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Ar f
EUR 18029 EN
Edith CRESSON, Member of the Commission
responsible for research, innovation, education, training and youth
DG Xll/F JOULE programme
European Commission
Science, Research and Development
November 1998 EUR 18029 EN
Neither the European Commission nor any person acting on behalf of the
Commission is responsible for the use which might be made of the following
A great deal of additional information on the European Union is available on the
Internet, it can be accessed through the Europa server (
Cataloguing data can be found at the end of this publication.
Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 1999
ISBN 92-828-5368-3
European Communities, 1999
Reproduction is authorised provided the source is acknowledged.
Printed in Belgium
The aim of this publication is to give an overview of the state-of-the-art and future prospects
in technology and implementation issues for energy production through thermochemical
conversion of solid biomass in the EU and the way and extent to which European
Community funded RTD activities have contributed to these developments. Biomass is the
energy source with the largest single contribution among renewable energy sources and it is
hoped that it will provide up to 9% of the total energy consumption in the EU by 2010.
With reference to the contribution made by the Community in the area of biomass use, it
should be noted that:
it has extended to all the parts of the process chain, - from crop production to end use
practically all technologies of thermochemical and biological conversion have been
covered throughout the years. Important dissemination activities (some of them outside
the scope of R&D programmes but within various policies such as environment, structural
funds, agricultural policy, etc.) have also taken place
as a result an amount of knowledge and know-how has been accumulated and is being
continually developed.
Examples are:
operational problems and emission levels in large scale co-combustion
tar removal
prime movers in small and medium scale gasification
pilot gasification plants
extended research in flash pyrolysis
liquid bio-fuels
biochemical processes
networks and working links have been established between researchers and industrial
partners which are valuable not only from the purely scientific/technical point of view but
will also be instrumental in any future standardisation and/or harmonisation activities
hardware has been created, not least in areas of high technological risk (pyrolysis plants,
the current targeted projects for gasification, to mention only some of them)
the financial weight of this support is very important, - for a number of major players in
the field Community projects represent a substantial percentage of their turnover.
M. Poireau, Advisor to the Director
Prof. L.Sjunnesson
Dr J.Spitzer
Prof. A. Schmidt
Dr P.Girard
Sydkraft/S weden
Joanneum Institute of Energy Research/Austria
Universitet Trondheim/Norway
TU Wien/Austria
Mr. M. Papadoyannakis
Mr. P. Doyle
Md. A. Segerborg-Fick
Mr. K. Maniatis
Biomass fuels
Introduction of biomass to the market
Technical options
State of the art and fuel specifications
Biomass fuels
Wood logs
Wood chips
Wood briquettes
Wood pellets
Woody industrial residues
Non woody biomass fuels
Wood log and wood briquettes furnaces
Wood fire places
Stoves and chemines
Wood log furnaces
Tiled stoves
Wood chip furnaces
Understoker furnaces
Horizontal stoker furnaces
Down stream furnaces
Wood pellet furnaces
Furnaces for wood pellets only
Furnaces for combined use of wood pellets and wood logs/briquettes
Medi um scale heat and power production
Technical barriers
Fuel related technical barriers
Transportation and feeding
Variable properties of biomass fuels
Safety of fuel storage
3.2.2 Ash related technical barriers 22
Ash removal 22
Slag 23
Disposal of ash 23
3.2.3 Emission related technical barriers 23
3.3 Environmental issues 24
3.3.1 Emissions in the flue gas 24
3.3.2 Harmful substances in ash and particulates 25
3.4 Economic aspects 26
3.4.1 Cost components 26
Investment costs 26
Fuel costs 26
Maintenance costs 27
3.4.2 Specific heat production costs 28
3.5 European Commission projects achievements 29
Combustion optimisation in grate furnaces 29
Combustion optimisation in fiuidised bed furnaces 30
Heat and power generation using an indirectly fired gas turbine 31
Heat and power generation using a biomass gasifier with a gas Otto engine 32
3.6. Future prospects 32
3.6.1 Future R&D requirements within the scope of the 5
FP 32
3.6.2 Future requirements within the scope
of a liberalised energy market 32
4.1 State of the art 34
4.1.1 Fuel specifications for large scale boilers 34
4.1.2 Combustion and boiler technology 37
Combustion process 37
Combustion technology 39
4.1.3 Energy recovery and efficiencies 51
4.2 Technical barriers 54
4.2.1 Fuel specification, pre-treatment and feeding 54
4.2.2 Combustion and boiler technology/fouling/deposits/corrosion 54
4.2.3 Flue gas cleaning systems 56
Environmental issues
Emissions to air
Emissions in slag/filter dust
Economic aspects
Fuel costs
Investment costs
O&M costs
Cost of electricity (COE) compared to coal,
natural gas and MSW
European Commission projects achievements
Future prospects
References 66
5.1 Objectives of biomass gasification 69
5.2 Biochemical gasification (Anaerobic digestion) - state of the art 69
5.2.1 Raw materials 71
5.2.2 Digesters 71
5.2.3 Utilisation of biogas and of the gasification residue 72
5.2.4 Economics of biochemical gasification 73
5.2.5 Future developments 74
5.3 Thermochemical gasification-state of the art 74
5.3.1 Principles of thermal gasification 75
5.3.2 Feed materials pre-treatment 76
5.3.3 Fixed bed gasification 77
5.3.4 Fiuidised bed gasification 79
5.3.5 Entrained flow gasification 82
5.3.6 Pressurised gasification 82
5.3.7 Gas treatment 83
Particulates 84
Tar removal 84
Removal of trace impurities 85
Carbon monoxide/methane conversion, CO removal 86
Hydrogen separation 87
5.3.8 Ash disposal and waste water treatment 87
5.4 Gas utilisation 87
5.4.1 Direct combustion and conventional power production 88
5.4.2 Gas motors 89
5.4.3 Gas turbines 89
5.4.4 Fuel cells 90
5.4.5 Synthesis of natural gas and liquid fuels 91
5.5 Environmental and safety issues 92
5.6 Economic aspects 93
5.6.1 Investment costs 94
5.6.2 Costs of production 95
Basis of the calculation: 95
5.7 European Commission projects achievements 96
5.8 Future prospects 98
5.8.1 Comparison of gasification technologies 98
5.8.2 Improvement of gasification technologies 101
5.9 Conclusions 103
6.1 Pyrolysis mechanisms and pathways 117
6.1.1 Products quality 120
Characteristics of pyrolysis end-products 120
Solid 120
Liquid 121
Gas 123
6.1.2 Feedstock requirements 124
Feedstock quality 124
Feedstock availability 124
6.1.3 Process characteristics and requirements 125
Process for liquids 126
Process for solid 127
6.2 State of the art 127
6.2.1 Pyrolysis processes 127
North America 127
Ensyn - Canada 128
Resource Transforms International ltd. (RTI, Canada) 128
Pyrovac (Canada) 128
National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL, USA) 129
European Union 129
6.2.2 Pyrolysis liquids quality 132
Solid and ash content 133
Water content 133
Viscosity 135
Stability 135
Bio-oil characterisation and analysis standards 135
Upgrading 136
Catalytic upgrading 136
Physical upgrading 137
6.2.3 Applications for combined heat and power 138
Combustion 138
Diesel- Engine 140
Gas turbine 140
Chemicals 141
6.3 Technical Barriers 142
6.3.1 Feedstock limits 142
6.3.2 Process problems 143
6.3.3 End product problems 143
6.4 Environmental issues 144
6.4.1 Impacts on environment 144
Pyrolysis process level 144
Application level 145
6.4.2 Impact on human health 147
Acute toxicity 148
Chronic toxicity 148
6.5 Economic aspects 149
6.6 European Commission projects achievements 152
6.7 Future Prospects 152
Feedstock related needs 152
Conversion technology 153
Product quality 155
Applications 156
7.1 Overall assessment of biomass in the energy area 165
7.2 Analysis of the introduction of biomass 168
7.3 Achievements in projects funded by the European Commission 170
7.4 Analysis of technical barriers 170
Large-scale combustion 173
Gasification 174
Pyrolysis 174
7.5 Conclusions 175
Costs 176
Techniques 176
Demonstration and dissemination 177
Country by country approach 177
7.6 Recommendations 178
The main objective of this work is to identify technical barriers and obstacles that
impede the rapid development of the biomass market within the EU Member
States. On the basis of the estimated opportunities open to bioenergy on a
commercial market, the work is aimed at assessing the role that bioenergy
technologies has so far achieved in the European Union through actions by the
Member States and by the Commission in the past four to five years. It will identify
the remaining difficulties and/or obstacles, from a technical point of view, to
continued introduction of biomass, and analyse the fundamental technical questions
that are of significance in enabling bioenergy to play an important role in the future
supply of energy in Europe. In parallel with this, it is also essential to shed light on
the extent to which other important factors affect the introduction of biomass into
the energy system, such as non-technical factors related to the environment, socio-
economics, public acceptance, etc. However, these issues are not discussed more
than superficially in this study but will be covered in other studies.
Although several countries in Europe, mainly Sweden, Finland and Austria, are
putting biomass to extensive use, most European countries are not utilising it to a
sufficient extent to enable development to progress as rapidly as had been expected.
However, this is not entirely clear since, according to statistics, electricity
generation from biomass in the EU Member States has increased by around 50%
between 1989 and 1994.
On the other hand, the statistics are unclear on certain issues, including the
definition of what biomass actually is. There are different driving forces for this
development, the most important appears to be environmental awareness, which
reflects the view that biomass may be less harmful to the environment than many
other energy sources. At the same time, however, the main obstacle to
introduction on a large scale is the high cost of employing biomass compared to
other energy sources, mainly fossil fuels.
Several studies have described biomass as the most important source of renewable
energy for the future. In the long term, biomass will undoubtedly play a significant
role in the supply of energy in many countries. However, it has become obvious in
recent years that biomass may be unable to play as important a role in the coming
years as had previously been expected. The main reason appears to be, as with
most other renewable energy sources, the inability of biomass to compete with the
energy sources in use today.
Opportunities are available for improving the competitiveness of biomass by
lowering the cost of its utilisation. The two most important factors in this respect
are the cost of the biomass fuel itself and the development of less costly biomass
utilisation techniques.
This development has been in progressing a long time and has enabled knowledge
to be accumulated on matters such as the technical obstacles that must be overcome
before biomass can be expected to make a significant contribution to the total
energy supply. However, without any major break-through, the lead-time for a
significant introduction seems long.
A number of biomass fuels are considered in this study. Some of these are in use
today (forest residues, straw, etc.), others may be introduced more broadly at a
later date (energy crops, etc). Although forestry residues are the main biomass
resource used so far, various types of waste products and a growing proportion of
energy crops are also employed and are therefore included in this study. However,
municipal solid waste (MSW), contaminated wood, black liquor and liquid bio-fuels
are only marginally addressed in this study.
Many of the techniques employed for exploiting biomass have been used for a
number of years (e.g. stokers for combustion), while others are only just being
tested and demonstrated (e.g. gasification). Others appear to have good potential
for becoming conceivable future techniques, although they have not yet been fully
developed (e.g. pyrolysis).
Biomass utilisation technologies are available for many applications and are widely
used, although only within a few countries. It must be emphasised that, even if any
technology can be improved further by research and development, the lack of
appropriate technologies is not the only reason for the limited use of bioenergy in
the European Union. Lack of competitiveness compared to fossil fuels is more
likely to be the most important reason. Bioenergy plants use an expensive fuel and
involve high investment costs.
The techniques of greatest current interest are:
direct combustion in small and large boilers (for heat, power and combined
heat and power (CHP) production)
advanced thermal conversion of biomass into a secondary fuel by thermal
gasification or pyrolysis, followed by use of the fuel in an engine or turbine
biological conversion into methane by anaerobic bacterial digestion and use of
the bio-gas in engines and boilers
chemical or biochemical conversion of organic materials into hydrogen,
methanol, ethanol or diesel fuel.
Their use is currently limited to niches in which their competitive disadvantages can
be avoided, such as:
straw combustion in medium and large-scale boilers for district heat (e.g. in
Austria) and power (e.g. Denmark). Small-scale straw combustion is
technically not yet developed,
the use of industrial wood residues, such as sawdust and bark, for conversion
into energy within the plant
the use of municipal waste for power generation
In all other cases, bio-fuel must still be subsidised to achieve competitive energy
costs. The form of these subsidies may vary from country to country, including
general energy taxes (from which bioenergy is excluded), carbon dioxide taxes,
subsidies on investments for bioenergy, and also undertakings in some cases by
electricity utilities to use a certain proportion of renewable energy sources in their
Although the utilisation of renewable energy sources, especially bio-energy, is
expected to assist in solving the problems of reliability of supply and environmental
impact of energy generation from fossil fuels, the possible advantages of bioenergy
will have to be compared to the additional cost incurred by its use. This means that
the objective of all bioenergy research and development efforts must be focused on
lowering the cost of bioenergy feedstock and the associated investment cost,
including the removal of technical barriers. The achievements so far in the work by
the European Commission go in this direction, but further effort is still required.
The various technical factors that affect the cost of bioenergy are of vital
importance to its future utilisation. Some of the more important obstacles that are
similar to all biomass conversion technologies and also to all users can be
summarised in the following areas.
Specifications and standards for biomass fuels
Fuel pre-treatment
Feeding of fuel, especially in pressurised systems
Storage of fuel
Ash removal and handling
There are specific technical obstacles for different conversion technologies but
these obstacles, together with those mentioned above, may be overcome leaving the
final cost of the generated energy as the main obstacle to the introduction of
bioenergy. In view of this, the following guidelines will have to be observed in the
development of the conversion of biomass into useful energy.
It appears reasonable to develop small-scale (< lOOkW fuel input power)
combustion systems, - although low-cost, high-quality fuels would have to be
developed. To make the combustion system attractive, it is vitally important to
develop plants with high availability and reliability. In all cases, the main
commodity produced is heat, and whether or not it is combined with electricity
generation is determined on a case to case basis.
Large-scale (> lOOkW and up to several MW fuel input power) biomass
combustion systems are much easier to develop than small-scale systems. On
the other hand, competition with fossil-fuelled plants is intense.
CHP plants are preferable to pure power generation plants. However, the
capacity of CHP plants is limited by the local demand for low-temperature
heat. Due to their longer annual operating times, industrial applications are
preferable to district heating systems.
Power generation from biomass by means of conventional steam processes has
a maximum energy efficiency of 35%, while combined cycle plants employing
biomass gasification and gas turbines could achieve 40 - 50% or even higher.
However, high plant costs and high fuel costs result in the electricity generated
being more expensive than that from fossil fuelled power stations.
Since the fixed cost of biomass gasification plants is the main cost element for
such plants, technical developments should be concentrated on simplification of
the plant by avoiding pre-drying of biomass. Tar formation in the gasifier
should also be minimised by improving the gasifier design, in order to avoid
elaborate gas purification and wastewater treatment systems. If possible,
gasification with air should be avoided, since the nitrogen in the air dilutes the
gas generated and necessitates bulkier equipment and larger piping. However,
the production of oxygen is expensive and will probably be limited to large-
scale gasification.
The technical development of biochemical gasification of biomass by anaerobic
fermentation is well advanced. The use of this system, especially for the
gasification of biomass with high moisture content, has reached fully developed
status and is restricted only by economic considerations.
The gasification of biomass waste and the gasification of biomass jointly with
waste materials, and with coal, have the potential to improve the economics
and should be investigated further.
Fast pyrolysis is a relatively new technology compared to other
thermochemical conversion methods and offers the opportunity to separate the
biomass conversion stage from its final use. However, R&D is still necessary
to bring the technology to maturity. Attention should be focused mainly on
process engineering to assist the development stage. In terms of applications
for pyrolysis, power generation and co-generation with engines seem to offer
the most promising options.
Existing technologies for biomass utilisation are perceived, to some extent, as
being unreliable. Demonstration has therefore a vital role to play in the
development of the bioenergy utilisation technique and must be evaluated
further. It is particularly important to concentrate effort on measures that have
a good chance of success and can produce results within a relatively short
period of time.
