Sunday, 12 February 2012

Present and future price of torrefied fuel

One of the questions I get asked regularly is "How much does Bio-Coal (sic) cost per tonne"?

That's a whole lot like asking how long a string is . . . or "are we there yet?" (By now - you've figured out that I have children I have taken on Long Road Trips ;-)

My usual answer is . . . . $156.02 - No, Wait - $197.53 . . . HOLD ON - ummmm - $276.27 . . . NOPE - it's $432.91

"Which one is correct?" is the usual next question.

The answer is . . . ALL of them. You see - it depends on where you are . . . Where your Customer is . . . How much volume . . . For how long . . . etc. etc.

I suppose that the FIRST thing one has to realise - is that Bio-Coal will NEVER be sold by the tonne. This would be suicidal to the purchaser (as the energy value varies so widely) and unfair to the producer - who makes a higher energy product than the competition.

Now don't get me wrong, at this stage - it is well and truly a "sellers market". After all - If you took the sum total of all of the torrefied Biomass that has ever been produced in the world, it wouldn't make a very impressive pile of anything.

The industry, to date, has been driven by the desire of end users (Utilities and the like) to get their hands on ANY volume of this product.

It's been an interesting development path. Not too long ago . . . Utilities took a "wait and see" attitude. They were undoubtedly inundated with "offers" of torrefied fuel, from a multitude of Developers. Promises were more plentiful than bugs on a bumper. Unfortunately - performance didn't follow promise.

Other than a few micro-test burns, NO ONE has actually shown that Bio-Coal does what it says on the tin. The reason is very simple - there hasn't been enough of it made yet. That however - is changing rapidly.

I don't think a week goes buy, that I don;t get yet another request from a broker, trader, intermediary or other "middle man", asking for volumes of Bio-Coal. The carrot of huge orders is dangled in front of me, once the product is validated. Hmmmmmm . . . . I wonder where that notion came from?

The fact of the matter is - there are a few Utilities that have taken the step of placing orders for trial volumes with manufacturers (we are one of them) and the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Do we believe that there is a big pot of gold at the end of this rainbow? ABSOLUTELY! It is not however - just a simple matter of "here you go - give this a try" - as power stations tend to be very careful about what they feed their burners.

Of course - producing these volumes at "pilot plant" scale makes them quite expensive. yet again - we find ourselves in a "catch 22". We have to be able to produce Commercial Volumes, without having a commercial Reactor. Demo reactors are nice (albeit - expensive at about $1 Million each) and they take a larger staff to run than a full-blown commercial system would. So - the cost of the product ends up somewhere in the stratosphere. However - it is something that has to be done to get to the next level. The secret - is finding a partner (with deep pockets and long arms) that will stump up this cost - in order to get preferential access to the first commercial production.

We see this going on all around us. More, and more, technology developers are getting into bed with End-Users, and locking up varying amounts of future volumes. What is now happening - is that the opportunity to join this "brotherhood" is slowly, but surely closing.

So - any of you that are thinking about jumping in at the last minute (like a sniper on Ebay) are going to be sorely disappointed. I have always likened this to a flock of punters at the betting window - who want to place their bet, JUST before the horse-race is over. Unfortunately for them - the window is rapidly closing - and the opportunity will be lost.

We have recently received our first commission - to design and implement a 120 Kilotonne Bio-Coal Facility. This is the first, of 4 that will be built to provide feedstock for a new Power Station here in the UK. It's all very exciting. As far as I know - this will be the largest project of its kind in the EU to date - and will likely be the "flagship" of Bio-Coal production.

It might only be enough to power a 50 MWe Station - but that's more than big enough to launch the technology. Wish us luck - as it is an ambitious, challenging and somewhat terrifying (or is that Torrefying?) prospect.

The price? $40.00 a tonne for the Torrefaction Processing.

Now . . . you know.


  1. This is great news and look forward to the outcome. I know that there are a ton of people that do not know what you are up against, but overall the challenge is to make it safe for all and I believe you are on the correct path.

  2. $40 a tonne? Will your facility produce bio-coal for less than that amount?