Source: Packer Engineering, Inc. submitted to
Sponsoring Institution
National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Project Status
Funding Source
Reporting Frequency
Accession No.
Grant No.
Project No.
Proposal No.
Multistate No.
Program Code
Project Start Date
May 22, 2008
Project End Date
May 21, 2011
Grant Year
Project Director
Schubert, P. J.
Recipient Organization
Packer Engineering, Inc.
1950 N. Washington St.
Naperville,IL 60563
Performing Department
Non Technical Summary
Farms and small factories have abundant biomass in the form of agricultural residue and wood chips. An economical small-scale co-generation system (also called combined heat and power, or CHP) does not presently exist. On-farm production of nitrogen fertilizer is presently not feasible. The project rationale is to convert renewable waste resources (not food) into useful products which are currently available to farm and factory operators as derivatives of petrochemical feedstocks, many of which are imported. Electric power and heat are essential for farm operations, whether to ventilate and keep warm animal barns, or for forced-air drying of grain. Severing these needs with residue materials reduces overall costs, and does so in a carbon-neutral manner. Nitrogen fertilizer is a valuable commodity whose price has risen significantly in recent years. Producing fertilizer from water, air, and electricity provides farmers with a product they can apply immediately, store for later use, provide to a co-operative, or sell as a commodity. Deployed nationwide, farm-scale distributed generation of power, heat and fertilizer can reduce greenhouse gases, reduce imported petrochemicals, reduce utility costs and the need for new installations, and improve profitability
Animal Health Component
Research Effort Categories

Knowledge Area (KA)Subject of Investigation (SOI)Field of Science (FOS)Percent
Goals / Objectives
This project will convert cellulosic biomass (including waste crop residue such as corn stover) into a syngas which can either be burned directly for heat or converted to electricity, and the electricity can be used to power an arc-based process to convert air into nitrogen-based fertilizer. The entire process chain is being proposed for research and development to address the issue of how to economically use farm-scale distributed syngas production to create a valuable commercial product (fertilizer), while allowing for other uses of the syngas.
Project Methods
The apparatuses are designed based on available theory and engineering practice. While in the design phase, options can be explored which will lead to the most economical embodiment of the co-generation and fertilizer production. Assembly of the apparatus gives insight into implementation details that are incorporated into an as-built design document. Risk assessment techniques, such as ANSI B11:TR3, are used to assess hazards to users or passersby. Upon shakedown of the apparatus, designed experiments are conducted to identify optimal performance parameters. A number of input sources are evaluated, which is important to assure the modularity of components, and the ability to meet multiple applications. Studies performed supportive of the primary application are conducted using the scientific method, where a hypothesis is tested, the results analyzed, the data synthesized to develop an improved hypothesis, until the results are sufficient to allow for predictive design and operation. Results of such studies are generally published in relevant journals and conferences. Field-application tests will be performed to provide a start-to-finish validation.

Progress 05/22/08 to 05/21/11

OUTPUTS: QUANTIFIABLE PROGRESS TOWARD PROJECT OBJECTIVES All project objectives have been met. Starting with basic R&D, Our team built and tested both a biomass-to-energy conversion system, and a non-fossil fuel based system to produce nitrogen fertilizer. Milestone 1 and Milestone 2 were both accomplished on time. PROBLEMS, OBSTACLES OR NEW DEVELOPMENTS The biomass gasifier is a novel approach, classified as indirectly-heated pyrolytic gasifier, and is the subject of four patents pending. The nitrogen fertilizer generator is also a novel approach, and has one patent pending. Progress on the fertilizer portion of the project lagged the biomass portion, but all activities are completed ahead of the expiration date of the contract, including a live demonstration creating nitrogen fertilizer, and a split plot test on corn crops. PARTICIPANTS: Work was performed by engineers at Packer Engineering, by students, staff and faculty from Northern Illinois University, and by scientists and technicians from N-Ovations (Savanna, IL). TARGET AUDIENCES: Grain farmers, dairy farms, grain elevators, and farm operations with dedicated energy crops can all benefit by converting biomass into heat, electric power, and nitrogen fertilizer. PROJECT MODIFICATIONS: Not relevant to this project.

DESCRIPTION OF ESTIMATED IMPACT New technologies developed under this grant now offer farmers the opportunity to become more self-sufficient in energy and chemicals, while at the same time reducing their carbon emissions. These technologies also reduce American dependence on imported petrochemicals. Distributed worldwide, these inventions can reduce poverty, and increase the standard of living in developing nations in an environmentally-friendly way. DESCRIPTION OF IMPACT TO PRINCIPAL DISCIPLINE Energy conversion technology has been advanced through five patents pending, which will proceed into the public record. Four technical and business conference presentations were made, and an article was published in Biomass magazine. A reciprocating internal combustion engine was modified to start and run on low-methane syngas, which may be an industry first. An air emissions "stack" test was conducted by a third-party service, and this data was submitted to the Illinois EPA. IMPACT ON OTHER DISCIPLINES This project spawned five other grants, including four from state agencies to cover the stack test, and a DOE grant to develop a microturbine capable of operating with low-methane syngas, with Capstone Turbine Co as the prime, with subcontractors UC-Irvine, Argonne National Lab, and Packer. IMPACT ON INFRASTRUCTURE Distributed generation of electrical power can be disruptive of established transmission grids and distribution stations, at least until smart grid technology is available. We have encountered significant resistance to netmetering and biomass conversion in Illinois. On-farm generation of nitrogen fertilizer could, if widely used, affect distribution channels and regional production of anhydrous ammonia. While this brings benefits to society and to the farm, through reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reduced imports, less hazardous chemicals, and more stable, and lower prices, it can be disruptive to those invested in the status quo. IMPACT ON SOCIETY America has 2 million farms which are heavily dependent on fossil fuels, such as diesel for engines, propane for heating, coal-based power for fans and pumps, and natural gas-derived fertilizer. By replacing a portion of these uses with renewable sources, there should be an easing of prices on petrochemical products such as gasoline, plastics, and fabrics, and indirect prices on shipping and travel, and especially on food. By displacing greenhouse gas generating processes with green technology, society stands to gain by averting further deterioration of the environment pollution caused by traditional sources. ECONOMIC IMPACT AFTER COMMERCIALIZATION Farmers should realize a 3 to 5 year payback for a biomass-to-energy system that should last for 15 years. Distributed generation is even more compelling in developing nations, so export of these products could help the US balance of trade.


  • "Plasma Torch for Biomass Pyrolysis" Peter J. Schubert, Am. Soc. of Engineering Educators, Annual Conference, Pittsburgh, PA, June 2008.
  • "Mass and Moisture Monitoring of Biomass Feedstocks for Gasification" Peter J. Schubert, M. Pareek, International Biomass Conference & Expo Portland, Oregon, 29 April 2009.
  • "Removing Crop Residues without Hurting Soil," Peter J. Schubert, Biomass Magazine v3, No.11 Nov. 2009.
  • "Dual Use Technologies for Self-Sufficient Settlements: From the Ground Up," Peter J. Schubert, Intl Space Development Conf. 19-22 May, 2011, Huntsville, AL.