The technologies now being demonstrated appear to have long lead times
before they will be established on the market. This is particularly true of very
new techniques, such as IGCC (Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle)
which has not yet been demonstrated in more than one application (Vrnamo in
2.1 Background
Biomass has long been widely used as a fiiel for generating heat by direct
combustion. Compared to traditional gaseous and liquid fossil fuels, bio-fuel,
however, suffers drawbacks such as lower storage density, lower calorific value,
handling difficulties and wide variations in properties. These are the main reasons
why bioenergy is not used more extensively in industrialised countries.
Although several countries in Europe, mainly Sweden, Finland and Austria, are
putting biomass to extensive use, most European countries are not utilizing it to a
sufficient extent to enable development to progress as rapidly as had been expected,
i.e. an increase in utilization of biomass (as a percentage of the total energy
consumption) from - approximately - the existing 3% to 9% by the year 2010.
However, it is not entirely clear-cut, since statistics show that electricity generation
from biomass in EU Member States has increased by about 50 percent between
1989 and 1994. On the other hand, the statistical information is unclear on certain
issues, such as the definition of what actually is biomass. In the short term, the
most important driving force appears to be environmental awareness, which reflects
the view that biomass may be less harmful to the environment than many other
energy sources. At the same time, however, the main obstacle to large-scale
introduction is the high cost of utilizing biomass compared to other energy sources,
mainly fossil fuels.
Several studies, e.g. the White Paper by the Commission, have described biomass
as the most important source of renewable energy for the future. In the long term,
biomass will undoubtedly play a significant role in the supply of energy in many
countries. However, it has become obvious in recent years that biomass may be
unable to play as important a role in coming years as had previously been expected.
As stated above, the main reason appears to be the inability of biomass to compete
with energy sources used today. Opportunities are available for improving the
competitiveness of biomass by lowering the cost of its utilization. The two most
important factors in this respect are the cost of biomass fuel and the development of
less costly biomass utilization techniques. This development has long been in
progress and has enabled knowledge to be accumulated on matters such as the
technical obstacles that must be overcome before biomass can be expected to make
a significant contribution to the total energy supply. However, the lead-time for
significant introduction appears to be long.
2.2 Objectives
The main objective of this work is to identify technical barriers and obstacles that
impede rapid development of the biomass market. On the basis of the estimated
opportunities open to bioenergy in a commercial market, the work is aimed at
assessing the role that bioenergy has so far achieved in the European Union through
action taken by the Member States and by the Commission in the past four to five
years. It will also identify the remaining difficulties and/or obstacles to continued
introduction, and analyse the fundamental technical questions that are of
significance in enabling bioenergy to play a significant role in the future supply of
energy in Europe.
In parallel with this, it is also essential to shed light on the extent to which other
important factors affect the introduction of biomass into the energy system, such as
non-technical factors related to the environment, socio-economics, public
acceptance, etc. These matters will become increasingly important following the
introduction of any new energy technology in the future, and particularly energy
sources that affect the individual to a greater extent than existing energy sources.
However, this is not the prime objective of this work, and will be considered in
other studies.
2.3 Biomass fuels
Biomass is a general term that describes fuels based on organic matter. Biomass
includes a number of organic raw materials that are of varying significance in
different countries. The term biomass used here thus covers all biological matter.
A number of fuels may be covered by this definition. Some of these are in use
today (forest residues, straw, etc.), others may be introduced more broadly at a
later date (energy crops, etc.).
Although forestry residues are the main biomass resource used so far, various types
of waste products and a growing proportion of energy crops are also employed.
The only exceptions not covered by this study are municipal solid waste (MSW),
contaminated wood, black liquor and liquid bio-fuels.
Biomass in various forms can be used in conjunction with various techniques in a
number of combinations. Within the framework of this particular work, biomass
can be employed, either directly or in converted form, in two main applications, i.e.
as fuel for generating electricity and/or heat and, principally in converted form, as
transport fuel. However, transport fuels are not covered by this study.
Used as an energy raw material, biomass has a number of benefits to offer
compared to other energy raw materials, the main benefit in this context being that
biomass is carbon dioxide neutral. However, a number of circumstances in the
entire life cycle chain of bioenergy must be strictly evaluated from the
environmental aspect. Biomass gives rise directly to a number of environmental
problems of varying types, including emissions of environmentally harmful
substances during combustion. Biomass also causes a number of indirect
environmental problems, mainly due to transport requirements. Viewed on a global
perspective, the latter problems are undoubtedly of little significance, although they
must still be considered. This particular point has not been fully considered in this
work, although it has been analysed to some extent.
2.4 Introduction of biomass to the market
The introduction of biomass technology, particularly in the short term and in some
regions, seems to progress slowly and it is therefore of vital importance to identify
the reasons. The entire area of biomass needs to be thoroughly reviewed, not only
from technical and economic viewpoints, but also from environmental and socio-
economic aspects. It is extremely important to achieve an in-depth understanding
of the behaviour of various factors in the field of biomass and what role the various
parameters play in developments within the field. These aspects relate to matters
such as the impact on the landscape and its cultural geography, the dependence of
the population on transport and infrastructure if energy raw materials are unevenly
distributed, and anxiety about using techniques that have not yet been demonstrated
or even those that have already been demonstrated but which arouse apprehension
just for that reason.
As in many other cases, the main question in the introduction of biomass techniques
is undoubtedly the cost of generation to the various utilities when using given raw
materials and different conversion techniques. The cost of biomass is one of the
most important elements in this area. The reason being the high proportion of the
fuel cost in the total generation cost (depending on the technology and the
commodity produced it could be up to 40 percent of the final cost), and also the
difficulty in predicting stable price levels. Moreover, biomass is far more bulky
than other fuels used today, which may make it necessary to expand the existing
infrastructure. The associated costs may sometimes be substantial. As the final
cost of generating useful energy from biomass also depends on the technology
used, this factor must be subjected to particularly close scrutiny. All of these issues
are of great importance when evaluating the reason for biomass not being
introduced to the extent that has been expected in recent years.
The market in which biomass can be utilized may differ from country to country.
However, in general terms, biomass is expected to find applications in all areas in
which coal, oil and natural gas are now used. Development is driven by many
factors which are different in different countries. One vital factor in this context is
the task of introducing the relevant technique on various markets, and how
important these markets are for ensuring dynamic development. As biomass is still
used to such a modest extent, all of the benefits are unlikely to have been taken into
account and are given only some consideration in this study.
2.5 Technical options
As stated above, the main objective of this work is to concentrate on identifying
technical barriers and obstacles to the introduction of biomass. If biomass is to be
used more extensively, not only existing techniques have to be further developed
but also a number of new techniques must be introduced. Several aspects of this
implementation process must be identified and analysed. These aspects obviously
vary in magnitude and significance from country to country, mainly because of
historical and traditional factors related to biomass in the various countries.
Many of the techniques employed for exploiting biomass have been used for a
number of years (e.g. stokers for combustion), while others are only just being
tested and demonstrated (e.g. gasification). Others appear to have good potential
for becoming conceivable future techniques, although they have not yet been fully
tested (e.g. pyrolysis).
The techniques of greatest current interest are:
direct combustion in boilers
advanced thermal conversion of biomass into a secondary fuel by thermal
gasification or pyrolysis, followed by use of the fuel in an engine or turbine
biological conversion into methane by anaerobic bacterial digestion
chemical or biochemical conversion of organic materials into hydrogen,
methanol, ethanol or diesel fuel.
In summary, different technologies can be applied to biomass to generate the
commodities tabulated below (examples are given):
Hot exhaust
Fuel gas
Synthesis gas
Gas (fuel)
(fuel oil)
(solid fuel)
Boiler/Steam engine
Boiler, Gas engine
Gas turbine, Fuel cell
Synthetic natural gas
Liquid motor fuels
Space heating, Process heat
Hot water, Power / heat
Power / heat
Power / heat
Power / heat
Table 2.1 Biomass utilisation scheme
Although all of these technologies are in use in Europe, not all of them have
reached full maturity. A number of obstacles must still be surmounted before the
technologies are developed to a stage in which they can be regarded as fully
In the following chapters, these obstacles will be analysed and considered further.
The differentiation between "small scale" and "large scale" biomass combustion is
not possible by any sharp definition. Here "small scale" generally means
combustion plants for room heating in smaller buildings (one- or two-family
houses). A heat power range below 100 kW may be assumed for small-scale
Another criterion for differentiation could be the operation mode: "large-scale"
plants normally are professionally (commercially) operated, while "small-scale"
plants are normally privately operated.
The level of technology may also be different in the two cases: Large scale plants
often are equipped with advanced measurement and control systems, which lead to
optimized combustion with low emissions and high efficiency. For small-scale
plants such systems usually are too expensive.
3.1.1 Biomass fuels
In this section an overview of the properties of biomass fuels for small-scale
biomass furnaces is given. Detailed specifications of woody biomass fuels are given
in Standard Sheets issued in some countries and are under preparation by CEN.
Wood logs
Wood logs (Figure 3.1) are the
oldest form of fuel for biomass
combustion. For small-scale
biomass combustion wood logs
are wood pieces with a length
between 15 and 50 cm and a
diameter between 5 and 15 cm.
The usual preparation procedure
of such wood logs comprises the
following steps:
Felling of the trees and
cutting them in pieces of a
length of 1 meter.
Cleaving of the 1-meter
pieces with a cleaver, - often
powered by a tractor.
Figure 3.1 Wood logs for use in small-
scale biomass furnaces
Storage of the cleaved 1-meter pieces (covered) in the open air typically at the
location of harvesting for one or two years.
Transportation of the 1-meter pieces to the heating installation, cutting in two
to four parts, and further cleaving to reduce the diameter if necessary.
Wood log shaped fuel may also be produced from sawmill residues.
Wood logs normally can not be used in automatically fed furnaces. The furnace has
to be fuelled manually at least once a day. Reasons to use wood logs as fuel can be
Wood log furnaces generally are the cheapest way of producing heat from
Wood logs can be produced without expensive machines, even by hand, as it
was done for hundreds of years.
Wood chips
Wood chips (Figure 3.2) are
pieces of chopped wood
with dimensions between 2
and 10 cm. Wood chips can
be transported automatically
using screw or belt
conveyors. Therefore an
automatic feeding system for
the furnaces is possible,
enabling operation without
manual help for several
days. If an automatic ash
disposal system is also
installed the operation
period can be further
increased up to several
Figure 3.2 Wood chips for use in
small-scale biomass furnaces
The production of wood chips is highly automated with special machinery
(chipper). To minimize manipulation and transportation efforts, the chips should be
produced at the harvesting site.
An important advantage of wood chips is their homogeneous physical properties.
Thus the use of automatic control systems for power level and combustion quality
in the furnace is possible. This ensures low emissions of harmful substances and
high efficiency (see Chapter 3.3.1).
Wood briquettes
Wood briquettes (Figure 3.3) are cylindrical pieces of extruded wood chips and/or
Figure 3.3 Wood briquettes for use in
small-scale biomass furnaces
powder with a diameter of
approximately 10 cm and a
length between 10 and 30 cm.
Generally they are produced
from wood manufacturing
residues (shavings, saw dust,
grinding dust). Wood
briquettes have properties
similar to wood logs. No
automatic transportation
systems for wood briquettes
are available for small-scale
Advantages of wood briquettes
as fuel are for example:
high density and therefore high heat content related to the storage volume
low water content (approx. 4 %) and therefore high combustion efficiency
homogeneous physical and chemical properties
Wood pellets
Wood pellets (Figure 3.4) are cylindrical pieces of extruded wood particles with a
diameter of approximately 1 cm and a length between 1 and 2 cm. They have the
same advantages as wood briquettes:
high density and therefore
high heat value related to
the storage volume
low water content (approx.
4 %) and therefore high
combustion efficiency
homogeneous physical and
chemical properties.
However, the most important
additional property of wood
pellets is that they can be fed by
screw feeders and even by
pneumatic equipment. Thus, the
transportation of wood pellets is
similar to the transportation of a
liquid fuel:
Wood pellets can be sucked in by a special tank lorry and, after transportation,
Figure 3.4 Wood pellets for use
in small-scale biomass furnaces
can by blown into a storage room at the location of the user without any
manual help.
From the storage room, they can be easily transported to and into the
combustion chamber by screw feeders or by pneumatic transportation systems.
Thus, wood pellet furnaces may be operated in a manner almost comparable to oil
Automatic wood pellet furnaces have been developed only recently. R&D efforts
are based on the vision that wood pellets will become the most important standard
biomass fuel.
Woody industrial residues
Woody industrial residues are of importance as fuel for small biomass furnaces only
when prepared as described in the previous paragraphs (as wood logs, wood chips,
wood briquettes, or as wood pellets). Therefore no technical descriptions have to
be given here. Unprocessed woody industrial residues, like bark, are used in large-
scale combustion systems only.
Non woody biomass fuels
From a technical viewpoint (process engineering, handling, transportation,
emissions) many different biomass fuels may be used for heat production in small-
scale biomass furnaces. Not only solid non-woody biomass fractions (converted to
briquettes or pellets) but also liquid biomass fuel (rapeseed oil, "Bio-diesel",
pyrolysis liquid) could be used, but in general these applications are not economic
for small-scale combustion. Therefore non-woody biomass fuels normally are used
in large-scale biomass furnaces only, e. g. straw from agriculture.
3.1.2. Wood log and wood briquettes furnaces
In this section, small-scale combustion systems operated manually are described.
They range from stoves and fire places to boilers for central heating systems.
Wood fire places
Wood fireplaces (Figure 3.5) have a long tradition in several countries, especially in
North America and in the UK. The handling of course is difficult and dirty but, on
the other hand, wood fireplaces offer to the user the pleasure to observe the open
fire in his living room.
Wood fireplaces normally are not
optimized with respect to emissions and
efficiency. Due to the open combustion
chamber, they usually have too much
combustion air and therefore a very low
combustion efficiency with high
emission of harmful substances.
Stoves and chemines
Figure 3.5 Wood fireplace
Stoves (Figure 3.6) are closed furnaces
installed in the room to be heated.
Often stoves are equipped with a glass
window (chemines, Figure 3.7) so the
fire can be observed as is possible with a
wood fireplace. The glass furthermore leads to a certain heat transfer by radiation
which, as well-known, leads to a comfortable feeling in the room. The combustion
process in chemines can be controlled to some extent by primary and secondary air
staging. However the combustion temperature sometimes is too low because of
heat losses through the glass window.
Figure 3.6 Wood stove Figure 3.7 Wood
Wood log furnaces
Wood log furnaces (Figure 3.8) are combustion plants for solid fuels with a
combustion chamber and a boiler for a water heating system. They are normally
fuelled manually by an opening in the combustion chamber. In modern wood log
furnaces the combustion chamber
is divided into storage and
combustion zones. Combustion in
the storage zone is prevented by
leading the combustion air through
this zone in a co-current flow.
The storage volume of the
combustion chamber is normally
dimensioned for 8 full load hours.
Therefore wood log furnaces are
to be fuelled up to 3 times a day.
Wood log furnaces are usually
fairly well developed with respect
to combustion optimization,
sometimes equipped with control
systems for combustion air based
on the measurement of the oxygen
concentration in the flue gas
("Lambda Control"). To avoid
partial load conditions, they are
often equipped with a buffer store. The store is charged under optimal full power
conditions and is discharged according to the actual (partial load) demand of the
heating system.
Figure 3.8 Wood log furnace
Tiled stoves
Tiled stoves (Figure 3.9) are a traditional
form of wood stove, mainly used in alpine
regions and in Finland.
The combustion chamber of a tiled stove is
surrounded by massive walls. The walls
store the heat produced in the combustion
chamber and transfer it into the room to be
heated. Thus the daily heat requirement is
produced by operating the furnace under
optimal full power condition for a limited
time period, while the heat flow to the
room corresponds to the much lower actual
heat requirement. Handling effort can thus
be limited to only one fuelling procedure a
day and the combustion process can be
controlled and optimized for full load
Figure 3.9 Tiled wood stove
conditions. However, in this operation made there is no possibility to control the
heat flow to the room. Usually the outer surface of the stove is covered with tiles,
offering the possibility to realize many varied designs. Therefore tiled stoves are
often installed not only for heat production but for interior decoration too. The
tiles also represent an additional heat store and enhance heat transfer by radiation.
