The facilities described below represent lab, pilot, and analytical labs for collaborative work on development, characterization, and deconstruction of various biomass types; selective separation of hemicellulose, cellulose and lignin; as well as synthesis and conversion to biofuels, biochemicals, and other bioproducts.
In collaboration with our collaborators, Drs. Paul Himes, Mark Running, and David Schultz from Biology Department at University of Louisville, our researchers conduct studies on improving biomass yield, early flowering for oilseed yield, oil quality for biodiesel conversion, etc. Dr. Paul Himes’s microbiology and molecular biology lab has smaller accessory rooms for media preparation, glassware washing, imaging, and microscopy. The lab is equipped with Class II Biosafety Cabinets, upright incubators, shaker incubators, and cold incubators (-70°C, -20°C, 4°C). Dr Mark Running’s lab is thoroughly equipped for biochemistry, cell biology, cytology, and microscopy experiments, and includes standard and ultralow temperature freezers, SDS-page and agarose gel electrophoresis equipment, incubators, thermal cyclers, water baths, dissecting scopes, a wax microtome, etc. The lab has four large Percival reach-in plant growth chambers and tissue culture experiments, along with several light racks in a separate room for seedling growth. In addition, the biology department has 12 Conviron growth chambers and an 800 sq. ft. rooftop greenhouse in the same building for shared use.
Biomass Deconstruction and Conversion
A dedicated 700 Ft2 space and 25’ ceiling facility is available for biomass deconstruction work. Various capacity lab and pilot pressure reactors including 8-liter Scraped Surface high solids Bioreactor (SSBR), 10-liter recirculating and 25-liter mixed are available for hydrolysis of various biomass types. Novel plasma and microwave reactors are also available. A Schlenk line for organic synthesis and air-free organometallic synthesis, stainless steel gas manifold for catalysis studies at both low (glass vessels) and high (stainless steel vessels) pressures, fixed bed catalyst reactors are also available. Aerobic and anaerobic fermentation reactors for lab and pilot testing are also available. The lab also has lab and pilot scale centrifuges for solids removal from the hydrolyzates prior to their further processing.
Anaerobic Digestion for biogas and biofuels production
The Conn Center currently has two advanced anaerobic digestion systems to perform initial /pilot scale analysis.
60-liter continuous UASB reactor (Figure 1):
The continuous reactor utilizes sludge retention technology to allow for higher flow and lower residence times compared to conventional AD’s, and has a target COD concentration loading of 20g/L/day. Testing with the continuous unit allows for monitoring and analysis of:
Gas production rate
COD removal efficiency
Volatile Fatty Acid (VFA) concentration
Total suspended solids (TSS)
Nitrogen concentration over a period of 30 to 45 days.
Figure 1. UASB reactor in Conn Center's Biogas Laboratory
1-Liter Batch Anaerobic Respirometry Reactor (Figure 2):
Respirometers measure “respiration” of living organisms. The respirometry system is used here to continuously monitor methane generation of methanogenic bacteria in real time. Two examples of tests performed with the batch respirometry system are:
1- Biochemical Methane Potential (BMP) Test
2- Anaerobic Toxicity Assay (ATA) Test
BMP tests measure methane or total gas production over periods ranging from 3 to 60 days to assess the ability for sustained biodegradation. Example BMP test data are shown in Figure 3. ATA tests determine the dose at which the organic substrate becomes toxic. Example ATA test results are shown in Figure 4 in which the effect of a sanitizing agent on anaerobic activity is determined.
Figure 2. Respirometer system in the Conn Center's Biogas Laboratory
Figure 3. Example BMP test output
Figure 4. Example ATA test output
Characteristics of the liquid stream, such as concentrations of COD, sulfate, phosphorous, and nitrogen will be analyzed using a colorimetric methodology (Figure 5). Characteristics of the gas stream, such as concentrations of methane, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide will be analyzed using gas chromatography (Figure 6).
Figure 5. Colorimeter for Liquid Sample Analysis Figure 6. GC for gas sample analysis
Conn Center - Materials Characterization Facility
The Materials Characterization Facility maintains a comprehensive capability for characterizing both inorganic and soft materials using a variety of microscopy, spectroscopy and diffraction tools. Characterization equipment available are a YSI 2700 biochemistry analyzer, HP 1050 HPLC with RI detector, and SRI GC with TCD and FID detectors. Nova 600 NanoSEM high resolution FEG-SEM, with Energy dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy (EDS) detector and mapping capabilities for in-situ chemical analysis. High performance liquid chromatography used for the analysis of sugars in the hydrolyzates, consists of a Waters 600E HPLC system with a Sedex 75 evaporative light scattering detector (ELSD).
Biomass and Torrefied Biomass Densification for Solid Fuels Production
A fully equipped facility for densification of biomass and torrefied biomass at 300 lb/hour capacity is available at Conn Center (Figure 7). A bench top Carver press with heating platens is available for lab scale evaluations. Associated equipment for grinding, mixing, and conveying is available at the facility. Various biomass types such as forest residue, wood waste, bagasse, agricultural cereal straws, etc are being evaluated for torrefaction and densification. Some examples of the produced briquettes are shown in Figure 8. The facility has the analytical equipment to measure BTU content, durability, and hydrophobicity of the produced briquettes. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM), Fourier Transform Infra-Red (FTIR), spectroscopy, and controlled environment burning and carbonization capabilities are also available.
Figure 7. Biomass Densification Facility
Natural Fiber Composites
In collaboration with Dr. Kunal Kate and Material Innovation Guild (MIG), Conn Center has been developing technologies to produced engineered bast fibers from hemp, kenaf, and flax as well as agricultural fibers such as corn fiber, soy hulls, etc., and utilizing them in light weight composites (LWC) such as Natural Fiber Composites (NFC). The end applications are in molded as well as 3-D printed objects for automotive and construction markets. MIG focuses on research related to sintered materials and powder processing including powder injection molding and additive manufacturing.
Researchers working on NFC have access to simulations and software design tools such as SolidWorks, Moldex3D, etc. Characterization Tools for density, rheological properties, powder characteristics (size, packing, density and flow), thermal analysis (heat capacity, thermos-gravimetric analysis) PVT-thermal conductivity are also available. Lab scale Process Equipment such as torque rheometer for identifying suitable powder-polymer compositions and making filaments for Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) based printing, twin-screw extruder for producing powder-polymer mixtures and making filaments for FDM, a fully instrumented injection molding machine, several molds, tube and box furnaces to 1700oC in air, nitrogen, or hydrogen for debinding and sintering, Concept Laser – Metal 3D printer, EOS-M270, M290, PROX-300 , FDM 3D printers (Meakergear M2, Z-Morph), etc., are available.
For scale-up and piloting, we have access to a Killion pilot extruder and cast filming line (Figure 8).
Figure 8. Killion pilot extruder and cast film line