Thursday, 26 January 2012

Just when you thought you had it all figured out

My father once said to me "the older I get - the smarter I was". For a very long time - I had no idea what on EARTH he was talking about. (I lost him at an early age - some 37 years ago - and wasn't old enough to appreciate his wisdom)

Now that I AM my Father - in many respects - I have come to learn just how bright he was.

Take for example - Torrefaction. (After all - this IS what this blog is supposed to be about.)

At first - I believed it was all about Process. WRONG. While the technology is certainly the starting point, and developing an efficient, cost-effective, commercially viable solution was a lofty ambition (and is now a reality) - It was only the very beginning. Once we figured out how to make the stuff - we needed to learn what it was that we had figured out how to make. (Sounds a bit bass-ackwards - doesn't it?)

Of course - the next step was to determine not only what it was that we were supposed to be making - but how it could behave. So - Combustion testing; Alkaloid deposition trials, Storage and leachate trials; explosivity; the list goes on and on and on.

JUST when we thought that we actually KNEW something about this wonder product - Along comes the ECHA. (European Chemicals Agency). NOW - it seems that these guys have a right to know EVERYTHING about all the stuff that you want to move around in Europe. They have a program called REACH (and it is rather far REACHing in it's effect) that purports to control the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals. Holy Cow - that's a mouthful. Anyway - these guys have the obligation to make sure that all of the stuff moving around the EU, in quantities of 1,000 tonnes per year or more, is actually safe.

The FIRST think I noticed on their website was the "ENFORCEMENT REGIME". So - I said to myself . . . . this MUST be rather important -if the predominant information presented is not the mechanism for compliance - but rather how you get beat up if you DON'T comply - and I had better look at compliance as pathway.

As it happens - It's really not that difficult a process (Compared to launching a Manned Moon Landing) and shouldn't take more than 6 to 12 months - and cost more than a few hundred thousand pounds sterling. You know - it's funny - but they just won't "take my word for it" when I tell them that Bio-Coal is Okidoki stuff. They ACTUALLY want to see data, and evidence, and tests, and independent verification, and peer review and, and, and.

At the end of it all - what do we end up with? A "registration" number. WOW - now I've always wanted one of those - in fact - from the time I was a child - I decided that spending a few years wages to get a registration number was one of my goals. (NOT)

However - regulations being what they are - we will now start again, and fill out unlimited forms; provide unlimited Data; Substantiation; Empirical Evidence and a big bag of Money to get what we need to sell our product.

Hence - just when we THOUGHT we knew something - it turns out that we really don't. We are however - MILES ahead of anyone else in this industry (with the exception of our partners and collaborators and supporters).

Here are some of the areas that we are now exploring:

Exposure limits:


Sensitizing capability:


Reproductive toxicity:



By the way - if there is anyone out there that would like to avail themselves of our research and the progress we have made - get in touch with me. We are firm believers in Collaboration rather than Competition. The Ultimate goal is to get this to Market - and we are happy to work with ANYONE who is a bona-fide developer of this product.

On a final note - a few weeks ago - I received a call from a very upset man - who was one of the principles of Zilkha Biomass. He was quite upset at the comment I made in a previous blog - where he indicated that he didn't think it was right for me to compare his fuel to Chicken S**t. Well, I reviewed the blog, and in fact - I DID NOT say that Zilkha Black pellets were chicken s**t at all. What I said was - that they were no more torrefied pellets - than Chicken SOUP was Chicken S**T"

He reiterated to me that NO WHERE, at NO TIME, did they EVER say that their pellets were torrefied. That is blatantly obvious.

Now - in discussion with him - he said that he was going to be very nice - and ASK me to print a retraction. IF I refused to do so - then the next people I would hear from were his Lawyers. (Apparently - in his view - I had Slandered them and Libelled them and was an all around not-nice person)

Yet again - I offered to tell the WHOLE story of their product - and requested samples in order to undertake a peer review. The Risk of this, of course, was that as a scientist - it would be a very factual and un-compromised analysis - and that isn't something that is always particularly flattering.

For the record:

Zilkha Black pellets are in NO WAY, SHAPE or FORM Torrefied fuel, and have never been promoted as such.


  1. Richard,
    While we haven't yet reached the level you have in figuring out in detail (and to the satisfaction of REACH), just what you have, I do remember the hulla-balu we went through to deliver 1200 lbs of 3 mill minus ground torrefied product to the local power plant for a 3 hour preliminary test burn at a 2% blend.

    We had to research for a material transfer procedure, buy metal barrels, establish a grounding protocol and safety procedure, development dual approval forms signed at each grounding step completed, rent a special vacuum truck (the smallest available holds 18,000lbs) to suck up the BioCoal, drive it to the plant and deliver it to their small test silo.

    I do look forward to sharing learning with you some day, and if you ever need a grounding procedure and document, let me know.

  2. Richard,

    I have to travel to Birkenhead on Feb 7th. I would be happy to drop off a sample of our torrefied wood for interest, but, as I have said over, it may not be what you are looking for due to poor grindability issues. Assuming you are in Harbour Place?

    RE - Black Mountain Woodfuels

  3. IF Zilkha Black pellets are in NO WAY, SHAPE or FORM Torrefied fuel, What the heck are they promoting??

  4. The Zilkha Black pellet web-site doesn't describe their process. However, the US patent application contains the following description of a black pellet.

    "The term “black pellet” may refer to a pellet with a lignin binder and/or coating induced by processing the biomass feedstock prior to introducing the biomass into the pellet machine or press. Steam explosion may be used in manufacturing densified fuel as a means to free lignin from cellular structures of biomass, thereby allowing the lignin to commingle with the fiber portion of the biomass and, when compacted by the pellet machine or press, forming both a waterproof or water-resistant internal binder as well as a waterproof or water-resistant protective surface coating that enhances the durability of pellets and briquettes.

    As a result, pellets and briquettes may have improved abrasion properties and may be stored outdoors in a manner similar to outdoor storage of coal. Having physical characteristics similar to coal may facilitate the introduction of pellets into coal handling processes of conventional coal plants, resulting in both capital cost and operating cost savings as compared to the use of white pellets."

  5. Richard,
    Zilkha may not have produced a "true" torrefied wood pellet but apparently they HAVE produced a product that appears to work like torrefied wood!!

    Are you afraid to accept their alternative?

  6. RAW,
    Zilhka wood pellets are not torrefied? The pellets appears to be hydrophobic, grindable(?), non-biological and burns. Please reply or do your next blog on this company; including their side of the story.

  7. After Discussions with the people at Zilkha, I offered to tell "the whole story". They declined to respond to my email offer.

    This, of course - would require the provision of a volume of their pellets, for scientific analysis and peer review.

    I have researched their product and read their patents, and quite honestly - it is what is not said that appears to be germane.

    At this point - I have some colleagues making enquiries to them (They don't know that it's associated with our Group) and ultimately, will acquire some samples of the product, and be able to analyse it.

    You know - it might just turn out that it is a very good fuel - and could fill a portion of the 12 million tonnes of pellet consumption here in the EU. However - until the product is validated - it remains in "never-never land".

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