Emissions of tiled stoves have been reduced in recent years by several technical
improvements, including flue gas fan blowers and electronic control systems.
3.1.3 Wood chip furnaces
Wood chip furnaces are automatic
combustion plants with a
combustion chamber and a water
boiler connected to a water
heating system. In small scale
wood chip furnaces the wood
chips usually are fed by screw
conveyors into the furnace at a
rate depending on the actual heat
demand (Figure 3.10). Control
systems, often based on the
measurement of certain emission
components (oxygen, carbon
monoxide, and others), ensure low
emissions and high efficiency.
While no major manipulation
effort is necessary for the furnace
operation, some manipulation
concerning fuel storage and
feeding is needed.
Of course the installation of a large storage tank with automatic feeding systems is
possible, but this leads to higher space requirement and costs. Therefore wood
chip furnaces often are installed for heating buildings in rural areas, where some
infrastructure for mechanical fuel handling and storage (tractors, barns) is available.
Wood chip furnaces can be subdivided into three types with different operating
modes, as described below.
Figure 3.10 Wood chip furnace
Understoker furnaces
In an understoker furnace the wood chips are fed by a screw conveyor through an
opening at the bottom of the combustion chamber, generally into a panlike burner,
in which a fuel mound is formed with a glowing layer on its surface. The
advantages of such a feeding mode are:
it is simple and therefore cheap
back-burning into the feeding system normally does not occur.
However some disadvantages of an understoker furnace have also to be mentioned:
No drying zone is formed in the fuel stock under the glowing layer, therefore
wood chips with low water content (less than 30 %) can be used only. When
using wood chips with higher water content, incomplete combustion will occur
with high emissions of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons, and the
combustion process may even come to a halt.
the inlet of primary air through the glowing layer is difficult.
ash may accumulate in the burner and is difficult to remove.
Horizontal stoker furnaces
Some of the disadvantages of understoker furnaces can be avoided in horizontal
stoker furnaces. In this system the wood chips are fed into the combustion
chamber horizontally onto a grate, normally by a screw conveyor.
The fuel stock moving horizontally on the grate is passing through a drying zone
before burning. Therefore the use of wood chips with higher water content (up to
50 %) is possible without increasing emissions of harmful substances.
However back burning may not be avoided totally by the design of the feeding
system and therefore fire safety systems (e.g. a sprinkler facility) have to be
installed at the fuel inlet.
Down stream furnaces
The most advanced combustion technology can be realized in down stream
furnaces in which the wood chips are fed with a screw conveyor through an
opening in the upper region of the combustion chamber and are falling onto the
glow bed. This has several important advantages with respect to an optimized
combustion process:
each wood chip is dropping directly into a fully burning environment. With a
design leading to a dispersion of the chips, the combustion conditions are not
influenced negatively by fresh (wet) material at the point of impact. In the hot
burning environment, the drying process of the chips is happening nearly
the glowing layer is free from mechanical disturbances, as caused by the screw
conveyor feeding or by a sporadic gliding down the mound in an understoker
furnace. Thus emission peaks resulting from such disturbances are avoided.
The wood chips (normally in the size of not more than 10 cm) are too light to
cause such disturbances in the glowing layer.
3.1.4 Wood pellet furnaces
Efforts are underway aiming at the development of wood pellet furnaces offering
the same comfort as liquid fuel furnaces. Therefore, as mentioned in chapter 3.1.1,
wood pellets have a good chance to become a standard biomass fuel to be used in
furnaces in small-scale biomass combustion. Wood pellet furnaces are available
also for combined operation with other solid fuels (wood briquettes, wood logs).
Furnaces for wood pellets only
Automatic furnaces for wood
pellets only are designed similar
to wood chip furnaces. The
same control systems are used
and therefore combustion quality
and efficiency are very high.
Often, the combustion chamber
of a wood log boiler is equipped
with specific installations
(burning pans) for the
combustion of wood pellets.
The homogeneity of the fuel
makes it possible to control the
furnace near the optimal
operating point (oxygen
concentration in the flue gas of
less than 4 %). Due to the low
water content of the fuel this
leads to flame temperatures of up
to 1.600C. Thus high temperature resistant materials have to be used in the burn
out zone. Wood pellets may also be used in manually fuelled stoves (Figure 3.11).
Figure 3.11 Stove operated with wood
Disadvantages of furnaces for wood pellets only are:
the market of wood pellets is not yet established. Therefore the availability of
wood pellets is not really guaranteed.
the price of wood pellets is not stable and generally higher than the price of
wood chips.
Furnaces for combined use of wood
pellets and wood lops/briquettes
By combining a wood pellet
burner with a wood log boiler the
problem of pellet availability can
be avoided (Figure 3.12). The
furnace can be operated by manual
fueling of wood logs (or other
solid fuels) or automatically by
using the wood pellet burner. In
such a combined "wood log and
pellet burner" the following
measures for reaching a maximum
of operational comfort have been
Figure 3.12 Wood pellet furnace
(right) combined with wood log
briquette boiler
the pellet burner can be put
into operation automatically
with an electric hot air
ignition system.
if wood logs are used, they will be ignited by the flame of the wood pellet
burner. Depending on the heat demand fraction covered by the wood logs, the
wood pellet burner adjusts its load automatically. After the wood logs have
been burned, the heat demand will be covered by the wood pellet burner only.
So the operator of the furnace can feed the stove with wood logs only whenever he
is motivated to do so or if wood pellets are not available or have become too
expensive. The wood pellet burner in this model can also be switched to a special
discontinuous partial load operation mode for heating water during the summer.
3.1.5. Medium scale heat and power production
Power production from biomass generally will only be economical in large-scale
combustion systems, e.g. in the power range above 10MW
(see Chapter 4).
However, in special cases, combined heat and power (CHP) production may also
be advantageous in medium scale systems. Thus the power range in this chapter is
extended to medium scale systems, e.g. up to approx. 10MW fuel power. From a
technical viewpoint, steam technologies (steam engines and steam turbines) can in
principle be used for medium scale CHP production. Plants ranging between
lOOkW and 10MW are installed and successfully operated. However, special
developments for biomass CHP systems have also been started in recent years - the
so-called "hot-air turbine"
process is under development
and may be applicable in the
future. Via a gasification
process gas engines may also
be used (see Chapter 5). In the
lower power range, e.g. 50 -
, Stirling engines will
be of practical relevance for
CHP production in biomass
furnaces. The advantage of
both the hot-air turbine and the
Stirling engine is that they may
be operated with hot unfiltered
combustion gas from a
standard biomass furnace thus
avoiding expensive steam
technology and operational
requirements associated with
this technology. Both systems
have a relatively low electric
efficiency (in the range of 5 -
15%). But this is no major
disadvantage since the flue gas
energy leaving the power unit
is used for heating.
The key component of the
"hot-air" or "indirect fired" gas
turbine is a high temperature
heat exchanger transferring the
energy from the combustion
gas of the biomass furnace (or
biomass gasifier) to the
compressed air of the
turbocharger-like turbine
system (Figure 3.13). The
power produced in the turbine
is partly used to generate
electricity and partly to operate
the air compressor. Prototypes
for a power range between
and 1.5MW
are under
Figure 3.13 Prototype biomass fuelled
hot air turbine
Figure 3.14 Prototype biomass fuelled
Stirling engine - 4kW mechanical
In the last 10 years efforts to develop a Stirling engine for CHP production with
biomass have been undertaken and some prototypes in the subject power range are
available (Figure 3.14).
In these developments the heat transfer from the biomass flue gas through the heat
exchanger has appeared as the main problem, not the engine itself. Thus heat
transfer accounting for pressure losses (inside of the heat transfer pipes) and fouling
of the heat exchanger by condensing particulates (outside of the heat transfer pipes)
is the main area requiring improvement.
3.2. Technical barriers
3.2.1 Fuel related technical barriers
Transportation and feeding
The energy content of wood chips related to the volume is in the range of 3.000 to
4.500 MJ/m'. Thus compared to fuel oil with the specific energy content of 35.700
MJ/nr almost ten times the volume has to be transported. This of course leads to
very high transportation costs, which increase the price of the fuel on the market.
Feeding manipulation requirements are high with wood logs, because no automatic
feeding system for wood logs is available. Manipulation is much easier when using
wood chips. Screw conveyors, as well as side rods can be used for automatic
transportation. As mentioned in chapter 3.1.1 furnaces operated with wood pellets
require less manipulation effort since wood pellets can be transported in special
tank lorries and fed into the furnace by pneumatic systems and screw conveyors.
Due to the low specific energy content of wood, the required storage volume
capacity for wood fuels is much higher than for oil. A typical one-family house in
central Europe for example may have an energy demand of 125 GJ corresponding
to 3.5m
oil per year. The equivalent volume of wood chips is 30 to 40m
A further problem with storing biomass is that it has to be dried before it may be
stored in a silo. Wet wood, especially wet wood chips, can be-come moldy, which
can lead to health problems. Also aerobic decay may occur resulting in a loss of
energy. Thus wood chip stores often are de-signed as roofed open places allowing
drying during storage.
Variable properties of biomass fuels
Variable properties of biomass fuels (water content, particle size, etc.) can be a
significant technical barrier especially in automatic combustion plants. The feeding
system must be designed for certain fuel specifications. Deviations from these
specifications cause operational problems. Some combustion systems can only be
operated in a very small range of fuel properties (e.g. understoker furnaces with
respect to the water content).
The size of wood chips can vary, depending on the chipping technology. In small
scale wood chip furnaces normally wood chips of more uniform quality are used.
Wood chips from industrial wood residues, which often contain bigger pieces or
even metal parts should be used in large-scale wood chip furnaces only, which
normally have adequate screening systems.
Varying fuel properties can also lead to control problems. The combustion air
demand of wet wood for example is significantly higher than the combustion air
demand of dry wood. Advanced control systems are able to adapt the combustion
airflow rate adequately. But they are not available in all furnaces and therefore
efforts should be undertaken to assure homogeneous fuel quality.
A special problem related to the quality of wood pellets was observed: During
transportation a certain fraction of the pellets can disintegrate into wood
particulates which have different combustion properties influencing the combustion
Safety of fuel storage
In case of fuel storage beside a furnace, fire safety has to be assured. This
especially concerns automatic wood chip or wood pellet furnaces which are directly
connected to the storage by the feeding system. To prevent back burning star
feeders outside of the combustion chamber have to be installed. Additionally,
temperature activated sprinkler systems have to be installed.
When storing very fine wood particles (shavings, sawdust) a certain danger of dust
explosion exists, even without a nearby installed combustion plant as a possible
ignition source.
3.2.2 Ash related technical barriers
Ash removal
For cost reasons small-scale biomass furnaces are usually not equipped with
automatic ash removal systems. Therefore the operator has to remove the ash
When complete combustion of the fuel is achieved, the ash mass is less than 2% of
the fuel mass. The volumetric weight of ash is in the range of 0.08 kg/dm
. With a
heating value of the fuel in the range of 15.000 kJ/kg, 5.8 kg/d of fuel is needed per
kW of power. Under these conditions 0.115 kg/d/kW or 1.4 dm
/d/kW of ash are
to be expected. But a certain amount of ash is normally removed from the flue gas
in the form of particulates, so the ash volume is lower than the value calculated
above. However, regular manual ash removal is necessary. Furthermore manual
ash removal always leads to a certain pollution in the vicinity of the furnace and in
the case of installation of a furnace in a living room, this can be seen as a problem.
In small scale wood log furnaces slagging normally does not occur, be-cause the
combustion temperatures do not reach the ash melting point. But in wood chip
furnaces and even more so in wood pellet furnaces, the combustion temperatures
can become high enough to produce slag.
In principle, slag problems can be decreased by reducing the temperature in the
glow bed through controlling the primary air inlet flow to a value not higher than
absolutely necessary for gasification of the fuel. Combustion of the gaseous
components should be achieved by secondary air entering the combustion chamber
above the glow bed. This measure also leads to low NO
emissions as described in
Chapter 3.3.1. However, it requires a control system for the control of the
glowbed height to guarantee the desired heat power under different combustion
Disposal of ash
In small-scale biomass combustion ash usually is not seen as a problem with respect
to contamination with harmful substances (heavy metals etc.). Therefore ash from
small-scale furnaces is normally disposed ofin a garden, in an agricultural field or in
the public waste. Thus, in agricultural regions no problems are to be expected at
all. In urban regions, problems may be caused by limited volume of the dustbins,
disposal costs, etc.
3.2.3 Emission related technical barriers
In some European countries small-scale biomass furnaces have to meet emission
limits (CO, C
, NO
and particulates) which have to be demonstrated in a
certification test. Due to these limits manufacturers are forced to optimize their
products and even to develop new emission reducing technologies. These
technologies mainly concern the installation of advanced combustion control
systems (down-scaled from large-scale combustion technology) and filters (see
Chapter 3.3.1).
3.3 Environmental issues
3.3.1 Emissions in the flue gas
The emissions from biomass combustion, in general, are -
carbon monoxide (CO)
hydrocarbons (CxHy), including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, (PAH) and
nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulates.
CO and CxHy are products of incomplete combustion which can be minimized by
special combustion chamber design and advanced combustion control. In this area
progress has been achieved in recent years in medium and large-scale furnaces.
Avoiding emission peaks caused by combustion fluctuation is the goal of the
installation of control systems which are working on the measurement of the
concentration of CO or other burnable flue gas components. With such control
systems CO emissions can by decreased to a level lower than 10mg/Nm
3.2mg/MJ) and CxHy emissions can be decreased to a level lower than 2mg/Nm
0.64mg/MJ) even in partial load and discontinuous operating conditions. Thus
variable load operation is possible in a wide range (down to 10% of fll load).
Using a grate with very small openings (e. g. drilled chamotte plates) the retention
time of the fuel particles in the combustion zone can be increased substantially.
This ensures full combustion in the solid phase with low emissions of unburned fuel
particles and high combustion efficiency.
Measures for reducing NOx have also been developed and successfully tested, e.g.
through primary air control. Decreasing the primary air input leads to increased
height of the glow bed up to a new balance level. It has been observed that the
resulting bigger glow bed volume (which means a bigger zone with under-
stochiometric combustion conditions) can significantly decrease the emissions of
NOx. Specific control systems allow the glowbed volume to be held as high as
possible and therefore ensure very low NOx emissions in all combustion conditions
(down to 50% of the previous level). Such measures are being developed for
medium and large-scale furnaces in a JOULE project. However further research
and development efforts are necessary for the application of these results to small-
scale furnaces.
NOx emissions also strongly depend on the nitrogen content of the fuel, whereby
chipboard residues (chipboard pieces, chipboard chips, and chipboard sawdust) are
the most problematic materials. NOx emissions when using natural wood as fuel
are much lower (in the range of less than 100mg/Nm
resp. 30mg/MJ) than in
industrial biomass plants using fuel with high nitrogen content (in the range of up to
more than 400mg/Nm' resp. 130mg/MJ). However, since typical fuels for small
scale furnaces, wood briquettes and wood pellets, can be produced from nitrogen
containing wood residues, the development of nitrogen reducing techniques to be
used economically for small scale furnaces should have high priority.
Particulates of small-scale biomass furnaces can be avoided to a certain extent by
advanced combustion chamber design. Secondary measures like filters may be
necessary to meet emission limits (typically below I50mg/ Nm
resp. 47mg/MJ) but
they are not usually installed due to their high costs.
As described above most of the emission problems have been solved for medium
and large scale biomass furnaces. In these furnaces the following emission values
can be reached with advanced control systems:
Carbon monoxide: Less than 16mg/MJ
Hydrocarbons: Less than 1.6mg/MJ
Nitrogen oxides: Less than 64mg/MJ
Particulates: Less than 16mg/MJ
However further research and development efforts are necessary for the application
of these results to small-scale furnaces.
