Graduation Date


Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science


Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Director of the Honors Program

Gigi Gokcek, PhD

First Reader

Kenneth Frost, PhD

Second Reader

Tyler Johnson, PhD


This project explores the alternate uses of biomass. In particular it focuses on pine needles as a source for biofuels. Pine needles are of interest because in certain Mountain communities they are collected and removed from residential properties. By removing the pine needles, communities create a “defensible space” to prevent wild fires from destroying homes and property. These needles are often placed in regional landfills. The South Tahoe Refuse and Recycling Services alone has more than 4,340 tons of pine needles dumped at their facility annually. This large amount of biomass can be a potential energy source.

The focus of this research is on the anhydrous pyrolysis of the pine needles to create synthesis gas and other byproducts. A large portion of the material that remains after pyrolysis is biochar and will be the subject of future research. Normally biochar from yard waste and crop burning may be ploughed into the soil in crop fields to enhance their fertility and stability of the oil, and for medium to long-term improved carbon sequestration of these agricultural plots. One of the additional products of this process is a complex mixture of viscous liquid products containing furfural, furan, and other dehydration products from sugar decomposition. Paired with the syngas these two products can be subjected to further processing in order to create other chemicals fuel products.

This research focuses on the gaseous product produced from the pyrolyzing of the pine needle sample. With Fischer Tropsch technology applied, it should be possible to oligomerize this gas to methanol and higher carbon number products. Later the carbon based products could be used directly in gasoline as supplemental fuel components. The components will reduce the carbon footprint of gasoline without raising the ethanol content of the fuels above the threshold level of 15%; a level above which many automobile manufactures refuse to recommend for their vehicles. To demonstrate the feasibility of this process we will discuss research done with an iron based Fischer Tropsch catalyst supplied by Emerging Fuels Technology, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and synthesis gas models of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Possible steps forward in this research will be discussed in the latter part of the thesis. If successful with further research we could have a new renewable energy source at or disposal.