Theodore McMahan

Theodore McMahan

Gannon University, MS
Stearns/SCS Scholar 2011

Evaluating Torrefaction as a Process to Convert Organic Waste to Energy

Project Description (while EREF Scholar):
Torrefaction is a mild pyrolysis process that improves the fuel properties of solid organic materials such as woods and organic wastes. When heated in an anoxic environment to temperatures between 200 and 400 degrees Celsius, organic material decomposes producing volatile gases. The resulting solid material has an increased energy density and improved physical characteristics and can be utilized as a solid fuel.

The major goal of Ted’s research is to determine the optimum heating profile to maximize mass and energy yield for each of the selected feedstocks while generating sufficient off-gases to provide the fuel for heating the system. A number of organic waste feedstocks are being investigated including, biosolids and commercial food wastes.

Beyond the optimization research for this process, Ted is leading a team of researchers and engineers in developing a prototype reactor which will be able to handle mass quantities of local organic solid waste and convert said waste into valuable solid fuel.

Ted was raised in a small town in Massachusetts, and went to Xaverian Brothers High School, a private, catholic, all male high school. It is to Xaverian and its faculty that he owes his passion for the sciences. Following that, Ted attended Tufts University in Medford MA for his undergrad where he studied engineering and ran varsity level track and field for 4 years. He took a year off between undergrad and graduate school in order to work in the field, and decided to take his chemistry and lab skills in a different direction than he originally planned and chose to attend graduate school for environmental engineering. Ted now attends Gannon University and is pursuing a Masters Thesis studying the possibility of converting solid waste material into a biofuel via a process known as torrefaction. It is the hope of his thesis to construct a prototype reactor with the aid of a team of students, which will be able perform such a conversion on a industrial, or sub-industrial scale.