3.3.2 Harmful substances in ash and particulates
Harmful substances in ash and particulates can be:
heavy metals and
carcinogenic organic substances.
The amount of heavy metals in the ash of course depends on the amount of heavy
metals in the fuel which again depends on the regional heavy metal impact in the
area of fuel production. Wood chips produced from plants grown along highways
for example can be contaminated significantly with heavy metals.
Investigations on medium and large-scale biomass furnaces have shown that it is
possible to retain particles in the furnace by specific combustion chamber design.
Thus it is possible to collect a considerable amount of heavy metals in the ash. The
contaminated ash of course has to be disposed of correctly as special waste.
Organic substances resulting from incomplete combustion, like PAH, may be
attached to ash particles. To the extent complete combustion is achieved, this does
not represent a problem.
3.4 Economie aspects
In this chapter the costs of heat production from biomass in small-scale furnaces are
analysed based on the cost components (investment, fuel and maintenance) and
compared to the cost of heat from oil-fired and gas-fired boilers. All cost figures
refer to consumer prices including tax.
3.4.1 Cost components
Investment costs
As described in
Chapter 3.1 a large
variety of systems
are available for
small-scale biomass
Consequently the
investment costs also
show a large
An overview of
investment costs of
small-scale biomass
furnaces is given in
Table 3.1.
Wood log Mid wood briquettes furnaces
- Wood fire places (3 - 5 kW)
- Stoves (3 - 8 kW)
- Chemines ( 3 - 8 kW) 1)
. Woodl ogboi l ers(15kW)
- Ti l c dSt ove s ( 3- 8kW) 1)
Wood chip furnaces
- 15 kW
. 30 kW
- 60 kW
100 kW
Wood pellet furnaces
- Furnaces for wood pellets only
1 5 kW
2 5 kW
3 5 kW
4 5 kW
- Furnaces for combined use of
wood pellets and wood logs
1 5 kW
25 kW
3 5 kW
4 5 kW
- Oil furnaces
- Gas furnaces
Investment costs (ECU. April 1998)
Low levd
High level
Storage tank
Low level
High level
" A large variation of investment costs is possible depending 01
the design.
Table 3.1 Investment
biomass furnaces
costs of small-scale
Fuel costs
As described in Chapter 3.1 many different fuels are used in small-scale biomass
combustion. Depending on the degree of mechanisation and on the cost of the
equipment for fuel production the fuel costs show a large variation. An overview
of wood fuel costs is given in Table 3.2. These costs are based on an annual fuel
demand of about 10 - 50m
Wood logs (Beech), commercial price 2)
Wood logs (Beech), reduced price 3)
Wood briquettes
Wood chips
Wood pellets
Fuel oil
Natural gas
Current average consumer price
ECU/m3 loose
(April 1998)
ECU/kWh 1)
" Specific primary energy costs.
Commercial market price of chopped and dried wood logs (1/3 m) including delivery
"Private" market price of wood logs in rural areas without delivery.
Table 3.2 Fuel costs for small-scale biomass furnaces
Maintenance costs
Maintenance costs
include the
mandatory cleaning
of the chimney and
the service and
repair requirements
in the case of
automatic furnaces.
An overview of
maintenance costs
is given in Table
Table 3.3
Maintenance costs
of small scale
biomass furnaces
Manually fueled furnaces
- Wood lire places (3 - S kW)
- Stoves (3 - 8 kW)
- Chemines ( 3 - 8 kW)
- Wood log boilers (15 kW)
- Tiled Sloves ( 3 - 8 kW)
Wood chip furnaces
- 15 kW
- 30 kW
- 60 kW
- 100 kW
Wood pellet furnaces
- Furnaces for wood pcllcls only
15 kW
2 5 kW
3 5 kW
4 5 kW
- Furnaces for combined use of
wood pellets and wood logs/briquetU
15 kW
2 5 kW
3 5 kW
45 kW
- Oil furnaces
- Gas furnaces
Maintenance costs (ECU/a)
Chimney cleaning
Service and repair
3.4.2 Specific heat production costs
Using the investment, fuel and maintenance costs given in the previous chapter, the
specific energy costs may be calculated for a depreciation period of the investment
costs of 15 years and a bank rate of 8% ("full cost calculation"). Table 3.4 shows
the results.
Manually fueled furnace
- Wood fire places
- Stoves
- Chemines
- Wood log boilers
- Tiled Stoves
Wood chip furnaces
- 15 kW
- 30 kW
- 60 kW
- 100 kW
Wood pellet furnaces
- Furnaces for
wood pellets only
* 15 kW
- Furnaces for
combined use of
wood pellets
and wood logs/briquetts
* 15 kW
- Oil furnaces
- Gas furnaces
Heat production costs with different fuels (ECU/kWh)
Wood logs
normal price
0,171 -0,197
0,148 - 0,182
0,088 - 0,093
0,170- 0,352
0,128 - 0,149
0,114 -0,126
red. price
0,132- 0,158
0,104- 0,130
0,122- 0,156
0,148- 0,330
0,108- 0,128
0,093 - 0,105
0.085 - 0,096
0,086 - 0,096
0,132- 0,158
0,104- 0,130
0,122- 0,156
0,148 - 0,330
0,107 - 0,128
0,092 - 0,105
0,085 - 0,096
0,085 - 0,095
0,100- 0,126
0,083 - 0,109
0,101 - 0,135
0,047 - 0,052
0,130- 0,312
0,091 - 0,109
0,070 - 0,107
0,056 - 0,072
0,052 - 0,057
0,161 - 0,187
0,123 - 0,149
0,141 - 0,175
0,082 - 0,087
0,164 - 0,346
0,123 -0,141
0,103 - 0,139
0,088 - 0,104
0,084 - 0,090
0,114 - 0,127
0,099 - 0,106
0,123 - 0,143
0,108- 0,121
0,101 - 0,111
0,090 - 0,095
0,087 - 0,089
Shaded numbers: biomass furnaces competitive with oil and gas furnaces
Table 3.4 Specific energy costs of small-scale biomass furnaces
From these figures it may be concluded, that in a full cost calculation heat from
biomass is competitive with oil-fired and gas-fired boilers only in the case of wood
log boilers and wood chip furnaces in the power range above 30 kW fossil fuel
systems in a few cases only. However, most of the small-scale biomass furnaces
are operated by persons who do not make full cost calculations, i.e., do not
consider capital costs of the investment. They typically invest their own labour to
produce fuel at lower cost compared to the figures in Table 3.2. Thus the relatively
large share of biomass used for heating in small-scale furnaces in some European
countries may be explained.
3.5 European Commission projects achievements
Within the 4th Framework Programme the European Commission supports work
leading to improvements in biomass combustion. While most of them are not
focussed on systems in the small-scale power range, many of the results expected
or already achieved are applicable to these systems. However, to fully utilize these
results it will be necessary to define specific follow-up projects aimed at the power
range below 100 kW. A description of the content, the objectives, and the
achievements of relevant projects follows.
Combustion optimisation in grate furnaces
Some projects have the challenging aim to improve the combustion behavior of
small and medium-scale wood combustion systems such as stoves and boilers in a
range from 6 kW up to 500 kW in order to:
reduce products of incomplete combustion such as CO, CxHy and particulates,
increase the thermal efficiency,
define guidelines for low emissions for small scale stoves and boilers firing
untreated wood,
develop and manufacture these low emission combustion units, and
develop catalytic flue gas cleaning systems of a type suitable for domestic
heating appliances.
The projects are focused on the combustion of untreated wood fuels in systems
operating with batch-wise and quasi-continuous feeding. The results will be the
basis for guidelines which will be worked out for low-emission wood-fired stoves
and boilers for prototypes manufactured within the project.
The development of wood chip grate furnaces with NO* emissions that are
substantially lower than the emissions of current state-of-the-art designs is the aim
of another JOULE project. The work program contains fundamental research to
develop methods to minimize NO
emission, investigation of measures to reduce
emission by experiments on test furnaces, and prototype experiments to realize
and to test the developed methods in practical operation. The project will develop
and use mathematical models supported by appropriate laboratory experiments to
identify influences on NO
formation mechanisms. The work is split into activities
concerning the development of primary and secondary NO
reducing measures.
The primary measures aim at minimizing the NO
emissions by fuel and combustion
air control. The secondary measures to be investigated are the selective catalytic
reduction process (SCR), and the selective noncatalytic reduction process
(SNCR). To carry out prototype experiments pilot plants of LowNO
will be built and tested.
The results of the project will consist of methods and measures to reduce NO
emissions from wood chip grate furnaces which have been developed and tested in
laboratory and prototype furnaces. The results will be directly applicable to the
design of improved wood chip furnaces. The increased competitiveness of low
furnaces will be a strong incentive for the practical application of the results.
The project will be completed in April 1999. Preliminary results have shown a
possible NO
reduction of more than 50 %.
Combustion optimisation in fiuidised bed furnaces
The development of an optimized fluidized bed furnace is the objective of another
JOULE project. NO
and CO emissions are to be minimized in a new fluidized bed
combustor which is already being commercialized in a first version in the domestic
and industrial sectors, up to 2000kWu,.
In the first stage, and in order to obtain a knowledge of the physical and chemical
phenomena occurring in the combustor, a computer model of the combustion
process will be developed. The model will include a submodel to simulate the fluid
dynamics and thermodynamics of the combustor, as well as a submodel for the
kinetics and chemistry of the process. In addition, a computer program to predict
formation in the combustor will also be developed and installed in both sub
models. Once developed, the whole modeling system will be run under different
process conditions and will be validated, and eventually improved, by comparing
the predicted combustion results with those obtained in the experimental tests of a
cold laboratory model and two combustore of lOkWu, and 500kWu, operated
under similar process conditions. The validated model will be utilized as a tool to
define the appropriate combustor design modifications to achieve the primary
objective of emissions reduction.
In the second stage a 160kWm combustor incorporating the defined design
modifications will be constructed and operated with biomass of different
characteristics in terms of water content, heating value, density etc, under real
operating conditions to supply heat to a building. The performance of the new
combustor will be compared, both in efficiency and emission levels, with that of a
120kWih boiler of first generation already commercially operated for domestic
The experimental setup will help to determine the efficiency of the new prototype
with different biomass fuels and conclude whether the expected emission levels
have been achieved. It is expected to reduce the CO and NO
emission levels of the
present combustion equipment by at least 30% and to achieve combustion
efficiencies of about 90% with a large variety of granular biomass, also including
those of high water content. The results of the research will be directly utilized to
develop a second generation of improved combustors.
Heat and power generation using an indirectly fired gas turbine
One FAIR project aims at the development of a new heat and power generation
plant in the range below 500kW
using a turbo charger unit indirectly fired by
combustion gases ("hot-air turbine"). A two-stage combustor and a high
temperature gas-to-gas heat exchanger were developed and specified. Research
activities were directed towards the development and design of the heat exchanger
since problems occurring in directly fired gas turbine cycles are transferred to
fouling and corrosion problems in the heat exchanger. Therefore a detailed review
was made on corrosion aspects of materials exposed to flue gas from biomass
combustion. Based on this analysis five different heat exchanger materials were
selected and tested in the laboratory: - three of them passed the tests successfully.
Furthermore an optimal control strategy for the total system has been designed
resulting in stable power production keeping voltage and frequency within the
limits allowed for the grid.
The aim of another combined heat and power JOULE project was to establish a
complete biomass fired co-generation plant (2MW
), which can be used for
decentralised heat and power production. An electrical efficiency larger than 30%
should have been reached by using an innovative 3-stage indirectly fired hot air
process, however, due to several technical problems, the project could not be
finished successfully.
A third THERMIE project demonstrates a combined heat and power plant, based
on a "hot air turbine" (500kW
) fuelled by product gas from a biomass fluidized
bed gasifier. The fluidized bed gasifier is designed for sawdust. Some natural gas
topping combustion will be included to overcome the temperature limit of the
metallic heater which is about 850C. Water injection in the air heater is included to
enhance power output and to allow flexible power to heat ratios. Target maximum
performances for the demonstration plant are 70% total and 24% electrical
efficiency. When injecting water, peak electrical efficiencies approaching 30% have
been observed.
Heat and power generation using a biomass gasifier with a gas Otto engine
A demonstration plant of a biomass gasifier equipped with a 200kW
gas Otto
engine has been realized in a further FAIR project. The gasifier has operated up to
now for several days and further test runs will be carried out with different kinds of
biomass. The plant is designed to use all sizes of biomass particles below 40 mm
with variable water content.
3.6. Future prospects
3.6.1 Future R&D requirements within the scope of the 5' FP
Based on the problems mentioned in the previous chapters, future R&D
requirements in the field of small-scale biomass combustion are as follows:
Advanced combustion air control systems, developed and success-fully used
for medium and large scale biomass furnaces, should be down-scaled and
optimised, for use with small scale furnaces with respect to reduction of costs.
Nitrogen oxide reducing measures, developed and successfully used for
medium and large scale biomass furnaces, should be down-scaled and
optimised for small scale furnaces with respect to reduction of costs.
Low cost particulate filters for small-scale biomass furnaces should be
Specifications of standard fuels for small-scale biomass combustion should be
developed as a basis for new high quality bio-fuels for small-scale furnaces.
3.6.2 Future requirements within the scope of a liberalised energy market
As a general consequence of the liberalization of the energy market it is to be
expected that consumer prices of the traditional energy carriers ("conventional"
electricity, natural gas, fuel oil) will decrease. After all, this was the intention of the
process. Thus it is obvious that the gap between the cost of "consumer generated"
renewable energy and traditional energy will in-crease. Therefore, in order to
support the goal set by the "White Book on Renewable Energy", namely to double
the current share of renewables in the European Union, R&D efforts directed
towards decreasing the cost of renewable energy sources have to be increased.
Regarding small-scale biomass combustion the direct consequences of a liberalized
energy market may be as follows:
The liberalization introduced in the European electricity market is expected to lead
to lower prices for industrial customers. There is some expectation that the price
for private consumers will not decrease since they will not be able to take
advantage of the new opportunities. Prices for private users might even increase
since some utility companies might be forced to raise the price for private
customers to compensate for possible losses in the industrial sector. Thus
increased competition from electric energy is not to be expected for small-scale
biomass furnaces.
A liberalized market for natural gas is currently in discussion within the European
Commission. The consequences will probably be similar to what is expected for the
electricity market.
4.1 State of the art
4.1.1 Fuel specifications for large scale boilers
Biomass resources can be grouped into various categories such as:
Wood residues (wood chips, forest residues, bark, black liquor)
Urban wood waste/demolition wood
Agricultural residues (from crops, food processing and animals)
Dedicated energy crops (Short Rotation Coppice-SRC)
Large volumes of wood residues are generated annually by the forest management
and wood product industry including paper mills, sawmills and furniture
manufacturing. This industry currently uses much of its own residue, but still there
is a substantial amount available on the free market. Urban wood waste and
demolition wood include such materials as tree trimmings, wood packing, waste
wood from construction and demolition. Agricultural residue is another important
biomass resource and straw in particular is a major contributor to biomass
combustion in larger plants. Dedicated energy crops are the future largest source
of biomass energy including both short-rotation woody crops and herbaceous
Table 4.1 gives an overview of composition properties of the most important
biomass resources of interest in large-scale combustion systems. From Table 4.1 it
can be seen that the proximate analysis varies a lot for the different biomass
resources. The moisture content varies from 20% on average for demolition wood
to 60% for grass. In addition there can be a great seasonal and geographical
variation for all resources. As can be seen, the ash content also varies by a factor
of 10. The higher heating value also varies by 25 to 30% between the different
resources. The variation in the three major chemical components in the ultimate
analysis (Carbon, Oxygen and Hydrogen) is in the order of 10% only, but the
variation in nitrogen content can be more than a factor of 10, sulphur by a factor of
approximately 30 and chlorine by a factor of up to 50.
