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How can Biomass support Electric Vehicles?

Friday, December 04, 2020 1:48 PM | Elizabeth Kress (Administrator)

After the Biomass Session of the E4Carolinas Clean Energy Conference, our SC Biomass Council recruited a new member. He is Dr. Joe Sagues who has a Ph.D. from NCSU in Forest Biomaterials.  He is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological & Agricultural Engineering. It is not an exaggeration to say that we need another thousand people working in the same areas that he is.

This summary of his current work comes directly from his bio: Presently, he is developing technologies that utilize and sequester biogenic carbon. These technologies can be broadly classified as natural and engineered. An example of a natural technology includes enhanced mineralization of soils to sequester CO2. Examples of engineered technologies include catalytic graphitization of biomass to graphitic anode material for use in lithium-ion batteries and microbial electrosynthesis of CO2 to butanol. Each technology pursued undergoes techno-economic & carbon life cycle assessments.

The second example of his current work links biomass and electric vehicles. Anode materials are the negative electrode in lithium-ion batteries and are paired with cathode materials in a lithium-ion cell. The vast majority of lithium-ion batteries use graphite powder as an anode material. Graphite materials are either synthetically-produced (artificial graphite) or mined from the ground (natural graphite), then heavily processed before being baked onto a copper foil to serve as anodes.

Dr. Sagues notes in one article that “Softwood-derived biographite is of the highest quality and demonstrates excellent electrochemical performance as anode material….”.  Just in case you think this is too academic to be useful, South Carolina has a company that is very interested in the development of products from high-quality lignin. Ingevity, in Charleston, has a suitable lignin product. Lignin is a biomass material that is usually burned as fuel in the paper-making process. Creating higher uses for lignin and other paper-making by-products is Ingevity’s strong suit. Read more on Ingevity’s lignin product here.

Electric vehicle use in the US is growing fastest in corporate fleets. Worldwide, there have been recent announcements like UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who revealed a climate plan that includes banning the sales of new gas-powered vehicles starting in 2030. Norway has announced a phase-out of gas-powered vehicles by 2025, and Denmark by 2030. California pledged a phase-out by 2035.  With the price of solar and wind power dropping so dramatically, new renewable power plants assisted by battery power load-following can be available to meet this need.

The world is in dire need of innovations to replace fossil-fuel materials with plant-based (i.e., “keep it in the ground”). All of us in the biomass industry should be looking for ways to grow more plants and trees, and ways to use these to displace fossil carbon materials.

To read more about Dr. Sagues, here are his two webpages:

Faculty webpage: https://www.bae.ncsu.edu/people/wjsagues/

Lab webpage: https://www.sagueslab.com/

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