomass (3 different scales)
  • Permanent Gas analysis by GC (H2, CO, CO2, C1-C3 HCs)
  • Biomass moisture content
  • pH Levels of aqueous solutions
  • Energy content (HHV) by Calorimetry
  • Non-volatile residue (NVR) content of aqueous solutions
  • Pellet formation and characterization

Hydrothermal Carbonization
Hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) is a chemical process used to convert raw biomass into an energy-dense solid biofuel, called hydrochar. This hydrochar has properties similar to coal and could be blended with coal to produce a clean energy. In addition, valuable aqueous products are produced.

The Bio-Energy Laboratory hosts equipment to perform HTC on three different scales while varying important reaction parameters. A small two chamber reactor can treat 1-2 grams of biomass, and allows precise control of reaction temperature and time. A 2-Liter reactor allows treatment of 100 grams of biomass, and a larger process development unit allows treatment of 2-3 kg in a semi-continuous fashion.

Pellet Formation and Characterization
The Bio-Energy laboratory boasts capabilities to produce and characterize pellets. Pellets are produced individually in a heated press, and characterized by several standard and non-standard tests. Tests, which include a tumbling test, a water immersion test, and a pH leaching test can be used to evaluate properties such as mass density, energy density, durability, modulus of elasticity, equilibrium moisture content, and others.

Chamber Reactor for the Bio-Energy Laboratory

Chamber Reactor

Pellet press for the Bio-Energy Laboratory

Pellet Press

Pellet tumbler for the Bio-Energy Laboratory

Pellet Tumbler

Each beaker contains the same amount of energy.

Each beaker contains the same amount of energy.


Kent Hoekman, Ph.D.
Atmospheric Sciences