These great variations in moisture content, ash and chemical composition,
especially nitrogen, sulphur and chlorine, give rise to large variations in combustion
behaviour and pollutant emissions from combustion systems. This must be
carefully considered in the design and operation of the furnaces and boilers in
addition to the implementation of proper cleaning systems for a particular plant.
Wood and wood residues
4 4 3
Bark from
Agricultural residues
Straw Grass
from wheat Reed canary
55 60
4.71 B.B5
17.59 17.65
18.94 18.37
17.65 17.13
496 49.4
6.16 6.25
43.5 42.7
0.61 1.54
0.07 0.15
0.18 0.07
Energy crops
wt% of wet fuel
wt% of dry fuel
wt% (daf)
Table 4.1 Proximate and ultimate analysis of typical biomass fuels for large-scale
applications [1,2].
Viewing the chemical composition of biomass compared to other solid fuels in a
Van Krevelen diagram, the biomass fuels are high in the O/C - and H/C - ratios
compared to peat and coals (Figure 4.1). These high ratios are responsible for the
biomass fuels being more volatile than coals and peat, and high O/C - ratios give
lower heating values for the biomass fuels.
0.4 0.6
Atomic O : C Ratio
Figure 4.1 Van Krevelen diagram for various solid fuels [3],
Table 4.2 gives an overview of the properties of biomass ashes with special
emphasis on erosion and corrosion potential of these ashes. Fuels having the ratio
(Na2 + K2OVSO2 above 2 require special precautions to avoid fouling problems.
If the ratio is below 0.2, then precautions must be taken to avoid erosion which can
occur from the high silica content. The range in ash content and composition for
bituminous coal is also given in the table for comparison. When co-firing,
differences in the slagging and fouling characteristics for the blend of biomass and
coal must be considered in addition to the composition of the ash for use as a by-
product in concrete applications.
Potential erosion
Rice husk
Bagasse, Hawaii
Construction wood
Wheat straw
Rice straw
Pine bark
Demolition wood
Whole tree average
Western hog fuel
Softwood bark
Jack pine
Eastern hemlock
Almond shells
Oat straw
Tree prinsings
Walnut shells
Potential fouling
Cotton stalks
Hardwood bark
Sunflower seed husks
Cotton gin trash
Annual ryegrass
Bituminous coal
Ti 0
15.30 3.50
12.55 1.35 0.59
6.03 0.88
8.87 3.03
6.06 5.52 0.25
2.31 0.01
6.30 0.20
Si 0
Ratio '
Fuel types of a ratio [(Na>0 + KO)/SiO.>] above 2 require special precautions to avoid fouling problems.
If the ratio is below 0.2, the erosion may occur unless precautions are taken.
Insufficient information to calculate the ratio.
Table 4.2 Biomass ash characteristics [4].
Biomass resources have normally high bulk volumes compared to oil and coal
which limit the transport distances for these fuels. Table 4.3 gives an overview of
bulk volumes and bulk densities for various biomass re-sources. The table shows
that there is even a large variation between the various biomass resources as well,
up to a factor of 50. Based on biomass properties like particle size, moisture
content and bulk volumes, various feeding systems can be used. Different
combustion technologies can, to various degrees, handle the high moisture content
and be flexible regarding particle size. Typically, feeding systems include conveyor
belts, drag chain conveyor, hydraulic pistons, screw feeders and sluice feeders.
Bulk volume Bulk density
Aon daf) (kg/m
Hardwood chips
Softwood chips
Planer shavings
Straw and storer
Orchard prunings - hammermilled
Table 4.3 Bulk volumes and densities of various biomass fuels [4].
4.1.2 Combustion and boiler technology
Combustion process
The main functions of a biomass combustion system and the respective
requirements can be summarised as follow [5]:
Complete combustion of the carbon -> Appropriate design of the combustion
chamber, correct mixing of air and combustible gases, stable operation of the
furnace and boiler at optimum excess air, accurate combustion control system.
Reduction of emissions -> Design to reduce the raw gas particle content and
appropriate particle cleaning systems, primary or secondary measures to reduce
-emissions, lime addition to reduce sulphur emissions for high sulphur
Separation of ash and gases -> i.e. effective ash removal on moving grate
systems and low furnace exit gas temperatures for burning high alkali fuels.
Energy recovery -> Innovative systems to increase steam conditions
(temperature and pressure), flue gas condensation for bio-fuels with high water
content in medium scale applications.
Heating biomass fuels to temperatures above 300C the solid material containing
mainly cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, starts to decompose into volatile
components (CO, H
, CH
and others), char and remaining ash. At 500C about
85% by weight of the wood material is normally converted into gaseous
There is only a small variation in the decomposition temperature between the
various types of biomass [6]. However, the ash content and the ash characteristics
(ash softening and melting temperature and sintering) of different biomass
resources vary widely. The grate, the ash removal system and the boiler must,
therefore, be carefully designed for the type of bio-fuel used. Wood combustion
can be described as a two-stage process:
Devolatilisation of the solid substance
Oxidation of the gases and charcoal.
These processes can occur sequentially or in parallel depending on conditions such
as fuel particle size, excess air ratio and temperature. Normally, the charcoal
oxidation process (heterogeneous oxidation) is much slower than the volatile
combustion. But since biomass contains much more volatiles than char, in contrast
to coal, the volatile combustion phase lasts longer for the biomass fuel particle than
for the coal particle.
A principle diagram for coal and biomass combustion is shown in Figure 4.2.
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
tirre (%)
Cal 1 OTrTnxiraim I
Bomass - I Darilfcticn CharoodcDdctafcn
Figure 4.2: Combustion of biomass and coal particles.
It is more common in new low-NO
biomass fuel combustion systems to reduce
emissions of nitric oxides by primary measures, by arranging the combustion
process as a staged air process with decreased excess air level in the first stage
followed by one or more air staging levels.
If the primary air level is reduced significantly the first stage can be
understoichiometric combustion as shown in Figure 4 3.
Other Biomass (Straw etc.):
Contaminated Biomass:
Primary air (| < 1) >
Combustible gases:
Secondary air (
> 1) >
Flue gas Wood:
Flue gas other Biomass:
Flue gas cont. Biomass:
N, CI, S
, Cl, S, Pb, Zn, Cd
1" stage, understoichiometric
, CR,, NH, HCN,
NO etc.
stage, oxidation
, H
0, NO
, H
0, NO, HCl, S0
CO2, H
0, NO Pb, Zn,
Figure 4.3 Combustion with staged air for low NO, applications [7].
This will further increase the time for the devolatilisation process previously shown
in Figure 4.2, but by arranging the combustion process in this way a low NO
concept can be achieved. The unburnt combustible gases can be oxidized
effectively if the combustion air, especially if the secondary air is mixed properly
with them and the burnout takes place in a hot combustion chamber. Furthermore,
it is very important that the fuel/air ratio is optimised. The optimum excess air ratio
is necessary to guarantee:
a high combustion temperature (excess air as low as possible) and
complete combustion (excess air ratio> 1, usually less than 1.5).
Combustion technology
A qualitative analysis has been made of existing furnaces and boiler technologies
used to burn biomass fuels [8]. The various technologies investigated were pile
burners, gratefired boilers, suspensionfired boilers and fluidized bed boilers.
Table 4.4 gives the results of the qualitative analysis. The criteria used have been
formulated in a positive way so that a plus sign means a positive score on one of
the criteria used [8]. In general, from left to right the technologies become more
modern, but operating experience decreases.
Operation-related criteria
Combustion control
Load response
Operating experience
Fuel-releated criteria
Fuel moisture flexibility
Fuel size flexibility
Fuel fouling resistance
Explosion safety
Efficiency-related criteria
Carbon burnout efficiency
Modest excess air requirements
Modest fan capacity requirements
Emission related criteria
Limitation of thermal formation
Acid aas absorolion
ile bum er
stationarv travetlina
++ ++
+ +
+ +
0 0
vi b rat in a
Suspension fired
Fiuidised bed
bubblina circulalina
0 0
+ +
++ +
+ ++
+ +
++ ++
+ ++
Blank cells in the table means that on the basis of the available information no conclusions could be draw on the
considered criterion for that specific technology
Table 4.4 Qualitative analysis of combustion technologies [8],
The oldest technology called "pile burner" consists of piles in a furnace where the
biomass fuel is dumped and into which combustion air flows both from below and
above. The advantages of this technology are the fuel flexibility and the simple
design. Important disadvantages are the generally low boiler efficiency and poor
combustion control.
Different types of grate systems have been developed for other solid fuels such as
coal and municipal solid waste (MSW). Some of these systems are modified for
biomass fuels. Traditionally we can distinguish between stationary sloping grates,
travelling grates and vibrating grates. The stationary sloping grates do not move
and the fuel burns as it slides down the slope. Disadvantages of this type of grate
are the difficulties in controlling the combustion process and the risk of avalanching
the fuel [8].
In a travelling grate the fuel is fed in at one side of the grate and has to be burned
before it reaches the opposite side where the ash leaves. The layer of fuel is thinner
giving higher carbon burnout efficiencies than with stationary sloping-grates.
Combustion control is also improved. The aim of the grate is to guarantee a fuel
bed with a constant thickness and pressure drop. At the same time the transport of
the fuel bed and the removal of the ash at the end of the grate must be guaranteed.
One of the main disadvantages of travelling grates is the instability of the air
distribution across the fuel bed due to changes of the fuel bed by the movement of
the grate. Sometimes the main part of the primary air passes through a few holes in
the fuel bed and this effect may cause slagging - improved combustion with low
excess air levels becomes thus difficult. Furthermore, part load operation is
difficult to achieve for both stationary and travelling grates.
To burn fuels with high water content (50 to 60% moisture) counter-current flow
on the grate is necessary, where the volatile flame is used to achieve a pre-drying of
the wet fuel on the first part of the grate.
In vibrating grates, the grate makes a shaking movement and the fuel is spread
evenly across the whole grate and the carbon burnout efficiency is even further
improved. In addition some of these grates can be water-cooled which makes it
possible to burn fuels with low ash content without damaging the grate from the
radiating volatile flame. In addition, it is possible to increase the amount of overfire
air and decrease thermal NO, formation. A vibrating grate is shown in Figure 4.4.
Figure 4.4 Vibrating grate and boiler
For bio-fuels with high ash content mainly moving/vibrating grate systems can be
used. If dry wood residues are burnt on travelling grates co-current furnaces can
be used. However, it is important to have good mixing between combustible gases
and secondary and tertiary air to enable combustion with low excess air without
increasing the CO - level.
Suspension-fired boilers burn small particles and the technology is comparable with
pulverized coal (pc) combustion. Pc-systems have been the standard combustion
system in large-scale coal combustion for many years because of their high
efficiency and ability to burn fines. The advantage of these systems is operation at
low excess air with high boiler efficiency by using accurate combustion temperature
control systems gained from coal combustion. The disadvantage is the requirement
for fuel pre-treatment especially the particle grind size comparable with pc-
combustion. Suspension fired combustion can be seen in Figure 4.5.
Steam drum
Front wall
To chimnev
Pulverized fuel and
primary air from ball mill
Rear wail
Water tubes
lining furnace
side walls
Figure 4.5 Suspension fired combustion
In fluidized-bed systems the combustion bed consists of sand which is kept
suspended by the high underfire air velocities. The bed material and the fuel are
mixed in a highly turbulent suspension. Both bubbling fluidized bed (BFB) and
circulating fluidized bed (CFB) types are suitable for combustion of biomass fuels.
The sand particle size is about 1 mm and the height of the bed is approximately 1
m. The temperature in the bed can vary from 850C to 900C. Primary air is
blown through small nozzles in an air distributor plate and the fluidizing velocity
varies from 1 m/s to 2.5m/s. The BFB system, as can be seen in Figure 4.6, is a
multi-fuel combustion system suitable for reactive fuels like wood, bark and other
bio-fuels. This system is quite flexible regarding fuel size and moisture content.
Less reactive fuels can also be combusted to some extent and co-fired with reactive
fuels to avoid unburnt carbon loss. Advantages of fluidized-bed systems are further
low- emissions because of low combustion temperatures and in-situ sulphur
capture, the latter is of particular importance in co-firing. Heat exchanger surfaces
are not to be located in the bed section due to erosion of the tubes. In Finland
approximately 30 BFBC systems are installed and the largest boiler is 300 MW [9].
Figure 4.6 Bubbling fiuidised bed [ 10]
Increasing the fluidizing velocity up to approx. 6 m/s and using somewhat smaller
sand particles, the sand will be transported with the flue gas, separated in a cyclone
and fed back to the bed, thus creating a CFB system. The flow in a CFB is more
turbulent with better mixing and heating surfaces can be placed in the upper part of
the furnace or in a separate fluidized bed located below the cyclone. The advantage
of the CFB compared to BFB is longer residence time, so less reactive fuels can be
burnt and the system is more efficient for desulphurisation. The disadvantage is the
larger size and therefore higher investment costs. In addition, smaller fuel particles
can be used, often causing more investment in fuel pretreatment. The CFB system
is shown in Figure 4.7.
, ^ ^
Figure 4.7 Circulating fiuidised bed [10]
Another combustion technology called "Whole Tree Energy (WTE)" is under
development in the USA for application to large-scale energy crop production and
power generation at capacities above 100MW
. Whole trees are harvested,
transported by truck to the power plant and dried by low-temperature air in a
drying building for approximately one month. The drying is integrated into the
process and the moisture content is reduced from 50% down to 25%. The
combustion takes place in a deep bed at the bottom of the furnace, volatiles are
released and burned above the fuel bed and the charcoal falls through the openings
of the grate and is burned below. The system is designed to work with very high
thermal efficiency for biomass combustion where reheat steam conditions of
163bar/538C/538C are assumed. Some parts of the system have proved
successful as a result of tests, but this is not the case for the whole integrated
system as such [8].
A lot of dedicated combustion systems for straw firing have been developed,
especially in Denmark. Cigar firing is a continuous process developed for straw
combustion in Denmark [11] where the straw bales are fed continuously by a
hydraulic piston through a feeding tunnel as shown in Figure 4.8.
Air Heater
Primar/ Superheater
Secondary Superheater
Water-cooled Grate
Ash Hopper
Figure 4.8 Cigar firing [11]
Volatile gases are released and combusted by the secondary air. The unburnt
charcoal and the ashes are pushed forward to a water-cooled grate where the
oxidation of the solid carbon is completed and the ash is transported to the end and
removed. Another combustion system for straw is combustion of whole bales
where the bales are conveyed through a feeding sluice to a gasification chamber and
air is injected through a large number of nozzles to ensure good air distribution.
The volatile gases are subsequently burnt in the boiler. This combustion system is
semi-continuous with batch-wise operation giving peaks in both temperature and
CO and the control system today is not satisfactory. Combustion systems for
scarified and cut straw also exist and these systems are very much alike. The
difference is whether the bale is scarified or the straw is cut and further fed by a
hydraulic stoker which pushes the straw onto an air-cooled grate.
Straw is the first agro-fuel commercially developed, and it is very important that
experiences from this development are made available for further development of
new agro-fuels. A lot of operational experience has been gained from straw-fired
plants in Denmark. Some of the most important problems are listed below:
Slag and deposit formation. Due to the high alkali content in the fuel, deposits
on the heating surfaces occurred. Automatic slag removal systems could not
handle the problems so manual removal was necessary causing long shut down
Combustion problems. Some straw types like rape straw and grass seed straw
caused serious combustion problems. In addition, moisture contents exceeding
22% caused handling and combustion problems.
Fluctuations in steam production. Fluctuations of +/- 25% were experienced
due to the above mentioned problems.
Low power-to-heat ratio. In the period 1990-1994 the ratio ranged from 0.28
to 0.56 with an average of 0.37. The reasons are related to the operational
problems due to slag and deposit formation and combustion problems causing
temporary shutdown of the plants.
Due to higher fuel costs and lower efficiencies, the production costs of electricity
from straw-fired systems in the period 1990-1994 have been 20-30% higher than
for coal fired systems.
