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Kevin Timmer becomes a doctor

Engineering professor Kevin Timmer successfully defended his doctoral dissertation in April at Iowa State University. Timmer’s research adds to the science of how carbon converts to gas during biomass gasification.

Kevin Timmer

Kevin Timmer

“Gasification likely will be part of our energy future,” says Timmer. Gasification is a high temperature process that can be used to convert plant and animal material into liquid and gaseous fuels. It can also be the first step in making bio-renewable plastics.

Although gasification has been around for a long time, it is only recently getting attention as a commercial technology due to concerns over climate change, the cost of foreign oil, and Middle East instability. Biomass has the potential to be a renewable, carbon-neutral source of energy and chemicals. Timmer’s research focused on carbon conversion during biomass gasification in hopes of making the process more efficient.

“Gasification has some advantages over fermentation, the process used in ethanol production. One big advantage is that you can use any plant or animal material,” says Timmer. In a time of increasing demand for corn and grain for both food and energy, the ability to use other biomass sources could become even more important. Gasification, along with cellulosic fermentation, could take some pressure off the high demand for corn.

An ongoing challenge for gasification is that it produces a dirty gas that needs cleaning—gas that contains pieces of charcoal, which is rich in carbon and other contaminants. Improving the carbon conversion efficiency will yield cleaner gas, less waste, and contribute to a better energy balance.

Timmer developed a methodology that allowed him to better understand the carbon conversion process. That methodology is currently being used by other researchers at Iowa State University as they investigate the gasification characteristics of various types of biomass including switch grass and wood chips. The results of his research are reported in his dissertation, “Carbon conversion during bubbling fluidized bed gasifications of biomass.”

With his doctorate behind him, Timmer will team with Dr. Ethan Brue to conduct biomass-to-energy fermentation and gasification projects on campus.