Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Torrefaction Plant for Salt Lake City? Comments on Khosla

Torrefaction is the controlled "roasting" of biomass to remove moisture, increase the energy density, and to induce superior burning, transport, and long-term storage properties. Radian Bioenergy is based in Salt Lake City, and has engineered a torrefaction system which it believes will work -- at least for woody feedstock.
Salt Lake City-based Radian BioEnergy has completed preliminary engineering on a commercial-scale proprietary torrefaction system, which can convert wood and other biomass feedstocks into biochar or “green coal.”

“It’s a top-fed system where the wood enters the top and warm inert flue gases are used to do the torrefaction,” said Radian BioEnergy CEO Ben Phillips.

The technology leverages Radian’s existing biomass gasification reactor configuration. “It basically readies us to be able to supply this type and scale of torrefaction system to perspective commercial buyers.” Phillips said the company would either license the technology to potential buyers or sign a contract to sell the equipment and then have it manufactured.

“The development of our torrefaction technology will further enhance our product offerings in the biomass energy sector, enabling us to supply major equipment or turn‐key solutions to customers seeking a solution for biomass upgrading,” Phillips said.

The Radian torrefaction system will produce approximately 200 tons per day of biochar, ranging in energy content from 9,000 to 11,000 Btu per pound depending on operating conditions and product yield goals. The biochar burns similar to coal so that it can be integrated into coal‐fired power plants. Phillips said the initial design was based on wood, and additional biomass types will be evaluated in the future. _CheckBiotech
As torrefaction technologies become more efficient, portable, and closer-to-the-source of feedstock, the ability to make economic use of more forestry waste, agricultural waste, and other cellulosic feedstock will grow.

The primary problem with biomass energy schemes is the low energy density of the biomass. As better means of densifying biomass are created and made inexpensive enough to bring to the local site of biomass production, the costs of biomass energy will drop.

Vinod Khosla's table of biofuels technologies (via Greentechmedia) is an extremely useful shorthand reference to the expected timescales to production and viability of production for a wide array of approaches to biofuels. In general, Al Fin energy analysts, engineers, and technologists are in agreement with Khosla's basic thoughts.

One particular area of disagreement involves the gasification of biomass and F-T catalytic synthesis of fuels and chemicals. Khosla asserts that such an approach will probably not work economically. But with the arrival of technologies such as the Velocys microchannel F-T reactors, plus the improvement of on-site densification of biomass and scalable plasma gasifiers, it is possible that we will see small to medium scale gasification plus F-T fuels within 5 years -- according to Al Fin analysts.

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