Biomass Particle Models with Realistic Morphology and Resolved Microstructure for Simulations of Intraparticle Transport Phenomena

Peter Ciesielski, Michael Crowley, Mark Nimlos, David Robichaud, Bryon Donohoe, Thomas Foust, Aric Sanders, Gavin Wiggins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus Citations


Biomass exhibits a complex microstructure of directional pores that impact how heat and mass are transferred within biomass particles during conversion processes. However, models of biomass particles used in simulations of conversion processes typically employ oversimplified geometries such as spheres and cylinders and neglect intraparticle microstructure. Here we develop 3D models of biomass particles with size, morphology, and microstructure based on parameters obtained from quantitative image analysis. We obtain measurements of particle size and morphology by analyzing large ensembles of particles that result from typical size reduction methods, and we delineate several representative size classes. Microstructural parameters, including cell wall thickness and cell lumen dimensions, are measured directly from micrographs of sectioned biomass. A general constructive solid geometry algorithm is presented that produces models of biomass particles based on these measurements. Next, we employ the parameters obtained from image analysis to construct models of three different particle size classes from two different feedstocks representing a hardwood poplar species (Populus tremuloides, quaking aspen) and a softwood pine (Pinus taeda, loblolly pine). Finally, we demonstrate the utility of the models and the effects explicit microstructure by performing finite-element simulations of intraparticle heat and mass transfer, and the results are compared to similar simulations using traditional simplified geometries. We show how the behavior of particle models with more realistic morphology and explicit microstructure departs from that of spherical models in simulations of transport phenomena and that species-dependent differences in microstructure impact simulation results in some cases.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)242-254
Number of pages13
JournalEnergy and Fuels
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 American Chemical Society.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-2700-62900


  • biomass particles
  • microstructure
  • morphology


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