Sunday, 27 May 2012

The Nuts and Bolts (Mass and Energy Balance) of torrefaction

Over the past couple of weeks, since my last post, I have had more requests for further information than I can recall receiving in the past 3 years.

As a consequence of those enquiries, I have decided to post a detailed outline of our technology, and it's operating prowess. 

It is fair to say that the single most important factor in torrefaction is not the Heating rate - but rather quite the opposite - it's the cooling rate that really matters. As we operate just at the edge of exothermic runaway, controlling the rate at which the reaction develops is critical.

This was probably the single most important revelation in the entire development process.

Most of the requests wanted to look at the "Nuts and Bolts" of our Torrefaction System. The VAST MAJORITY were interested in the performance characteristics of the system. These being:
  • Mass Balance
  • Energy Balance
  • Financial Sensibilities

From an operational point of view . . here are the numbers for our 2-Tonne per hour reactor.

Mass Input = 2790 kg (bone dry)
Mass Output = 2,000 kg (bone dry)
Mass Loss = 790 kg
Net mass recovery = 71.68%
Net mass loss = 28.32%
Feedstock Conversion Ratio = 1.395:1 (dry basis)
Energy In = 52.26 Gj
Energy Out;
Torrefied Fuel = 43 Gj (82.28%)
Tor-gas = 3.95 Gj (7.56%)
Total = 46.95 Gj
Energy loss = 5.31 Gj = 10.16%
System Efficiency = 89.84% (assuming use of Flue Gas for pre-drying) 

Now, from a financial point of view, achieving this level of performance doesn't mean anything - unless it can be done at a price that is sensible.

Our core system, very nicely achieves the $750,000.00 per tonne hour mark. It operates with a 2-man crew, and is capable of sustained performance - 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Densification, whether into pellets or briquettes is proven, without binders or other additives. In the not-too-distant future, I will be posting a video of the entire system, and it's operation from infeed, through reaction, through grinding, and finishing with pelletisation. I receive a barrel of the product this week, and I have to tell you - it is some of the best bio-coal I have ever seen. Ever particle - from the smallest - to the largest, was a consistent colour and texture. There were no pyrolised pieces, and nor "raw" pieces. 

I have to say that it does my heart good to see that we have finally succeeded in creating a system that is stable in operation, and produces the elusive homogeneous product.Now - It's Onward and upward to the next level. 


P.S. In answer to the few anonymous requests I have had to publish photographs of our system - we purposely choose not to. There are a number of reasons for this. If however - anyone wishes to contact me, and has a bona-fide reason to learn the intimate details of our technology; to visit and tour our facilities; or to receive sample production runs - then I am happy to share with them on a one-to-one basis.

Unfortunately - there are FAR too many people out there - just on "fishing" expeditions, and we have little time to suffer fools. It's roughly the same as the number of requests I get for "samples" of our product. I dare say that I could keep the shipping department VERY busy if I responded to every request for samples.

Unfortunately - we need to be somewhat selective about who we send this product to - as there needs to be a sound commercial basis for doing so. When you consider that the cost to date of manufacturing this product - is in the tens of thousands of pounds sterling per tonne - you can appreciate that even a kilo of product is very valuable to us. For our Utility and Industrial Partners - for whom we are making hundreds of tonnes - it is a product that they don't particularly want out in the marketplace. Those that have supported us throughout the process - are recipients of this "black gold". Those that now want to just jump on the bandwagon . . . well, I'm afraid without a quid pro quo, the samples and information simply won't be forthcoming.

The last time I checked - we were working on projects in America, Canada, Brazil, South Africa, New Zealand, and most recently - Malaysia. Once these are installed, commissioned and operational - there will be many opportunities to tour the facilities.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Teetering on the edge of greatness . . .

It's been a long and winding road.One that seems to have been all uphill . . . .

After 3 years, full of trails and tribulations, successes and disappointments, we are finally ready to take our technology to the market.

The reactor system we have developed with our many partners (and this project has embraced a LOT of people in getting from humble beginnings to where we are today) is FINALLY ready to go. It's working like a dream, and doing exactly hat it's supposed to.

I suppose it was necessary for the Market to catch up with the vision we created those 3 years ago. Torrefied fuel was only a theoretical product, that lived in the confines of a few labs and research facilities. While the promise of it being a panacea to the Utility industry has always remained; translating that into an operating commercial system was a far more significant challenge that ever imagined.

