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Care for some biofuel ice-cream?


A warm breeze grazed his cheek. Summer was approaching, he was sure of that. He watched his wife’s index follow the specific instructions of her secret ice cream recipe. Combined with a sense of curiosity and a natural interest in secret recipes rooted in his Italian origins, the man observed the meticulous process. Being an engineer, he first focused on the two blades, how they were intimately mixing the sugar and milk, while thickening the mixture. That night, Dr. Franco Berruti’s had a flash of insight: to equip the Mechanically Fluidized Reactor with a mixing device inspired by the ice-cream maker.

Dr.  Franco Berruti

Dr. Franco Berruti

My BioFuelNet (BFN) project has dealt with the development of a new and innovative technology for the pyrolysis of biomass based on the Mechanically Fluidized Reactor (MFR) technology.  My research has demonstrated the ability to process efficiently biomass particles by mechanically mixing the contents of the reactor without the use of inert gas, which makes it simpler and more energy efficient. The stirrer provides mixing of the reacting solids while breaking and/or avoiding the formation of agglomerates. Additionally vapors and gases formed from the cracking of the biomass aerate the bed, so that efficient mixing and heat transfer are achieved with a minimal expense of mixing energy.

Kraft lignin, by-product of the pulping process, is a potentially very valuable feedstock for the production of high-value fuels currently derived from petroleum, as a result of its aromatic character. However, it has shown undesirable characteristics during pyrolysis, such as stickiness and agglomeration, which make standard pyrolysis technologies unsuitable to process it. The MFR provides vigorous mixing that allows breaking the agglomerates, thus successfully pyrolyzing Kraft lignin.

The experimental results were obtained using a small scale MFR.  In order to optimize the operating conditions and, especially to generalize the results for a possible scale up, it was now critically important to develop an adequate mathematical model.

BFN gave me the opportunity to travel to the Technical University of Hamburg (Germany) and collaborate with the Institute of Solid Process Engineering and Particle Technology (SPE). This institute is the leader in Computational Fluid Dynamics and Discrete Element Modelling (CFD/DEM) simulations. I gained experience by interacting with a very prestigious research team at a foreign University.


Valentina (in front on the left) and the SPE staff celebrating a doctoral graduation. We should import their tradition in Canada (maybe we could use a sleigh in wintertime!).

During my exchange in Hamburg, I had the opportunity to be exposed to the direct expertise in CFD/DEM simulation of this research group and I was trained on these simulation models. By means of a DEM simulation of the MFR, I now have a better understanding of the dynamics of the pyrolysis process in a Mechanically Fluidized Reactor. The collaboration continues and we want to improve the simulation in order to determine more accurately the mixing mechanisms occurring in the MFR, by coupling DEM and CFD methods, to further improve this technology.

The development of a generalized model will provide us with the opportunity to scale-up the reactor technology and make it suitable for industrial implementation.

By the way, Franco has not told his wife about the MFR yet, the reason being that it is the only way he can convince her to make ice-cream whenever he pleases with the excuse that he is still “observing the mixing process”. Keep the secret!


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