Problems with slag and deposit formation are solved by keeping the steam
temperatures lower than 450

C, by location of the superheater further downstream

in the boiler or by decreasing the furnace exit temperature.
Straw combustion on a larger scale with a combination of combustion systems by
using a stationary grate in the first part followed by a water-cooled vibrating grate
has been developed with advanced steam conditions (9.2MPa/522C) where the
superheater can easily be replaced. In the world's largest straw fired boiler
(approx. 110MW) the steam conditions are further raised by dividing the boiler into
two units, a straw fired main boiler with a 470C superheater, and a separate wood
chip fired final superheater with 21MPa/542C steam conditions. In Denmark 24
scarified straw combustion systems were in operation in 1997. The number of
whole bale systems were 13, cut bales 3, cut straw 7 and cigar firing 11 systems.
The total number of district heating systems is 58, out of which 8 are CHP systems.
Co-combustion of biomass fuels with fossil fuels can be performed in a lot of
different systems and arrangements. Most common is co-combustion of biomass
fuels with coal and the technologies of major interest are grate combustion, cyclone
combustion, fluidized bed combustion and suspension firing. It is also of interest to
look at co-combustion of biomass fuels with natural gas where the biomass fuels
are gasified prior to combustion. The co-combustion can then be performed in the
gas turbine (gas engine can also be used in principle but not in large scale systems)
and/or in the boiler with particular interest in using the low-calorific value (LCV)
gas as reburning fuel. Considering co-combustion of biomass with coal, the most
documented experiences have been achieved in fluidized bed systems and
suspension-fired systems.
Co-combustion in fluidized bed systems were investigated as a part of the APAS-
programme [12] and one of the major objectives was to investigate the effect of
biomass addition on emissions of SO2, NO
, N
0 and CO. Several tests were
performed both in laboratory scale and in full-scale combustors. Of all experiments
performed, reductions in SO2 emissions were found. NO
emissions were found to
decrease or remain at the same level somewhat depending on the fuel-N content in
the biomass and the firing conditions. The same conclusions could also be drawn
from the N2O and CO measurements. Emissions of chlorine were, however,
considerably higher when co-firing straw with high CI content.
Corrosion measurements also showed increased corrosion rates when co-firing
straw using ferrite steel probably due to condensation of potassium chloride on the
superheater tubes which releases the corrosive chlorine by forming potassium
sulphate [12]. In these studies, no major effect on unburned carbon and
combustion efficiency was found. Apart from feeding problems no major
operational difficulties were observed adding biomass fuels. A lot of experience is
gained concerning co-combustion in suspension-fired systems, mainly pulverized
fuel. In addition to particle size reduction, moisture content less than 15% is
recommended to achieve a stable flame, proper burnout and boiler control. Since
biomass fuels are more volatile, the furnace volume must be large enough to
accomplish complete combustion of the gases. The ash content is of less concern
since it is significantly lower than coal for most biomass fuels. Of greater concern
is the possible slagging and fouling increase due to low melting temperatures of
some biomass ashes and the possibility of low melting temperature eutectics
compared to coal combustion alone. Biomass co-combustion has revealed great
potentials for NO
reduction in air staging due to high content of volatiles, but with
some dependence on the burner configuration.
Several co-combustion strategies were investigated by Tennessee Valley Authority
(TVA) [13] such as various degrees of wood addition in suspension fired
combustion, influence of separate fuel preparation and burner systems, gasification
and combustion of the gas in a duct burner before the HRSG. TVA experienced
that co-firing up to 5% wood can be done using existing coal mills and burners, co-
combustion of 10-15% heat input required a separate wood preparation system and
in case of pulverised fuel combustion, separate wood fuel burners. This amount of
wood addition had a minimal effect on boiler efficiency and flame temperatures.
Co-firing 25 to 50% of the heat input would require a fluidized bed system. Figure
4.9 gives an overview of the process flow.
Figure 4.9 Process flow: Kingston Boiler No. 1, 15% wood (heat input)
Ash to reeycBng
i r i r
Coal ash to cernen
Figure 4.10 Biomass gasification with reburning [ 14]
Also as reburning fuel, biomass is superior to hard coal with regard to both
emissions and burnout. Experiments performed by TPS in the APAS programme
[14] demonstrated that co-combustion of gasifier gas (from biomass and waste)
with coal gave an NO reduction in the order of 70% at 500ppm initial NO emission
level. All HC-containing fuels gave significant NO reduction while HC-free fuels
did not give the same reduction. Figure 4.10 shows a schematic layout of a process
for biomass gasification and reburning in a coal fired boiler.
Large scale tests at Vestkraft performed in the APAS programme [12] where two
coal burners were retrofitted with straw injection up to 25% confirmed the positive
effects of biomass addition on NO
As for fluidized bed co-combustion, positive effects on the SO2 emissions were
achieved in suspension-fired systems also. Problems in suspension-fired systems
are related to the chlorine and potassium content in the fuel, giving some increased
emissions of HCl and limited increase in corrosion.
Recent research [15] on chlorine related corrosion in boilers show that there is a
threshold where chlorine deposit is observed at the superheater surfaces. The
combination of chlorine with alkali will form alkali chloride condensation.
Condensation of these alkali vapors causes both deposits of chlorine and alkali on
the surfaces. The chlorides react to form sulfates and release chlorine-containing
gases like HCl (under moist oxidizing conditions). However, for this scenario to
happen, there has to be enough sulphur and experimental indication of this
relationship is published [16]. It is also interesting that results in small scale are
comparable with largescale results at Midtkraft Unit 1 in Denmark. Removal or
lowering of alkali chlorine content will have a strong impact on deposit
accumulation, composition and corrosion, however, deposits can to some extent
also be controlled by fuel mixtures.
Pretreatment by repeated leaching of the straw can give up to 98% removal of the
potassium, however, such a process will lower the plant efficiency and increase the
investment costs. Feasibility studies are performed at Studsrupsvrket in
Problems may arise with the utilization of the ashes from coal/biomass fired systems
in concrete and cement applications due to unburnt carbon in the ash and when
biomass materials with high contents of alkali, SO3, CI are used.
Ashes from straw fired plants have on the other hand been used by the farmers as
fertilizers, so mixing ashes can also here reduce the possibility for utilizing the straw
One way to avoid the problems with cocombustion related to reduced efficiencies
and mixing of the ashes, is to build separate combustion systems for straw and coal
and then mix the steam from the straw fired boiler with the steam from the coal
fired boiler as shown in Figure 4.11. The separation of the fuel systems give the
advantage of reduced risk for superheater corrosion in the coal boiler, and the
straw boiler can be operating at lower steam temperatures and pressures. A
separate wood fired superheater to raise the steam temperature in the strawfired
boiler can also be employed. Both ashes can then also be utilised. The
disadvantage of the system is increased investment costs.
Ash from straw
Figure 4.11 Separate boilers for straw and coal
A further improvement of such a system, is a system with multiple boilers. A
power plant with multiple boilers is currently in its engineering and procurement
phase [17] and is planned to become the second Avedre power station in
Denmark. The plant comprises the following:
A straw-fired boiler
A boiler burning coal, oil or natural gas
A natural gas fired gas turbine
The concept is shown in Figure 4.12. The total electrical output is 570MW, made
up of 375MW from the fossil fuel fired boiler, 150MW from the gas turbine cycle
and 45MW from the straw-fired boiler. The exhaust gas temperature from the gas
turbine with a temperature of 470C is used to preheat the boiler feedwater. The
ultra super critical steam conditions are a steam pressure of 300bar and a steam
temperature of 580C/600C. The design electrical efficiency is 48.3%. By this
concept one obtains a very high system efficiency in addition to high degree of fuel
flexibility in the fossil fuel fired boiler. Investment costs are, however, considerably
Biomass ^
Natural qas

Natural gas
Gas tubine
waste heat

i i
Elect isity
District heat
Figure 4.12 Multiple boiler concept
Co-combustion of LCV gas from biomass gasification with natural gas is an
interesting option. The co-combustion can be arranged to take place in the gas
turbine in combined cycle plants or as additional firing in the Heat Recovery Steam
Generator (HRSG) as shown in Figure 4.13 or in a duct burner prior to the HRSG.
Using LCV gas instead of pulverised wood avoids total redesign of the HRSG and
installation of soot blowers and ash capture and removal systems. A gasifier also
avoids installation of a baghouse and the SCR technology can be used if secondary
measures for NO
reduction are necessary.

Flue gas
Suplemental f ring
Barress gas ^ ^
.... p.
Natural gas

~ \

Conrpressor Gasturbine
Figure 4.13 Co-combustion of biomass gas and naturai gas
4.1.3 Energy recovery and efficiencies
Energy can be recovered in the form of electricity and/or heat. The most common
system for electricity generation from biomass combustion is the steam turbine, and
in the United States about 7500MW
is generated in this way. A simple steam
cycle with a steam turbine is not very efficient for electricity generation, typical
efficiencies for plants operating in California are in the range from 14% to 18%
based on the Higher Heating Value (HHV). The best plants have efficiencies of
20-25% [18]. However, more than 70% of the biomass power in the Unites States
is co-generated (CHP) with process heat which increases the average annual
efficiency of the total energy recovery up to 85-90%. CHP in district heating
systems has annual efficiencies typically lower than for process industries due to
seasonal variation of the heat demand.
The steam pressure for the Californian biomass plants is typically 6MPa and steam
temperature 480C [18] compared to steam pressures of 10 24MPa and
temperatures of 510 540C in modern utilityscale coal plants. There is a strong
scale dependence in the specific capital costs of steam turbine systems, giving
explanations why the modest steam conditions are used in the biomass combustion
systems since these systems are typically less than 100MW
and smaller than coal
and nuclear steamelectric plants. So usually lower grade steel and reduced steam
conditions are used for these plants. Combining this with low, zero, or negative
cost biomass feedstock in addition to governmental subsidies explain the fast
increase in biomass power plants in the USA during the eighties.
In Europe and especially in the Scandinavian countries heat production and to some
extent CHP plants are most common but at some smaller scale, typically less than
lOMWc. However, in the late 80's and early 90's larger scale biomass CHP plants
were raised, with typical size above 10MW
. Efficiencies of plants built today are
about 30% (LHV) and higher as shown in Table 4.5 [8]. The highest nearterm
efficiency is the EPON cocombustion plant with 37% (LHV). The maximum
steam temperature and pressure today is 542C/21 MPa, but as seen in the table,
ELSAM will scale up the Gren plant (CFB cocombustion) to 250MW
by 2005
with steam temperature and pressure of 580C/2530MPa. The efficiency in the
plant will then be 44% (LHV). One of the largest forestresidue fired power plants
(122MW), Brista Kraft, is located 40 km north of Stockholm. The boiler is a
Pyroflow compact CFB system with steam temperature of 540C and steam
pressure of 14.4Mpa [17]. The net efficiency is to a large extent determined by the
turbogenerator efficiency, and efficiencies ranging between 22.6 and 29.9% were
reported in a study of five fluidized bed systems in the USA [19], combined with
the boiler efficiency of an average of 80% giving net efficiencies ranging between
15.6 and 22.9% based on HHV. Both the boiler efficiencies and the turbogenerator
efficiencies in these plants are significantly lower than the best plants described in
Table 4.5.
Plant (country, start-up year) Boiler system Fuels used
Capacity boiler turbine
Average Zurn/NEPCO
Delano I (USA, 1991)
McNeil (USA, 1984)
Mabjergvrket CHP (DK, 1993)
Hndelverket CHP (S, 1994)
Grenaa CHP (DK, 1992)
Enkping CHP (S, 1995)
EPON co-fire (NL, 1995)
Whole Tree Energy
ELSAM co-firing scale-up project
(DK, 2005)
Travelling grate
Bubbling FB
Travelling grate
Vibrating grate
Circulating FB
Circulating FB
Vibrating grate
Pulverised coal boiler
Pile/grate boiler
Circulating FB
Agr. waste
Straw, Wood,
MSW, Nat. gas
Wood, Straw
Demolition wood
Wood, Coal
Straw, Wood

* No data were available to determine this value
Table 4.5 Efficiencies of various biomass combustion plants [8]
To achieve a high yield of heat recovery the flue gas temperature must be as low as
possible. Typical data which are achieved in practice without having condensation
problems in the chimney are about 120C-150C. However, in practice particle
depositions in the heat exchanger may lead to a higher flue gas temperature.
Cleaning of the heat exchanger is then necessary.
To reach a low flue gas temperature at full load and at part load, an optional heat
exchanger can be used which is only in use during full load operation. At part load
a temperature control device ensures that the heat exchanger is by-passed. With
this system an increase in efficiency of up to 5% can be reached in practice.
If bio-fuels with high water content are burnt, flue gas condensation can be used to
increase efficiency by approx. 20%. Further, the flue gas condensation leads to a
reduction of particle emissions and certain gas phase emissions [20]. However, to
use flue gas condensation, low temperature district heating systems must be used,
which will limit the upper size of the boiler.
Another solution for biomass fuels with high moisture content has been developed
by Imatran Voima Oy in Finland [21] utilising the heat in the bed material of a
bubbling fluidized bed combustor directly for drying of the fuel. This system is
called bed mixing dryer and is tested in the Kuusamo plant which is a small CHP
plant located in the north of Finland. The plant has a fuel input of 26MW and
produces 6.1MW electricity and 17.6MJ/s heat for district heating without use of
the dryer. When the dryer is used, the amount of district heating is increased to
21.2MJ/S and the fuel is dried from 55% moisture to 15% moisture. The overall
thermal efficiency is then increased by approx. 15%.
Non-condensi ng gases
Figure 4.14 Bed mixing dryer
4.2 Technical barriers
4.2.1 Fuel specification, pre-treatment and feeding
Preparation of biomass materials for use as a fuel is governed by the fuel
characteristics, feeding system and the combustion technology. Biomass fuels can
be cut/chopped/crushed/baled (bark, straw, grass etc.) or chipped (wood,
trimmings), depending on the transport conditions and the combustion technology
employed. These systems represent a considerable capital and/or operational cost
of the project, but the technology is well proven.
Both cyclone and fluidized bed boilers (especially CFB) may require reduction in
the fuel size, but not pulverization. Fuel management and pre-treatment avoiding
oversized material by screening must be done.
Developments of reliable and cost-effective fuel feeding systems that can handle
large amounts of the bulky biomass materials are still a challenge.
One of the major problems with biomass fuels in general is the lack of standards for
treating the biomass fuels and mixed biomass fuels as a reliable commercial
available fuel on the market compared to oil for instance.
In co-combustion with coal in pc-systems, a low cost solution is to co-pulverize the
biomass and coal, but that limits the amount of biomass that can be co-combusted
to approximately 5% [12,13]. Many biomass fuels are successfully co-combusted
with amounts up to 15%, and separate milling systems are then required [13]. Co-
combustion of biomass and coals up to 50% energy input is successfully
demonstrated in fluidized beds.
4.2.2 Combustion and boiler technology/fouling/deposits/corrosion
All annual growth like urban tree trimmings, annual crops or their residues like
straw or energy crops, contain sufficient volatile alkali compounds to lower the ash
fusion temperature so it melts in combustion or the elements vaporise and condense
on boiler tubes or refractories. These mechanisms create serious fouling and
slagging in conventional boilers. In studies done in the USA [3], sintered or fused
deposits were found on grates and in agglomerates in fluidized beds. Potassium
sulphates and chlorides were found condensed on the upper furnace walls where it
mixed with fly ash. Convection tubes were coated with alkali chlorides, carbonates
and sulphates mixed with silica from fly ash or fiuidised bed media. Deposits occur
as a result of the boiler design, fuel properties and boiler operation. Conventionally
designed boilers are not suitable for burning high alkali fuels.
Special boiler designs with low furnace exit gas temperature (less than 800 C) are
required for annual crops or residues, including grasses and straws. Design should
include larger waterwall surface areas, parallel heat exchanger surfaces, regulation
of the combustion air to control gas temperature, use of grates suitable for
removing large quantities of ash and soot blowing systems to remove deposits.
