Process engineering technology and scale-up operations; biofuels, hydrothermal carbonization.
Ken Valentas came to the University of Minnesota from a 27-year career in industry. He worked in chemical engineering at Sinclair Oil and General Mills before rising to the level of Senior Vice President of Engineering at the Pillsbury Company. As Director of the BioTechnology Institute for 16 years, he increased the breadth and depth of the Institute through strategically focused faculty hires. He also strengthened the Institute's graduate program and its connections to industry and established an active and productive exchange program with the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan. In an institute promoting industrial-academic cooperation, Valentas brought to the directorship an understanding of this relationship and an ability to interpret positions on both sides, find common ground and move forward. As an educator, Valentas has drawn on his industry experience to teach the principles of food process engineering and scale-up operations to chemical engineers and food scientists.
More recently, Valentas has applied chemical engineering and scale-up methods to the analysis of energy production from renewable resources such as algae and cellulosic biomass. In 2009, he authored studies commissioned by the Minnesota Legislature that documented state biomass resources in two target areas and outlined plans to convert those resources for renewable energy production. The study considered both economic and environmental impacts in looking at the capacity to sustain and harvest grasslands, brush lands, agricultural residues and forests. The ultimate target is a renewable energy facility to convert the region's cellulosic biomass into environmentally sustainable carbon-neutral liquid transportation fuels.
Valentas' collaboration with former 3M chemist Steve Heilmann and several other researchers resulted in a patentable process to convert algae into char through hydrothermal carbonization (HTC). This research has expanded considerably to encompass hydrothermal carbonization applied to a wide range of biomass and agricultural residues. These include fermentation residues, whey, municipal waste treatment sludge, and various manures. What began as basic thermochemical processing of slurries via hydrothermal carbonization to produce hydrochars has evolved to a focus on value-added products that can be derived from hydrochars and its by-products? Current efforts are directed at applications such as polymer additives, adsorbents, super capacitors, slow release fertilizer soil amendments, and applications in nutrient and pesticide removal from agricultural runoff waters and leachates.
Valentas continues to work with research collaborators and industrial partners to find solutions to new energy needs.
(1) Valentas et al (2009) “White Earth Biofuels Feasibility Study”, 94pp., Funded by MNDA under Minnesota statute 48A.10.
(2) Valentas et al (2009), “Chisago, Isanti and Pine Counties Biofuels Feasibility Study”,90pp., Funded by MNDA under Minnesota Session Laws 2007 Chapter 45.
(3) Biomass & Bioenergy 2010, 34, 875-882; “Hydrothermal carbonization of microalgae”
(4) Applied Energy 2011, 88(10), 3286-3290; “Hydrothermal carbonization of microalgae. II. Fatty acid, char and algal nutrient products”
(5) Biomass & Bioenergy 2011, 35, 2526-2533; “Hydrothermal carbonization of distiller’s grains”
(6) Biotechnology & Bioengineering 2013; 110:2624-2632. “Industrial symbiosis: corn ethanol fermentation, hydrothermal carbonization, and anaerobic digestion”.
(7) Environmental Science & Technology 2014; 48:10323-10329. “Phosphorus reclamation through hydrothermal carbonization of animal manures”.
Copies of (1) and (2) are posted at www.bti.umn.edu/WE_CIP