By Mateo Murillo

Mateo Murillo

We are in a time where renewable energy is in higher demand than ever before, and we can see that there is a proportional societal demand for research on this topic. Renewable energy seems to be quite a hot-button topic today, considering the political climate. I can imagine you have heard of several benefits of renewable energy, compared to the more commonly used fossil fuels. The reason why renewable energy isn’t as common as its fossil fuel counterpart is because its cost efficiency does not necessarily outweigh the environmental efficiency for many companies, as well as being a more difficult process to achieve. In other words, it can get pretty expensive and it’s harder to do. So this brings up a very important question: How can we increase environmental efficiency while minimizing costs?

John Dooher, professor at Adelphi University, has done extensive research on this topic for several decades, as well as research in several other fields. Dooher is a man of many hats. Having gotten his PhD in 1965 from the Stevens Institute of Technology, he has worked on countless projects in several different fields since then. He has worked on many experiments concerning cosmic rays and particle physics, and he has observed multi-photon absorption in quantum dots. Throughout his career, he has published much of his works as well. He has done research here at Adelphi University as well as in conjunction with several other universities. In the mid-’80s, Dooher began his work on developing cleaner forms of energy.

Solid Model Concept Design of a MAG1` Biomass Conversion System

First, we must agree on what we mean when we refer to renewable energy. Google defines renewable energy as “energy from a source that is not depleted when used.” Normally, this consists of wind power or solar power. However, Dooher’s research does not focus on these sources. Biomass is considered to be an infinite resource that will not be depleted anytime soon. Dooher’s focus on biomass is how to increase its gasification efficiency and use it as fuel. The impacts of this are a cleaner, more efficient and more abundant source of energy. Fossil fuels may be efficient and easy to work with, but they are harmful to the environment due to their greenhouse gas emissions, and they are not replenishable. Biomass, on the other hand, is, in fact, very replenishable, and its greenhouse gas emissions are low.

In one of Dooher’s published works, “Improved gasification efficiency in IGCC plants & viscosity reduction of liquid fuels and solid fuel dispersion using liquid and gaseous CO2” (Fuel, 2019), Dooher discusses the benefits of using biomass as feedstock. Biomass in its purest form is rather inefficient for gasification. In order to correct this, liquid CO2 is applied, yielding a more efficient form of the biomass. One issue, however, is that the biomass does not perform as well at gasifying using the conventional system. To fix this, the modular allothermal gasifier, or MAG, was used and proved to be more efficient at gasifying the biomass. What went into the system was a slurry made up of a combination of biosolids and low-rank coals mixed with liquid CO2.

Schematic of experimental gasifier apparatus and photograph of the system

Perhaps the most important “ingredient” in this experiment was the liquid CO2. The liquid CO2 was used as a slurry medium for the biomass and the coal. It was the preferred medium over water because it provides a lower viscosity in the slurry than the water. The reason this is useful is because the slurry with the least viscosity proved to be the most efficient for gasification. A bonus effect of this was that the liquid CO2, when used as a slurry medium, proved to have less of a greenhouse gas footprint. This combination of biomass and coal with the liquid CO2 provides a clean and efficient source of energy with very realistic and very practical applications.

Professor John Dooher has provided many contributions to the physics community. With all the experience Dooher has, he was able to explore a very interesting source of energy. Everybody wants change, but few people are willing to look for ways to cause change. Dooher is an excellent role model for many young physicists as a man who is willing to use his knowledge and cause change.

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