When exposed to a sufficiently strong electric field, all materials suffer from a form of breakdown. Although wood is sometimes utilized as an electrical insulator, it is also subject to breakdown when exposed to high electric fields. In general, dielectric breakdown is considered a negative effect for electrically insulating materials since it implies the loss of insulating properties of the material. However, the high temperatures generated inside the material (∼2000 K) can be used as an efficient way to induce the thermo-chemical decomposition of biomass with the purpose of sustainable energy generation. A low power (∼100 W) experimental setup using this novel approach was built to perform experiments under air or nitrogen environments at different flow rates to determine the gasification rate and the specific energy required for thermal-decomposition. Thermal decomposition rates that require specific energies of the order of 17 kJ/g were measured, suggesting that dielectric breakdown can be efficiently used for waste-to-energy conversion.

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