Thursday, 16 December 2010

How to Secure a Major Supply Contract for Torrefied Fuel Pellets

It is generally accepted that, torrefied pellets are the "holy grail" of renewable fuel. After all - if they can live up to their promise - then they represent the best current solution for replacing coal at Utility scale. Of course - this outline already presumes that you have identified a source of raw materials, and have some idea of the size and scope of Manufacturing facility you want to establish.

And, by the way, DON'T tell anyone what you're doing! Your phone will NOT stop ringing, and you'll be constantly pestered by people who want to jump on your bandwagon. (trust me on this one ;-)

The question is - How do you secure a Major Supply Contract?

Below is an outline of the path to market . . . . . . . . . . . . .

STEP 1) Identify your target. As there are many Utilities worldwide - you need to look at who the most likely candidate is. In the UK, there are several major and Minor players - Drax; Scottish & Southern; RWE n-Power; E-On, etc. Any one of these is more than capable of purchasing a larger volume than ANY supplier could produce - so pick one - and go to step 2.

STEP 2) Get through the door of your chosen Client. This can often times be as simple as a bit of research on the internet, to find out who looks after fuel supply. When you find them - send an email - and make them an offer.

Now - the easy part is over. Once you have an expression of interest (which is as easy as falling off a wet log) you need to validate your fuel.

STEP 3) Analyse your feedstock. Starting with a small sample of your chosen feedstock, you need to make sure that it has the "right stuff" to become a utility fuel. Now, woody biomass (dead trees and the like) is a pretty good bet. Grasses . . . . (like miscanthus, reed canary, arundo, bamboo, etc.) are a little more problematic. Agricultural residues (PKS, olive cake, Shea meal, etc.) are somewhere in-between. The raw material needs to have a specific set of physical and chemical properties, that allow it to be co-fired with coal. If there's too much of some things - or not enough of others - then it just won't work. This shouldn't cost more than £1,000.00 to £2,000.00 for a full analysis.

STEP 4) Chose a torrefaction technology to process the feedstock. You have a choice of over 50 technologies these days - so select the one that is most suitable for integration with your manufacturing process and feedstock characteristics. And don't buy the cheapest torrefaction technology available. (You'll only get what you pay for)

STEP 5) Run a trial batch of your chosen feedstock through your chosen technology. Any torrefaction technology provider should be able to offer you this service on their equipment. Although - you will have to pay for it. The "going rate" is about £5,000.00 for a day's operation; and at the end of it - you will have a few hundred kilos of torrefied product. (Don't worry about pelletising at this point - just work with the material as it comes out of the reactor)

Step 6) Analyse the characteristics of the torrefied product. The most important ones are;

a) Grindability
b) Explosivity of dust
c) Hydrophobicity
e) K and Cl content
f) Particle shape after grinding

Once you have determined that your torrefied feedstock meets your customer's requirements for the above - (which you should budget about £3,500.00 to validate) then you can move on with the next step. If it doesn't make the grade - go back to step 4, and find another technology; hopefully - this time - one that will produce a better result.

OK - we're about 1/2 way there . . . . . . . .

STEP 7) You now need to produce about 100 tonnes of material, but this time, you need to find someone to turn it into Pellets, Pucks, Briquettes, cubes, etc. There are many Companies that manufacture pelletising and briquetting equipment worldwide - so you just need to "sell" them on the idea that if their machinery works - there could be a big order for equipment at the end of it all for them. (It might help if you bought them a coffee - or even lunch - to sway their decision in your favour!)

The cost of densification trials should be NO MORE than £5,000.00 to £10,000.00. And MAKE SURE that you get a written guarantee that this will be CREDITED towards the purchase of a few million worth of equipment when you set up your manufacturing facility.

STEP 7) Now - you need to prove the handling characteristics for the fuel. This involves a simple process of Durability testing (bash the little buggers around for a while to see how "tough" they are) If the pellets, briquettes, etc. can't cut it - and they break down into a pile of powder - go and find yourself another Equipment Company that can ACTUALLY make a pellet that will hold together in real life situations.

