$4 Million Demonstration Plant Grand Opening

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I know it has been some time since my last blog, but there has been good reason… I’ve been busy! This spring, we completed construction of our $4 million demonstration plant. The plant uses commercial grade equipment, and can be easily scaled up for construction of commercial sized plants anywhere a sustainable biomass supply is available.

The demonstration plant serves two needs: 1) building this plant helped us hone our torrefaction and densification processes before building a commercial sized plant, and 2) now we have a demonstration plant to perform smaller scale testing on all kinds of potential feedstock for our waste-to-energy technology. This includes various kinds of woody biomass as well as agricultural residue such as orchard prunings, sugar cane or coconut residue.

On October 18 we held a grand opening and tour of our new facility. This is the first time we have opened the plant to energy policy makers, forestry managers and others in the timber industry, and the response has been fantastic.

I want to thank all those who came to see just what we have been up to lately. Also, a big thank you to all those who helped with the event, including enthusiastic, significant help from Oregon BEST in getting the word out to attendees and members of the press, and Senator Wyden’s office in working us into his schedule. We relished the chance to give a tour to Senator Ron Wyden, a strong and most welcome supporter of our efforts over the years.

New York Times Looks at Co-firing Wood With Coal

While biomass energy is prominent in Europe, co-firing wood with coal in a coal boiler is finally starting to get some attention in the U.S. A recent article in The New York Times addressed some of these efforts by power companies to include more renewables in their portfolio by feeding some wood into their coal boilers. Wood is considered carbon-neutral, since it absorbed carbon while growing and can be replanted after harvesting.

I applaud the power companies for trying wood out. They are doing the best they can with what is on the market at this time – white pellets, waste wood chunks and sawdust. Predictably, though, they are experiencing problems. All these problems would go away if torrefied biomass pellets or briquettes were commercially available to them. So let me specifically address the issues raised in the NY Times article:

  • On feeding: “Small amounts of wood can be mixed in with coal and added to existing equipment that pulverizes coal into powder, which is then burned, but that limits co-firing to about 5 percent of fuel, and some companies say that their pulverizing equipment cannot handle the wood.” Raw wood, in any form, is fibrous. It does not grind easily like coal. Therefore, only very small amounts can be fed into a coal boiler. Retrofitting feeding systems to handle raw wood is very expensive. In Europe, some coal-fired power plants have invested $100 million for each 300MW in electric production and built a separate feeding system for white pellets. Even then, since white pellets contain only 75 to 80% energy density of coal, a coal furnace will tend to burn at a low temperature, reducing its thermal efficiency.
  • On storage: “…coal-fired power plants are not used to fuel that can rot or grow fungus.” Torrefied wood has been roasted at a high temperature, and is water resistant, so it does not rot. It can be stored outside without cover, just like coal with no ill effects.
  • On size: “The larger size of wood compared to coal is also an issue. A pound of wood can produce only about two-thirds as much heat as a pound of coal, and it is a lot bigger. So to produce the same amount of energy, companies must enlarge their fuel- handling systems.” Torrefied wood is energy dense. For example, pound for pound, our TorrB® briquettes contain more energy than coal – approximately 20% more. This is because they are more energy dense than raw wood pellets, and they contain less moisture than western coal, which typically has 30% moisture.
  • On availability: “The material is difficult to get in any quantity and any predictable form.” According to a study done by Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the USDA in 2005, there are 1.3 billion dry tons of biomass available on a sustainable annual basis. Of this, approximately 770 million dry tons are currently not utilized. In Oregon, our analysis shows there are 6 to 10 million bone dry tons economically available.
  • On predictability: If we take the slash piles left behind after logging of forest restoration efforts, we will process it into energy dense, water resistant briquettes of uniform size that can be fed with coal in any ratio directly into a coal-fired powder boiler without modifications needed.

Here’s another prediction: once torrefaction is commercialized, it will run circles around white pellets. Some large companies have designed their own successful torrefaction processes. The sticking point for commercialization has been how to densify the torrefied biomass into pellets or briquettes that are water resistant and sturdy. HM3 Energy has demonstrated densification of torrefied biomass on commercial equipment which has been modified using our proprietary technology. We produced very sturdy and water resistant briquettes. So, now that the last barrier to commercialization of torrefaction has been surpassed, things should get very interesting.

Torrefaction – wildfire prevention and rural jobs

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Welcome to my very first blog. Naturally, I’ll talk about biomass torrefaction, something HM3 Energy has been working on since 2009. Biomass is what’s created from thinning overgrown and unhealthy forests, waste from sawmills and forest products manufacturing and after-harvest agriculture vegetation. It can be woody waste materials left over from home construction and remodeling. Our technology combines the age-old value of thriftiness with new-age innovation to produce renewable energy, more rural jobs and cleaner air from biomass.

We are now in the wildfire season in the US.  Forests that have not been managed (often due to underfunding) and are overstocked with fuel in the dry summer air and vulnerable to forest fires. These intense wildfires don’t discriminate between old growth and underbrush. They burn it all, filling the air with particulate and leaving a swath of blackened stubs and ash.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Woody biomass can collected before a wildfire occurs, as a part of wildfire prevention. This woody biomass feedstock can be used in the commercial production of torrefied biomass briquettes – a much more energy dense, water resistant biomass fuel that can actually replace coal in coal-fired power plants without modifications. Because it has 20 percent more energy than raw (traditional) wood pellets and burns more cleanly than raw wood pellets, it is a superior product for wood boilers as well.

Today, Oregon is just one example of a state that has chronic unemployment in rural communities. Oregon has millions of acres of federal, state and private forest lands that need management and thinning, or risk damage from fire and disease. With an end user of the forest slash, these piles would no longer be burned in place. They would be used to produce torrefied biomass, a carbon neutral energy, and thousands of rural jobs.

Many of you are familiar with raw wood pellets. Torrefied wood is a very different type of product that uses low value feedstock (forest slash) to produce very high energy briquettes that handle like coal, and have a similar BTU to coal, but without the terrible toxic emissions that coal spouts into the air.

There is a global race to commercialize this technology in the most efficient way, and HM3 Energy is proud to be acknowledged as one of the foremost contenders in the field. Stay tuned for more.

HM3 Energy