A solar powered biomass degrader to produce a renewable clean fuel (Hydrogen) from any biomass.

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Solar-Pyrolysis involves a device that uses solar thermal energy to thermochemically decompose a biomass into an abundant source of clean fuel from any available biomass source.

About 40% of food produced, processed, and transported in the U.S. is wasted and ends up in our landfills. Although the excess food should ideally go to decreasing food insecurity, a large portion of the food goes beyond the point of being usable.

In the fall, nature unleashes a bounty of color on trees across the country. After the beauty fades and the leaves fall, many home owners rake the leaves, place them in plastic bags, and place them on the curb. Typically, the leaves are picked up on the same day as residents' regular trash pick-up, but in a different truck. Again, the leaves end up in landfills. As autumn ends and winter takes its place, many families purchase and enjoy Christmas trees. Unfortunately, many of these Christmas trees also end up in a landfill as the holiday season draws to a close.

Along with what is produced as a result of human activity, nature produces leaves: dead limbs which produce a layer of bio material. Ideally, the bio layer would breakdown naturally and increase nutrients in the soil. However, with climate change and the steady rise of global temperatures, the end result is excessive buildup of this bio layer. This results in a fuel that feeds wildfires in the western United States that destroys homes, neighborhoods and large tracks of woodlands. What do all of these issues have in common? All of the aforementioned materials are examples of biomass. Biomass could be recycled to produce compost but realistically, while not everyone needs compost, everyone needs energy.

What if the world was covered with clean renewable energy? What if there was a fuel that could be harvested, consumed, and ultimately become a waste product that could harmlessly go back into the environment.

Well actually, there is. It just needs to be harvested. The fuel is hydrogen. Hydrogen is part of the biomass that exists all around us. Leaves, old dead limbs, food scraps and even fecal matter are sources of hydrogen. Now the tricky part is harvesting it.

Solution: Recycle Rather Than Disposal

Pyrolysis is the thermochemical decomposition of biomass into gases, liquids, and charcoal (carbon), in the absence of oxygen. Heating a biomass to 200 degrees Celsius in the absence of oxygen will degrade the biomass to charcoal and release gases including hydrogen.

Using solar thermal energy to heat the biomass will allow the pyrolysis process to occur without consuming another source of energy.

Solar- Pyrolysis will extract the hydrogen using solar thermal energy, filter the hydrogen from the other gases produced, and also produce another fuel (charcoal) at the same time.  The charcoal is an added advantage. Charcoal is carbon trapped in a solid form, and if carbon is made into charcoal, it will not be released as a greenhouse gas. This could act as another method of lessening global warming.

This process will allow any biomass to be recycled into a clean fuel source.

Solar-Pyrolysis, as in the image below, will use a Fresnel lens to focus solar thermal energy onto a container that holds a biomass. As the biomass in the container thermally biodegrades, gases will pass through a small tube through a hydrogen filter. The hydrogen will be compressed in a tank with a small compressor pump. Other gases will be vented. After the process, the container will be opened and the charcoal will be removed.

*License CC0 1.0 Universal  unless stated otherwise for all hardware. License details available in the GitHub repository.*

  • Testing Solar-Pyrolysis

    Dennis04/30/2022 at 23:43 0 comments

    The next test is to see if solar thermal energy will work for pyrolysis. A magnifying glass on a stand, test tube and brick acted as an alpha proof of concept prototype. As documented in the image below, dry leaves (the biomass) were placed in a test tube and sealed to act as the thermal chamber. A large magnifying glass on a stand was used to focus sun light onto the leaves in the tube. With patience, some refocusing and several second degree burns, the leaves began to biodegrade in the test tube. The leaves began with a slight smoke visible in the tube, after which the leaves continued to thermally degrade until all the leaf material was reduced to a charcoal. The good news is the leaves were reduced to charcoal and not ash which means the pyrolysis process works. Now on to a sturdier prototype version.

  • Testing Pyrolysis

    Dennis04/30/2022 at 20:58 0 comments

    To become more familiar with pyrolysis, an experiment was performed and documented in the image below. Sticks were gathered (the biomass) and placed in the can and sealed with aluminum foil and a second larger can. The can was placed in a fire to provide the heat. When the canister heated to a high enough temperature, around 200 degrees Celsius, a gas started leaking from the bottom of the canister and burned with an orange/blue flame. The gas will be around 25% hydrogen. This process is very similar to gasification of wood, sometimes used to power internal combustion engines. After the canister cooled, the canister was opened and the sticks were biodegraded into charcoal.

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chappy1978 wrote 08/12/2022 at 20:56 point

Just wondering would it be possible to use this system to break down plastics? Maybe even if we harvest plastic from the ocean and then us pyrolysis to break it down and release the hydrogen?

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Dennis wrote 09/05/2022 at 01:51 point

Hi Chappy, Sounds like an interesting idea! I have so far only tried organic matter like wood, leaves.

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James Newton wrote 05/07/2022 at 23:49 point

I happen to be one of (apparently) very few who think biomass harvesting and use as fuel is critical to our future. We, here in southern California, live next to the largest solar collecting battery system in the world; the strip of scrub and trees that runs north and south just east of our coastal cities. We allocated $2 BILLION (with a "B") last year to controlling this area to prevent forest fires; "raking the woods" one might say. Most of that money is going into contractors pockets, but some of it will be used to literally bury dead wood. That's fine, but... We could be chipping, drying, and then burning or gassifying or otherwise using that biomass to provide electrical power. Estimates show that there is enough power, given management of the space, to provide all the power needed by the west coast. (!!!) While at the same time, eliminating the risk of fires and the damage done by smoke and panic during a fire. This can also be done in a way that promotes a healthy forest with a thriving population of creatures and a wider variety of species. And it would provide low skill, high pay jobs to those who can't or have not yet been educated for high pay / high tech work. 

So... What you are doing here is critically important. Seriously. You could help to save lives, save our ecosystem, and literally save human life on planet Earth. 

Please... Please keep working on this? 

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Dennis wrote 05/08/2022 at 02:29 point

Hi James,

Thanks for the motivation and I totally agree with you. I also believe biomass is a great source of fuel and the western fires did enter my mind. I aim continuing to work one this project. There will be updates and videos soon.

Thanks again!


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