Another option to keep the temperature on the superheaters low enough is to
locate the super-heater further downstream the boiler.
A maximum level of alkali compounds, defined as the sum of potassium (K) and
sodium (Na), of 0.17kg/GJ is recommended to avoid problems [3]. Fuel blending
like co-combustion to obtain this value can also be adapted, but must be
implemented with care.
Further research is needed in the following areas of large-scale biomass combustion
Combustion of biomass fuels mixed with waste fuels to lower the fuel costs.
The corrosion problems, related to alkali metals and chlorine, are one of the
major technical problems to raising the efficiency by steam temperature and
For fiuidised bed systems using new biomass fuels, especially agro-fuels, bed
agglomeration is still a field of research.
Heavy metal fractionation and ecological biomass ash recirculation must be
further investigated.
The APAS Clean Coal Programme [12] focussed on replacing coal with biomass
and wastes in both combustion as well as gasification systems. A large number of
participants conducted research in co-combustion using various technologies like
fluidized beds and suspension fired systems. Both techniques were well suited for
co-combustion and no negative effects on fuel conversion were found. However,
care had to be taken using biomass fuels containing high amounts of chlorine and
alkali compounds. Gaseous emissions of SO2 and NO
were reduced in most of the
experiments, as expected when using biomass with low sulfur and nitrogen content
Carbon burnout and ash utilization for coal combustion is of great importance and
in co-combustion applications it is very important that the unburned combustible
residue is as low as possible so the fly ash can be used for concrete applications. In
some experiments with co-combustion an increase in the unburned carbon has been
observed, and in the worst case the ash had to be disposed of as landfill instead of
being used in concrete with a resale value. This cost difference is 50$/ton in
average in the USA.
The amount and type of biomass used in the co-combustion systems with coal in
particular are of major importance. Some technical problems still have to be solved
in co-combustion systems:
Mechanisms of deposit and corrosion need further investigation.
Deactivation of the SCR system due to high alkali content is still a problem.
Co-combustion of coal and biomass in low-NO
systems is still a field of
Ash utilisation.
4.2.3 Flue gas cleaning systems
The emissions to the air are more related to developing cost-effective cleaning
systems as will be discussed in the next section. Of major importance are the
emissions of dust and NO
. New and innovative cost-effective systems will reduce
the capital investment costs necessary to achieve the environmental restrictions put
forward. Further research is needed on:
New and innovative systems for particle removal with increased separation
Develop new and effective methods for reduction of NO
by primary measures
in different burners.
4.3 Environmental issues
4.3.1 Emissions to air
Two main groups of pollutants from the combustion of wood fuels can be
distinguished: unburnt pollutants such as CO, HC, PAH and soot, and oxidized
pollutants such as NO
and CO2. Further, additional pollutants can be emitted if
biomass containing CI, metals etc. are burnt. Depending on the fuel composition,
the design of the combustion chamber and the operation of the system, biomass
combustion can lead to emissions of CO, HC, (VOC, UHC), PAH, tar, soot,
particles, NO
, N
0, HCl, S0
, salts, PCDD/F and heavy metals (Pb, Zn, Cd and
others). The emissions from biomass combustion can be distinguished as:
Emissions which are mainly influenced by the quality of the combustion
process and operation of boiler system (unburnt pollutants which can be
avoided by complete combustion: CO, HC, PAH etc.).
Emissions which mainly originate from the fuel properties (emissions which are
formed from elements found in the biomass and are not to the same extent
dependent on the combustion process: NO
from N, HCl from CI etc.).
Nitrogen compounds include NO (nitrogen oxide), NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) usually
summed up as NO
(nitrogen oxides) and N2O (nitrous oxide). While NO
formation and emissions have been widely investigated for many years, formation
and emissions of N2O have been in focus in the last years due to its contribution to
the greenhouse effect. Formation of NO
in combustion systems involves three
main paths [22]:
Formation of thermal NO
which requires sufficiently high temperatures for
dissociation of the atmospheric diatomic species N
and O2.
Formation of fuel NO
which originate from the fuel bound N.
Formation of prompt NO
involving fuelbound hydrocarbon radicals and
atmospheric N
, forming HCN as the most important intermediate specie.
Nitric oxide emissions from smallscale biomass combustion and fluidized bed
combustion originate mainly from the fuel bound nitrogen, thermal NO
are of less importance. However, some discussions on the role of thermal NO
well as prompt NO
have appeared in the literature regarding their contribution in
fluidized bed systems due to incomplete mixing giving possibilities of fuel rich
zones and high temperature zones [19]. For largescale suspension combustion and
in cocombustion, all mechanisms must be considered to be important.
Table 4.6 shows emission of both NO
, CO and particulates (dust) from some large
scale systems.
Plant (country, start-up year)
Average Zurn/NEPCO
Delano 1 (USA, 1991)
McNeil (USA, 1984)
Mbjergveerket CHP (DK, 1993)
Hndeltlvorket CHP (S. 1994)
Grenaa CHP (DK. 1992)
Enkping CHP (S, 1995)
EPON co-fire (NL, 1995)
Whole Tree Energy
ELSAM co-firing scale-up project
(DK, 2005)
Boiler system
Travelling grate
Bubbling FB
Travelling grate
Vibrating grate
Circulating FB
Circulating FB
Vibrating grate
Pulverised coal boiler
Pile/grate boiler
Circulating FB
Fuels used
Agr. waste
Straw, Wood,
MSW, Nat. gas
Wood, Straw
Demolition wood
Wood. Coal
Straw, Wood
1 5 0 '
Delano I, 0 52 mg/dscf at 12% CO
, Enkping, 40 mg Nm
at 6 % Oj
' Emissions are given for the situation of maximum continuous rating
' Emissions are given for the average situation over a certain period
Table 4.6 Emissions of NO
, CO and Dust [8].
The results in Table 4.6 show large variation in NO
emissions ranging from 25 to
150mg/MJin. The fluidized bed system with the lowest emission figure is equipped
with ammonia injection for NOx reduction. Both primary and secondary measures
for NOx reduction can be employed. Primary measures commonly employed in
large-scale biomass combustion systems include staged air combustion and flue gas
recirculation. If primary measures are not sufficient, secondary measures as the
selettive catalytic and non-catalytic reduction (SCR, SNCR) through the injection
of sal-ammoniac, ammonia or urea can be employed. The NOx reduction in the
SNCR process is limited by the ammonia slippage while for the SCR process the
highest NOx reduction can be reached.
A study performed in the USA by Grass and Jenkins [19] on atmospheric emissions
from five fluidized bed combustion plants burning biomass fuels showed an average
emission without ammonia injection of 72.4mg/MJin and with ammonia injection
24mg/MJin. Because of the limited formation of thermal NO, fluidized bed
combustion is considered as the best available control technology (BACT) for NOx
emissions in California. Facilities located within non-attainment areas (where the
goals for NOx emissions are not achieved) are required to apply ammonia injection.
The previous mentioned Pyroflow compact CFB boiler in Sweden has NOx
emissions of 20mg/MJ with ammonia injection. The ammonia slip is measured to
be5ppmandthe N
0 is 1 Omg/MJ [17].
The NOx emissions from an advanced 415MWe coal combustion facility at
Nordjyllandsverket (Aalborg) were 450mg/MJin. Rebuilding with Burmester and
Wain Energy (BWE) low- NOx combustor, the emissions were reduced to
200mg/MJin and using a catalytic de-NOx system the emissions were further
reduced to 50mg/MJin for comparison. Using the same combustor for natural gas
will give emissions in the order of 40mg/MJin.
The emissions of CO given in Table 4.6 vary from 6.5 to 215mg/MJin. The
emissions of CO in CFB systems should normally be low due to long residence
time, and the results from Grenaa must then be attributed to the fuel used. The CO
emissions at Brista Kraft are measured to be 90mg/MJ [17]. The emissions of CO
can be used as a tool for combustion efficiency and emissions of other unburned
products. The CO-emissions can be controlled by the air/fuel ratio, temperature
and residence time.
The emissions of dust also varied by more than a factor of 12 as can be seen from
Table 4.6. The dust or the particulate matter consists of fly ash, soot and organic
pollutants released as a result of incomplete combustion. The amount of fly ash
depends mainly on the ash content of the fuel, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
(PAH), tars and dioxins can also be present on the particles. Electrostatic
precipitators (ESP), baghouse filters, multi-cyclones and combinations of these
systems are common to use for particulate removal.
Studies on emissions of hydrocarbons (THC), PAH, and Dioxins and Furans were
conducted in USA and some results are reported in Grass and Jenkins [19]. For
fluidized bed systems, methane was the only hydrocarbon found in the flue gas in
only one of the facilities. In one of the facilities, emissions of 16 PAH species were
done, and the total emissions were 881pg/kg fuel. Naphthalene, acenaphtylene,
phenanthrene and fluoran-threne were accounting for 98% of the total PAH
species, none of them are classified as carcinogenic. Dioxins and Furans were
measured up to 0.415ng/kg fuel using EPA equivalence factors.
Emissions of sulphur oxides from biomass are exclusively formed by oxidation of
sulphur in the fuel. Most biomass fuels contain little sulphur and thus the emissions
are low. In co-combustion with high sulphur coals, the SO2 emissions then will
subsequently decrease. Emissions in CFB boilers [19] showed results varying from
0.1 to7.5mg/MJin with limestone injection. At Brista Kraft the SO2 emissions were
reported to be 50mg/MJ.
In Grass and Jenkins [19], the emission control standards requiring either minimum
control equipment, best available control technology (BACT) or lowest achievable
emission rates (LAER) are classified. Table 4.7 gives emission rates corresponding
to these emission control options.
Control requirements
Pollutant species
1 PM control device
15 (10-50)
NOx, SOxandPM
control device
15 (10-30)
As BACT, but 1
additional PM device,
and fuel restrictions
0.2 (< 0.1-1)
Table 4.7 Emission control requirements and corresponding rates of emissions
4.3.2 Emissions in slag/filter dust
Establishing a sustainable thermal utilization of biomass includes re-cycling of the
ashes. Previous studies have shown that it is necessary to separate a small and as
rich in heavy metal as possible by product for deposition or recovery of heavy
metals to avoid pollution of the forest ecosystem. This subject is currently under
investigation in one of the projects funded by the JOULE programme.
4.4 Economie aspects
4.4.1 Fuel costs
Fuel costs vary considerably depending on the biomass fuel to be used. For wood,
1.5ECU/GJ [24] seems to be an average value for systems up to approximately
. For larger systems, the transport costs increase the fuel costs
considerably, but in these large systems advantages are gained by the economy of
scale. However, some biomass fuels, like forest thinnings in the Netherlands, are
quite expensive and fuel costs close to 4ECU/GJ are reported. Straw is also quite
an expensive fuel, and fuel costs of 3ECU/GJ are reported due to the high costs of
handling, baling and storage. Verge grass and demolition wood can have negative
fuel costs down to - 8.4ECU/GJ. Prices in the USA for wood fuel range from 1.0
to 2ECU/GJ which is comparable to wood in Europe, the lowest values being for
waste fuels like urban wood waste and agricultural wastes.
4.4.2 Investment costs
Investment costs also vary quite a lot for the different combustion technologies and
also quite large variations for one type of technology can be found. Investment
cost does not vary much depending on the location, i.e., investment costs in Europe
are close to the same values as in the USA [8]. For wood fired stoker boilers, like
travelling grates, the investment costs are in the range of 1070 - 1700ECU/kW
In Table 4.8 a figure of 1630ECU/kW
is used by the EPRI [23], For fluidized bed
the investment costs are given as 1910ECU/kW
(which also compares well with
[8]). Whole Tree Energy boilers have lower investment costs of 1550ECU/kW
Investment costs of biomass boilers compare generally well with coal boilers as can
be seen from Table 4.8.
Natural gas boilers have considerably less investment costs and MSW mass burn
boilers have considerably higher investment costs than biomass boilers. For co-
combustion only the additional investments related to the co-firing fuel are
Studies performed by the University of Ulster in the APAS Programme [24]
comparing large-scale combustion systems showed specific investment costs for
wet combustion in the order of 1070ECU/kW
for a 75MW
system and for dry
combustion 1250ECU/kW
for a 100MW
Power technology
Natural gas combined cyclo
MSW-firnd mass bum boiler
Wood-fired stoker boiler
Wood-fired fluid bed boiler
Whole Tree Energy boiler
Codling witti coal In iBtmfttod utility boilers
Reference coal plant
Wood RDF
Tire-derived fuel
Net capacity
Net heat rate
Thermal efficiency
(%, HHV)
Total plant cost
(ECU/kW Nef)
Lovelized COE
Table 4.8 Cost estimates for biomass and waste fuels compared to coal and
natural gas [23]. Source EPRI TR-102774, 1994 Cost data.
4.4.3 O&M costs
These costs are in the USA 1.3c/kWh [23] and in Europe close to 1.2ECUct/kWh
which are comparable costs.
4.4.4 Cost of electricity (COE) compared to coal, natural gas and MSW
From Table 8 the COE for biomass combustion are compared with coal, natural gas
and MSW mass burning. As can be seen, natural gas combined cycle is the
cheapest of all the technologies. The WTE technology can compete with coal at
large plant sizes, while stoker combustion and fluidized bed combustion have higher
COE but in the same range as MSW mass burning. Co-firing is more attractive
than using biomass alone and the additional costs represent an increase of 20%
compared to coal combustion. The approximate distribution of costs in large-scale
combustion systems is:
Fuel: 40%
Operating and Maintenance: 20%
Investment: 40%
This is somewhat different from gasification because in combustion systems specific
fuel costs are higher due to lower efficiency, and specific investment costs are
lower because of a simpler system avoiding the gas turbine and hot gas cleanup.
The importance in increasing the efficiency to reduce the fuel costs in combustion
systems is then obvious.
McMullan et al. [24] calculate a break-even electricity selling price (BESP) for the
above mentioned combustion of wet biomass (75MW
) to be 5.3ECUct/kWh and
for the combustion of dry biomass (100MW
) 5.8ECUct/kWh. These costs are
considerably higher than the costs of natural gas systems (40 - 80% higher
depending on simple/combined cycle) and higher than coal based systems (20 -
60%-depending on technology such as suspension fired, fluidized bed, pressurized
fluidized bed, coal hybrid combined cycle, Magnetohydrodynamic (MHD)
combined cycle). Including the costs of CO2 separation by monomethanolamine
(MEA) scrubbing followed by liquefaction of the carbon dioxide or an air
separation unit up front with O2 combustion and recirculation of the flue gases to
keep the temperature at appropriate levels, will improve the relative economy of the
biomass combustion systems compared to fossil fuel systems.
4.5 European Commission projects achievements
In the period 1992 to 1994 the APAS programme focussed on co-utilization of
biomass and coal. The projects comprised both co-combustion and co-gasification.
A comprehensive programme was put up involving universities, research
organizations and industry. A number of different fuels were investigated for co-
combustion in a large variety of experimental laboratory tests as well as in full-scale
reactors. This programme is probably the largest research programme ever done to
investigate the possibilities of co-combustion.
Currently, the research topics in the EU-funded projects comprise:
Fuel handling and feeding systems
Combustion optimisation and burner systems
Slagging, fouling and corrosion problems
Agglomeration in fiuidised beds
Emissions and environmental issues
Heavy metal separation and ash utilisation
In the APAS programme major achievements were made, but still many of the
topics in the programme are under investigation in the projects following the APAS
Fuel handling and feeding systems: This topic is of special interest in co-combustion
systems, both with coal to make economic feasible systems and co-combustion of
virgin biomass with waste fuels, due to cost reductions.
Combustion optimization and burner systems: This topic is also related to co-
combustion in particular since biomass is much more volatile than coals, but also to
emission reductions by primary measures and burner arrangements due to
boiler volumes available and carbon burnout optimization.
Slagging, fouling and corrosion problems: In particular related to high alkali fuels
and high chlorine content such as straw as mentioned previously. The problem
causes reduced steam temperatures and reduced efficiency in the plant.
