Process control in bio fuel & bio gas application note

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What is Bio fuel?

Bio fuel can be broadly defined as solid, liquid, or gas fuel derived from recently living biological material. This distinguishes it from fossil fuels, which are derived from long dead biological material. Bio fuel can be theoretically produced from any biological carbon source, though the most common by far is photosynthetic plants. Many different plants and plant derived materials are used for bio fuel manufacture. Bio fuels are used globally, most commonly to power vehicles and for generating heat. Bio fuel industries are rapidly expanding worldwide.

There are two common strategies for producing bio fuels. The first is to grow crops high in either sugars (sugar cane, sugar beet, and sweet sorghum) or starch, (mainly in the form of corn) and then use yeast fermentation to produce ethyl alcohol (ethanol). The second is to grow plants that contain high amounts of vegetable oil, such as oil palm, soybean, algae, or jatropha. These oils are then processed using heat to reduce the molecular weight (lower the viscosity or thickness). The free fatty acids in these oils can be converted to esters in a continuous process by combining the esterification and transesterification processes. The result is a fuel that can be burned directly in a diesel engine, or the oils can be chemically processed to produce fuels such as biodiesel blends which are a mixture of bio fuel and petroleum distillates. Wood and its byproducts can also be converted into bio fuels such as wood gas, methanol or ethanol fuel. It is also possible to make cellulosic ethanol from non-edible plant parts, but this can be difficult to accomplish economically. In addition to the approaches just described, bio fuels can be produced by the breakdown of waste materials. The methane produced can be captured, purified and sold to natural gas producers.

Bio fuel production requires analytical process measurements at various stages of the production process. The Ametek Process Instruments Group produces instruments that can measure the chemical properties of liquid and gas streams using ultraviolet and near infrared absorption using broadband and laser sources, mass spectrometry, zirconium oxide for O2 and gas chromatography for low levels of hydrogen. The following pages describe some of the bio fuel application solutions provided by Ametek.

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