Along the way, there have been several casualties, and many MANY false starts. We are however, at a point now, where it's time to start putting systems together, and producing product at a Commercial Level.

Our Commercial Demonstration Reactor has proven itself to be a very stable and functional Platform. It isn't the most beautiful machine in the world, as it has been cobbled together out of mostly spare parts and bits of kit that were laying around (one of the economic realities of bootstrap development is that you have to forgo the notion of shiny new, custom manufactured equipment, in favour of scrounged parts and pieces) however it does what it is says on the nameplate.

We feed wood chips, sticks, twigs and sawdust into one end . . . and 20 minutes later, we extract a lovely, chocolate brown, torrefied fuel out of the other end. This is then ground into small particles, and pressed into pellets. VOILĂ€! Complete residue to revenue system.

As a next step - We intend to bid on the PGE tender for a Trial Torrefaction System at their Boardman, Oregon Power Station. The tender requires that the bidder have an operating system that is proven at the Tonne per hour level or better. It also requires proof of densification experience, as well as an inherent understanding of the properties of torrefied fuel, and their physio-chemical characteristics.

Now make no mistake - this tender is not an easy one to pre-qualify for. When I started looking around the planet for other developers that met even the basic qualification criteria, let alone - the advanced knowledge required, I found that they were few and far between. So - I'm comfortable that we have a reasonable expectation of success.

It would appear that the boys in Quitman Mississippi are further advanced than we are in their operations, so that becomes a second proponent. LMK energy, with their Thermya system represent a third, and of course - our friends at Topell would be the fourth. All, in all, the playing field isn't very large. There is however - one ace in the hole. If my friend Joseph J James of Agri-tech Producers decides to take a stab at this tender - then it will make the process very interesting. My guess is that he would be an IDEAL Candidate for this, and one who I'd love to see successful in winning the bid. (Joe? - what do you think?)

This week represents a transitional period for our Company. We have now started looking at developing projects in such divers locations as South Africa; Mozambique and Brazil. Bamboo, as a biomass feedstock, is certainly very attractive to a number of EU Utilities. Even though it's chemical composition is somewhat problematic, it has enough other environmental credentials to offset those shortcomings. My colleague at one of the Utilities we deal with said "it's only really a matter of the commercial consequence" of not meeting the Ideal Specification. There is certainly some comfort in the knowledge that this "not quite torrefied" product has a market too. This has been one of the greatest challenges. We have always worked to a very specific fuel specification, and meeting all of the requirements has been no easy task.

With the opportunity to have a "range" of fuel specifications, it opens up a whole new market.

Looking in my crystal ball . . . here is what I see . . . .

Commercial Demonstration Facilities will be built and operational in at least 4 countries in the next 12 months. These will include North America; Africa; New Zealand and Brazil.

Within 18 months - there will be at least 2, perhaps 3 Fully commercial facilities built - and these will be localised around the US North-East and Canadian West Coast. The facilities will inevitably be located on or alongside existing Ports, and likely occupy sites that were, in a previous life, wood manufacturing and processing facilities existed. Typically - Plant size will be in the order of 120,000 to 240,000 tonnes per year.

In spite of being developed for export purposes initially - the Systems in South America; Africa and Australasia will convert to local sales structures. Once the Systems are established, the Local Utilities and Industrial energy consumers will see the sense to acquiring their fuel, from a renewable source. They won't take the risk of being the Leader - but they will most certainly want to jump on the bandwagon, once it's in motion.

(There's something rather hypocritical about that - however such is the corporate way. I have said all along that NO ONE wants to be first through the gate - but EVERYONE wants to be second. We are seeing that now - from many different fronts. Now that we have a fully functional Commercial System, that meets the Economic requirements, Companies that wouldn't give us the time of day 2 years ago - now want to be our friend.)

It's been an amazing Journey, and one that is now coming to an end. We set out a long time ago, to do the impossible. Having little more than Desire, enthusiasm, belief and a whole lot of drive - we started. We never were more than "2 Guys and a Pick-Up truck". Now . . . we are one of the leading Torrefaction Companies in the world.

The end of one journey usually provides an opportunity to rest. Such is not the case here. While we have closed the book on the development; we now have to open a new book - that takes this to the market.

Funny . . but coming to the end is a bit anti-climactic, as there are greater challenges and opportunities in the next 3 years.

We will of course, bring you along for the Journey, as we chronicle the events; the successes; the set backs, and even the failures. . .

I'm looking forward with wide-eyed anticipation to tomorrow.