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Biofuels Research Laboratory

Biofuels Laboratory

Mechanical Engineering Department

Welcome to the South Dakota State University Biofuels Lab website! The main laboratory is located in Crothers Engineering Hall Rooms 345 and 347 in the Jerome J. Lohr College of Engineering.

The primary objectives of the Biofuels Lab are to:

  1. Assess and optimize the pathways of producing liquid, gaseous, and solid biofuels and value-added bioproducts via thermochemical conversion (pyrolysis, gasification and torrefaction).
  2. Assess biomass feedstocks of interest for creating bioproducts.
  3. Evaluate the created biofuels and bioproducts, with the overarching goal of developing technologies for advancing the bioeconomy.

Current and Past Projects of the Biofuels Laboratory

  • Produce liquid bio-oils from renewable sources (switchgrass, lignin, prairie cordgrass, non-food oilseed meals, etc.) via fast pyrolysis.
  • Produce solid, energy-dense, hydrophobic bio-char from corn stover via torrefaction.
  • Enhance bio-oil quality in an effort to meet to meet JP-8 standards through the use of catalysts and hydrotreatment.

Impacts of Biofuels Laboratory Research


  • Value added products derived from a variety of agricultural residues, energy crops and emerging crops.
  • Production of biofuels in upper Midwest to promote job growth in rural communities.

National Security

  • Domestic energy resources.
  • Offset significant amounts of petroleum consumption.


  • Carbon-neutral fuels from renewable non-food sources.
  • Drop-in fuels that can be compatible with aviation use and existing transportation infrastructure.

Thermochemical Reactors

Fast Pyrolysis Auger Reactor

  • Continuous reactor with 7 kg/hr capacity.
  • Handles coarsely ground feedstocks in lock hopper.
  • Five stage condenser train.

Fast Pyrolysis Bubbling Fluidized Bed Reactor

  • Continuous reactor with 1 kg/hr capacity.
  • Fluidization allows for easy temperature control.
  • Reactor data has been compared with computational simulations to optimize bed operation.

Batch Reactor - Fluidized Sand Bath

  • Small batch reactors determine product composition as function of time.
  • Allows kinetic measurements and establishes reaction mechanisms of pyrolysis.
  • Allows the use of solvents to improve oil quality.

Analytical Equipment

Thermogravimetric analysis (TGA-FTIR)

  • Measures weight loss of pyrolyzed samples up to 200°C/min.
  • Allows calculation of overall kinetic parameters which are useful for reactor design.
  • FTIR spectra identify functional groups in the pyrolysis products.

Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC)

  • Measures heat of reaction for pyrolysis.
  • Identifies thermal events in lignin decomposition.

Pyroprobe / GC-MS

  • Pyrolyzes small samples at high heating rates (up to 20,000°C/min).
  • Allows for comprehensive identification and quantification of pyrolysis products.

Volumetric Karl Fischer and a potentiometric titrator

Bomb calorimeter


Heated and pressurized rheometer

Biofuels Laboratory Personnel

Stephen P. Gent, Ph.D., Gregory J. Michna, Ph.D., P.E., Michael Twedt, P.E. and Christina Gerometta