While you're putting the fuel through it's durability paces, you might as well test it for other handling characteristics. Flow-ability; bridging; and resistance to abrasion are 3 other standards that they will have to meet. After all - in a coal yard, where they will spend a good part of their life, there are dirty-big machines that run over them, and scoop them up, and generally handle them with anything but kit gloves. Again - if they can't stand the heat (and break down into a pile of mush) then they better stay out of the Power Station.

This type of testing can be done quite cheaply - Say . . .£1,000.00

STEP 8) Now comes the hard part. Combustion testing. You need to take your 100 tonnes of tough little fuel pellets, grind them to a powder again (yes - I know, seems a little redundant - but that's the way pulverised fuel injection boilers work) and inject them past the gates of hell into a boiler. For those of you who have never seen a boiler injection nozzle - there's one above. (Nasty looking bit of kit - isn't it?)

Now, you say that you are a little short on Pulverised Fuel Combustion Testing Facilities? Not to worry - there's a number of them around the world that will be happy to do a trial run for you. It's highly likely that your chosen Utility will know of one somewhere in your area. The only downside to this, is the cost. Be prepared to pay between £80,000.00 and £100,000.00 PER FUEL to test it.

Now - this is the point that you sit back and wait; hope and pray - that you have made a fuel with the "Right Stuff". IF it doesn't have the correct Chemistry, and tends to corrode boiler tubes - then this is not a good thing. If it has an ash melting temperature that's too low - you're in trouble. Even if it's just a tiny bit too explosive (when in the feed tubes and conveyors - it won't pass muster - and you'll have to go back to STEP 5 again and sort it out. (You did get a "fitness for purpose" guarantee from your technology provider? Didn't you? After all - what good is it if it doesn't do what it says on the box?

We're almost there . . . . . .

STEP 9) Now that you have a complete set of test results from your trials, you only need to pass one more hurdle. So - go and make a thousand tonnes or so of your fuel, for testing in "real world" situations. To finish the validation process, you will need to partner up with your Utility Customer, and run the fuel, in various concentrations, through their burner units. It shouldn't be too difficult to get them to shut down their generating stations for a while, so that you can test the lovely clean-burning, planet friendly fuels. Start with a low ratio co-fire (say . . . 20%) then work your way up slowly to 100%. Once you've proven things for an hour or so - it's time to take the bull by the horns - and do a long-term burn. A reasonable size unit will consume about 1,000 tonnes per day - so you should have enough fuel to run for about 2 days. By the way - the cost of these trials will be in the region of £250,000.00 to £300,000.00. (You didn't think a Utility was going to shut down operations and let you play with their big-boy's toys for free, did you?)

At the end of the trial, you sit back, relax, and have a cup of coffee, while the engineers, scientists, analysts, etc. validate and verify the data. They will look at things like ash composition; performance; emissions, etc. (Stuff that YOU shouldn't be bothered about - after all - you're just the fuel supplier)

STEP 10) Presuming that all things went well in step 9 (and after all . . .what could possibly go wrong?) you then sit down and give yourself a BIG pat on the back, because you have succeeded in doing what no one has done before you. NOW - it's time to sign on with that multi-billion pound sterling purchase order, and start planning how to spend all of your new found wealth.

And that, my friends . . is all there is to it.



  1. Torrefaction proponents are a brave bunch of individuals focused on an honorable mission and worthwhile cause.

    Think about it, they are forward thinking, entrepreneurial, environmentally friendly, passionately pursuing a just cause AND doing it for free with no government help, no tax breaks, no grants, apparently no help from power plants and all for what?

    Finding the Holy Grail called torrefaction…

  2. In the US, EarthCare Products has already burned 50,000 of torrefied wood at the James River Power Station. Was there a charge to do this from the power station? Not sure...

  3. My mistake from the earlier Post, it was 50 tons of torrefied wood...

  4. Idea for next blog entry. What are the 50 technologies you have identified and mentioned in Step 4.


    Video of torrefaction burn at United States coal fired plant. It also looks like the test and torrefied wood was paid for by the coal fired plant

  6. Any news regarding Integro Fuels?? Thanks, James

  7. James,

    Follow this link to Integro Fuels latest news update: