A new type of biomass-based fuel has been developed which its inventors claim could directly replace coal in power plants without the need for costly refurbishments.
The fuel-making process developed by US-based Biomass Energy Enhancements (BEE) converts all types of plant-based and wood-based matter into a fuel suitable for coal-fired power stations either as an immediate replacement for coal or to be mixed with coal to reduce carbon footprint.
“According to the US Department of Energy (DOE), over 93 million tonnes of forestry residues are left to rot each year in the United States alone and that doesn’t include waste timber from sawmills, construction sites and other industrial uses such as redundant railroad ties,” said BEE CEO Chas Fritz.
“Our unique process converts all of that material into high-energy fuel, benefitting the environment in numerous ways.”
BEE says the manufacturing process removes all contaminants from the plant-based and wood-based matter that could possibly pollute the atmosphere and damage power plant furnaces. As a result, all previously unusable types of organic material including industrial lumber, chemically impregnated wood or railway sleepers could be converted into fuel.
The major advantage, the firm says, is the fact that the fuel can be immediately used in coal-fired power plants without any retrofitting.
Previously, power plant operators would have to invest into costly upgrades to be able to burn existing biofuels in their furnaces.
The inventors believe the technology could pave the way for biomass to become a dominant power source, potentially enabling the use of highly polluting coal to be abandoned.
BEE has recently partnered with UK-based Active Energy Group (AEG) to scale up the process and develop a sustainable business model to promote the technology.
“My colleagues and I have been searching for the past five years for the ‘holy grail’ of the power generation industry: a sustainable clean energy fuel that will act as a direct replacement for coal; some nine billion tonnes of which is currently utilised annually, causing enormous damage to the environment,” said Richard Spinks, CEO of Active Energy Group.
“I’m delighted to report that after a few false starts, we’ve not only found a method of producing that fuel, but that after months of working closely with BEE and thoroughly testing their claims for their technology, we’re even more convinced that they’re the ideal partners for AEG.”
The two firms envision building a network of advanced de-mountable fuel manufacturing facilities close to large-scale biomass raw material sources, including forests, sawmills and agricultural and industrial waste sites.
A core element of its innovative business strategy will be the ability to disassemble, transport and reassemble the manufacturing facilities at different locations when a raw material feedstock source is exhausted or an alternative more productive source is identified.
The firms say their fuel has similar thermal characteristics to coal while the manufacturing method offers high-volume throughput while keeping production costs low. The product can also be delivered in various forms ranging from pellets, to granules, briquettes or bale.
Biomass is considered a ‘carbon neutral’ energy source as it does not add incremental carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as the trees from which it is typically derived can be replanted. It is the main source of renewable energy worldwide (estimates vary from 44 per cent to 65 per cent), currently providing some 10 per cent of the world’s primary energy supply and has the potential to satisfy a large proportion of global energy demands.