Sunday, 18 September 2011

Come out . . . Come Out . . . WHEREVER you are

Well folks, here it is, almost the end of 2011, and the much promised and highly touted "Arrival" of torrefaction seems to have escaped us again.

This point was made abundantly clear a few days ago, when the Daily Tar Heel (The UNC's Campus Newspaper) published a sad reality. . . . .

“ We've confirmed that there is no torrefied wood material out there,” said Ray DuBose, director of Energy Services.

Seems as though that just about sums it all up.

CERTAINLY - there have been many, MANY claims by a multitude of developers, that THEIR technology was ready to go, in fact, already producing copious amounts of the elusive and somewhat enigmatic "Bio-Coal".

I can recall at least half a dozen developers "announcing" that they have product in the "thousands of tonnes" - just waiting for a home. Well - in spite of issuing TWO tenders, even the UNC couldn't come up with any.

There is lots and LOTS of rhetoric and Hype floating around right now about "Zilkha Black" pellets. Unfortunately - here is the sad reality - This product is no more torrefied wood than chicken S**T is chicken soup.

Several requests from yours truly resulted in absolutely no response whatsoever. Undoubtedly - they have come to the realisation that a peer review and scientific scrutiny is not something that their product can withstand. However - every Major Utility I have spoken to in the UK and EU have pretty much drawn the same conclusion that I have.

As for us, we just keep going on our merry way, and continue with our Joint-Development Project (with a Major UK Utility) to validate the combustion characteristics of our torrefied pucks. Now, make no mistake - this is not earth-shattering volumes (in fact - the total production will only be 6,000 tonnes) but it is yet another step in the right direction.

On a positive note - I did have a trip this summer to my old stomping grounds in California. Other than the fact that I was on antibiotics (for a toot infection) and couldn't partake of the lovely fruit of the vine that the Nappa and Sonoma Valley's are so famous for; it was a very successful and pleasant trip.

You want to keep your eyes on a Company Called "Renewable Fuel Technologies". These guys, while predominantly a group of Computer geeks (and I say that in the most affectionate way) have developed one of the best Process Control systems I have seen to date. As we all know - torrefaction is NOT about the Hardware; after all, the equipment is little more than silos or drums with heat exchangers and burners and fans attached; but rather about controlling the process.

The RFT system is targeting the "Mobile" market - and as such, will be unlikely to make large penetrations into the Industrial Sector. HOWEVER - and this is a BIG however - their scientists and engineers have come as close to a perfected PCC as I have seen. In fact - it is so unique, that we would like to license it for our reactor automation.

In almost every respect - these boys have the "right stuff". No fancy-schmancy bits of kit; no microwaves; plasma generators; deep fat fryers or any other superfluous peripherals. JUST good engineering, based on sound scientific principles, applied in a sensible and economical fashion.

Yet again, a Company that doesn't shout from the mountaintops, but rather carefully and methodically moves through the development process is one that is becoming an Industry leader. Well done Chad, Mark, and the "boys"!

I read today, yet another Master's Thesis on Torrefaction. Funny - but it would appear that this subject has been "Done to DEATH". Somehow - (and not surprisingly) nothing new was revealed. (Fell free to contact me if you would like a copy - it makes interesting bedtime reading) The fact remains that there is virtually NOTHING that isn't understood about the process of Torrefaction from a scientific point of view. I suppose however - that as long as Universities have funding - they will continue to try and reinvent the wheel at every opportunity. Seems to me that it's a bit like walking around with blinders on. Surely the Academic community actually TALK to each other, and even a tiny amount of research would reveal that there simply isn't the need for ANOTHER Thesis on the devolitilization of Cellulosic Biomass through torrefaction?

However - who am I to say?


We have now identified the requirement for no less than THREE distinct reactor types, to undertake torrefaction of the variety of major feedstocks. Sorry folks - but there isn't, and WON'T be, any "One size fits all" solution. In the end - this is good news, as it provides for the development of niche markets for each type, addressing the supply chain specifics of various locals.

In the end - the quest continues. So - all you developers who have been singing your praises to anyone who would listen - Come out . . . Come out . . . wherever you are!

I'm off now to go blow a few tonnes of powder through a 350 MW PFI Burner.


P. S. I have had a number of requests lately, asking me how to tell if a developer has a "bankable" technology. The answer is simple - Ask the developer to show you his Purchase order, for a few million tonnes per year of product, from a major utility. SIMPLE!