The U.S. Patent Office recently published the University of North Dakota’s approved patent No. 8,333,949: “Method for Creating High Carbon Content Products from Crop Oils,” which allows a marketable by-product of from UND’s cracking-based renewable fuel production technologies to be collected and commercialized.
The patent was issued on Dec. 18, 2012.
The inventors are Drs. Reginald Parker, former UND associate professor of Chemical Engineering and Wayne Seames, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering. This technology was developed under the Sustainable Energy Research Initiative and Supporting Education (SUNRISE) supercluster program.
In the UND process, feedstock oil from oilseed crops, algae, microbes, waste cooking oils and other sources are placed in a cracking reactor where the long-chain oil molecules are broken up into smaller fragments. Some of the reactive fragments generated during these reactions combine to form longer chain molecules that can be classified as tars. If a catalyst is used in the reactor, these tars stick to the catalyst and reduce its activity. They have to be removed by oxidizing them to carbon dioxide.
The key to the UND invention is to perform the cracking reactions without a catalyst. This allows the tars to be collected. Once collected they can be purified and processed into various carbon products including anode grade coke, green coke, activated carbon or carbon fibers.
“I feel like an alchemist”, says Seames. “There are a number of processes being developed that are similar to ours and they pretty much all generate tars. But in these processes the tars end up as waste. But in our process we can recover this waste and turn it into ‘gold’ – the highest value product of the entire process. It also means that at least 5 percent more of the inlet carbon ends up as a usable product compared to these other processes.”
“This patent is part of an important series of patents applications UND has submitted based on SUNRISE’s renewable oil cracking technology. The patent applications we have filed are now beginning to issue and we have a significant bio-fuel/bio-chemical platform to which we that can now add an issued patent on the commercial utilization of the tar component,” stated Michael Moore, associate vice-president of research and UND’s principal commercialization officer. “The University is actively seeking to license this suite of technologies for rapid and widespread commercialization.”
“This patent provides a pathway to low cost, sustainable carbon fiber development”, stated Parker, who is current president and CEO of 510nano Inc., a renewable energy company in Washington, D.C. “It may open the door toward the development of many novel and advanced materials. Carbon fibers are strong, lightweight, and durable. They are already widely used in the aerospace industry to replace heavier metal components.”
Michael Moore, associate vice president UND Division of Intellectual Property Commercialization and Economic Development