Agglomeration in fluidized beds: This topic is also related to high alkali fuels and
high chlorine content but particularly when applied to fluidized bed combustors.
Emissions and environmental issues: In particular, these problems are concerning
emissions reduction both by primary measures and secondary measures for
large scale systems using different combustion systems, fuels and combinations of
Heavy metal separation and ash utilization: This research has been conducted both
in co-combustion systems especially related to ash utilization and in combustion of
biomass as the only fuel with the aim of recycling the ashes back to the forests
without heavy metal pollution.
Within the area of combustion of biomass and co-combustion in large-scale
systems, research work has been made in EU member countries and in particular in
countries like Denmark, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands financed partly by
national research budgets and the industry itself. A minor part of the projects have
been carried out in Italy and Spain. In addition, substantial work has been
performed in North America (USA and Canada), especially in the area of slagging
and fouling problems, emissions and co-combustion. Part of that work has also
been organized and reported by the International Energy Agency (), Bioenergy
The research work performed and conducted by the EU-financed projects has made
a substantial contribution to the knowledge and progress within the development
and utilisation of biomass in large-scale systems.
4.6 Future prospects
Whether biomass realises its full potential within EU to provide a sustainable and
environmentally friendly energy source depends on both technology advances and
future EU-policy. The major differences between biomass and natural gas power
technologies are in the areas of capital cost, thermal efficiency and non-fuel
operation and maintenance (O&M) costs. Today's biomass plants typically cost
(natural gas 450-5 50ECU/kW
), operate at thermal efficiency
at 20-25% (HHV) while natural gas operates on nearly 2 times that efficiency, and
exhibit O&M costs near 0.01ECU/kWh (natural gas 0.005ECU/kWh). Capital
costs or delivered fuel costs thus have to be reduced considerably unless subsidies
are available.
Options are:
Development of new technologies for combination of virgin biomass fuels with
those fuels having negative costs (urban wood waste or demolition wood) to
reduce the overall fuel costs to approximately 1ECU/GJ, develop new and
innovative harvesting systems or utilise advanced Geographic Information
Systems (GIS) to implement biomass fuel resource databases and reduce
(optimise) transport costs.
Co-combustion of biomass with coal in large-scale systems. If CO2 taxes are
introduced, this can be very attractive economically.
Development of new and innovative technologies or combination of
technologies to increase the efficiency (example of separate wood fired
superheater mentioned earlier to increase steam conditions when combusting
Use of biomass fuels in reburning to reduce NO
and then excludes secondary
-reducing equipment for capital cost reduction.
Develop market incentives for utilising the CHP market for medium scale
systems in the north of Europe for both district heating and process industries
in addition to process industries in the south of Europe.
Where will large-scale biomass combustion systems fit in?
It is evident from the cost analysis that CHP would be preferred, especially for
systems smaller than approximately 30MW
[22]. CHP income will be in the order
of 50% of the fuel costs and will hence reduce the cost of electricity by
approximately 20% which is significant and brings the costs down to the cost of
some of the coal technologies.
Another way of reducing the fuel costs is to increase the use of waste fuels in the
biomass plant, since many of the waste fuels like urban wood waste will have
negative costs (tipping fee).
One market for the smallest of the large-scale systems is the low temperature
district heating systems, which should be equipped with flue gas condensing
systems. Of great importance is, however, where such systems are located. These
systems have to be located in Scandinavia since the peak operation time there is
3500hours/a compared to500 hours/a in southern Europe as discussed for
gasification systems. Making these systems for producing process heat for
industrial use is an important niche market, and here the operating time will be
close to 8000hours/a independent of location, giving good payback of the
investments. Systems for industrial CHP are also to a large extent independent of
geographical location except for the electricity price.
Co-combustion of biomass to substitute fossil fuels like lignite, coal, oil and natural
gas has a great potential in large scale systems using both suspension firing and
fluidized bed systems in particular. Using gasification as a pre-treatment before co-
combustion also has a potential by using the gas in a duct burner, co-firing the gas
in the boiler or using the gas as a reburning fuel for NO
reduction. Co-combustion
in general seems to have the greatest potential for achieving high efficiency by using
high steam temperatures and pressures.
Co-combustion of biomass fuels with waste fuels having negative costs is of
particular interest in fluidized bed systems in order to reduce fuel costs.
Pre-treatment of problematic fuels with high CI and alkali content by leaching or
fractionation can also be an option in the future depending on development of
proper technology, and costs.
1. Faaij, ., van Ree, R., Waldheim, L., Olsson, E., Oudhuis, ., van Wijk, .,
Daey-Ouwens, C. and Turkenburg, W. (1997). Gasification of biomass wastes
and residues for electricity production, Biomass and Bioenergy vol 12, No 6
Pergamon Press Ltd., pp. 387-407.
2. Winter, F., Lffler, G, Wartha, C, Krammer, G, Hofbauer, H.(1998).
Characterization techniques for solid biofels: Carbon and fuel-nitrogen
conversion. LEA Bioenergy: T13: Combustion: 1998:05.
Baxter, L.(1993). Ash deposition during biomass and coal combustion.
Biomass and Bioenergy vol 4, No 2, Pergamon Press Ltd., pp. 85-102.
Easterly, J.L. and Burnham, M.(1996). Overview of biomass and waste fuel
resources for power production. Biomass and Bioenergy vol 10, Nos 2-3,
Pergamon Press Ltd., pp. 79-92.
Nussbaumer, Th. and Hustad, J.E.(1996). Overview of biomass combus-tion.
Proceedings from 3rd Advances in Biomass Thermochemical Conversion
Grnli, M.G.(1996). Drying and pyrolysis of biomass. PhD thesis, Norwegian
University of Science and Technology, Department of Thermal Energy and
Hydropower, Trondheim, Norway.
7. Nussbaumer, Th.: Emissionen von Holzfeuerungen, Final Report NFP 12
project 4.971.0.86. 12, Institute of Energy Technology, Zrich,
Broek, R. van den, Faiij, A. and Wijk, a. van.(1996). Biomass combustion for
power production. Biomass and Bioenergy vol 11 No 4 Pergamon Press Ltd.
pp. 271-281.
Hustad, J.E. and Snju, O.K. 1992). Biomass combustion in IEA countries,
Biomass and Bioenergy vol 2 Nos 1-6 Pergamon Press Ltd. pp. 239-261.
10. Miles, T.R., Miles, T.R. Jr, Baxter, L.L., Bryers, R.W., Jenkins, B.M. and
Oden, L.L.: Alkali deposits, Summary report for NREL Subcontract Tz-2-
11226-1, April 995.
11. Nikolaisen, L.: Utilization of straw in district heating and CHP plants,
Proceedings from Bioenergy 93 Conference, Espoo, november 1993.
12. Hein, K.R.G(1994). Combined combustion of coal, biomass and wastes.
Summary of final conference, Vol. 1, 2829 November, Lisbon, Portugal.
13. Gold, B.A. and Tillman, D.A. (1996). Woodcofiring evaluation at TVA power
plants. Biomass and Bioenergy vol 10 Nos 23 Pergamon Press Ltd. , pp. 71
14. Berge, N., Carlsson, M., Kallner, P.and Stromberg, . (1994). Reburning of a
pulverized coal flame with a LCV gas. Vol. Ill, Final reports, ECresearch
project:APAScontract COALCT920001.
15. Robinson, A.L. et al.: Fireside considerations when cofiring biomass with coal
in PC boilers. Paper presented at engineering Foundation Conference on thr
Impact of Mineral Impurities in Solid Fuel Combustion. Nov. 27, 1997,
Keauhou Beach Hotel, Kona, Hawaii.
16. Junker, H., Fogh, F., Baxter, L. and Robinson, .: Cofiring biomass and coal,
experimental investigations of deposit formation. Paper at "Biomass for
Energy", IO"
European conference and Technology Exhibition, 811 June
1998, Wurzburg, Germany.
17. International Power Generation(IPG), Vol. 21, NO 2, p.43, March 1998.
18. Williams, R.H. and Larson, E.D. (1996). Biomass gasifier gas turbine power
generating technology. Biomass and Bioenergy vol 10 Nos 23 Pergamon
Press Ltd., pp. 149166.
19. Grass, S.W. and Jenkins, B.M. (1994). Biomass fueled fluidized bed
combustion: Atmospheric emissions, emission control devices and
environmental regulations. Biomass and Bioenergy vol 6 No 4 Pergamon Press
Ltd., pp. 243-260.
20. Oravainen, H: Reduction of Emissions by Using Catalytic Converters in Small
Heating Appliances, COMETT Expert Workshop Biomass Combustion, Graz,
21. Hulkkonen, S., Parvio, E. and Raiko, M. An advanced fuel drying technology
for fluidized bed boilers. Proceedings of the 13
International Conference on
Fluidized Bed Combustion. Book No. H0937A - 1995 (ASME).
22. Miller, J. A. and Bowman, C.T.(1988). Mechanism and modelling of nitrogen
chemistry in combustion. Prog. Energy Combust. Sci. Vol. 15, pp. 287-338.
23. McGowin, CR. and Wiltsee, G A. (1996). Strategic analysis of biomass and
waste fuels for electricity power generation. Biomass and Bioenergy vol 10
Nos 2-3 Pergamon Press Ltd., pp. 167-175.
24. McMullan, J.T., Williams, B.C., Campbell, P., Mcllveen-Wright, D. and
Bemtgen, J.M.(1995). Techno-economic assesment studies of fossil fuel and
fuel wood power generation technologies. EC DG XII report.
5.1 Objectives of biomass gasification
Gasification of biomass is the complete conversion to a gaseous fuel by heating it
with a gasification medium, such as air, oxygen or steam. The gas produced can be
standardised in its quality and is simpler and more versatile to use than the original
biomass. It can be utilised for other purposes as well, e.g. for gas motors or gas
turbines or to produce liquid motor fuels. For this reason gasification of biomass
has been investigated for a long time.
Gasification of biomass, when compared with direct combustion, involves
additional investment and production costs and requires extra energy input. The
utilisation of the gases produced must, therefore, have considerable advantages in
order to justify the additional costs incurred. This justification will be different in
different locations considering the differences in climatic conditions and economic
structures in the various countries of the European Union. This matter is discussed
further in section 5.8.
For the gasification of biomass two principal methods are possible, biochemical and
thermochemical gasification:
biochemical gasification uses micro-organisms at ambient temperature and
under anaerobic conditions;
thermochemical gasification uses air, oxygen, steam or mixtures of them at
temperatures above 700C.
The main difference between the two options is the fact that the thermochemical
method can decompose all biomass whereas micro-organisms cannot decompose
lignin which is a major component of biomass. The consequences of this fact are
discussed in section 5.8.
A number of different technologies have been developed for both methods. The
present state of the art is described in the sections 5.2 and 5.3.
5.2 Biochemical gasification (Anaerobic digestion) - state of the art
The biomass formed in nature by biological processes is decomposed by micro-
organisms in a cyclic process. This decomposition can proceed in two ways:
by oxidation CH2O + O2 > C0
+ H
0 biomass
by anaerobic decay CH2O > CH4 + CO2 biomass
The chemical energy stored in the biomass is set free during oxidation in the form
of heat; in anaerobic digestion the energy of the biomass remains in the gaseous
product, i.e. in the methane formed, and can be used after-wards. Not all biomass
can be digested by the microorganisms: lignin and cellulose are decomposed too
slowly so that in technical operation they remain mostly in the residue. The growth
of the microorganisms necessary for anaerobic digestion requires an aqueous
medium in which the biomass can be dissolved or suspended or at least a moisture
containing substrate. The gases evolved are collected on top of the liquid. The
nutrient elements present in the biomass, i.e. compounds of nitrogen, phosphorus,
potassium etc., remain in the liquid residue so they can be recycled into the
production of the biomass. The sulphur compounds of the biomass are reduced to
hydrogen sulphides which is partially removed with the gaseous products.
The microorganisms active in the anaerobic digestion form a mixed population
which is self-stabilising provided temperature, pH-value and nutrient concentrations
are suitable and toxic substances are absent; no sterilisation of the raw materials is
necessary. Some species of the methanogenic bacteria are very sensitive to oxygen
so the regimen in the gasifiers has to be strictly anaerobic.
The biochemical gasification of biomass operates at lower temperatures compared
with the thermochemical gasification. Two temperature levels have been
investigated: standard processes work at 35 to 38C and processes using
thermophilic micro-organisms at 60 to 75C. Thermophilic operation gives faster
production and higher yields of gas but is less stable in operation. Residence time
of the biomass in the reactors is normally between 14 and 28 days. Gas yields from
some feeds are shown in Figure 5.1.
Similar biological processes as in biochemical gasification occur in land fills of
municipal waste. As this waste contains appreciable quantities of biological
materials and the conditions in the deposits are anaerobic, bacterial degradation of
the biomass occurs and a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide forms which is
called land fill gas. In order to prevent its escape into the atmosphere it can be
collected by pipes inserted into the land fill. In natural surroundings the same
process takes place in moors and accompanies the formation of peat.
_ 1 sewage sludge
litre/kg *>
org. matter
2 grass
3 paunch manure
4 rye straw
5 cattle manure
Figure 5.1 Gas yields from some feeds (30C)
5.2.1 Raw materials
Raw materials for the production of biogas are biodegradable organic materials, in
primary biological materials (biomass),
secondary biological materials (waste from agriculture and animal farming,
industrial waste from food processing, biomass from municipal waste, sludge
from waste water treatment, etc.).
Most raw materials are solids insoluble in water; they are gasified as a suspension in
water. The solids content is limited by the consistency of the suspension which
must allow mixing of the solids in suspension and the separation of the gases from
the suspension.
Raw materials containing indigestible substances, such as e.g. lignin, can be used
for gasification but these substances will pass through the gasifier unchanged.
Cellulose is attacked very slowly so in most installations it is only partially gasified.
Some raw materials have to be pre-treated before they can be fed into the gasifier.
Coarse materials have to be minced or crushed; non-homogenous materials have to
be homogenised in order to give a stable operation of the gasifier.
In addition to the feed materials the microorganisms require nitrogen compounds
for their growth. In most cases the nitrogen content of the feed is sufficient but in
some cases the addition of nitrogen is necessary. The same applies to some
essential trace elements such as iron and nickel.
Some substances are toxic to the microorganisms active in gasification as e.g. toxic
heavy metals or chloroform. In animal manure residues of antibiotics used in
animal feed preparations can present a problem but the bacteria population is very
adaptive in respect of detoxification if there is a constant influx of toxic material.
Sudden peaks of toxic materials can cause a complete breakdown of the gas
The yields of gas depend on the composition of the feed, the residence time in the
gasifier and on operating conditions. Between 0,25 and 0,60Nm
of methane are
formed per kg. of organic material decomposed.
5.2.2 Digesters
Numerous types of anaerobic digesters have been developed depending on the
capacity of the plant. In small plants simple closed vessels are used which operate
either batch-wise or continuously. In more elaborate installations the effluent
passes a sedimentation vessel in order to recycle the solids containing the active
microorganisms into the digester. In large installations the gasification takes place
in two vessels in series in which slightly different operating conditions are
maintained. Mixing of the digester contents can be achieved by mechanical stirrers
or by gas circulated through the digester by means of a blower.
In order to maintain the temperature required, small digesters have to be insulated;
for thermophilic operation heating is necessary. The pH-value of the contents of
the digester has to be controlled between 7 and 8. In normal operation of the
digester the pH-value remains fairly constant as the system is self-buffering. With
introduction of toxic substances the pH-value can drop below 6,8 and the gas
formation will stop; a correction of the pH-value will help to establish normal
The gas formation corresponds to 0.5 to 2m
of gas per m
digester volume per
day. As the residence time is in the order of 2 to 4 weeks the volume of the
digesters is large. In installations of small capacity digesters can be constructed of
steel, in large installations the vessels are constructed of concrete. Digesters with a
volume of up to 15000m' have been built.
As the gas production of a digester can not be adapted to the gas demand it is
necessary to store the gas. In small installations the gas dome of the digester can
be used for this purpose, in larger installations a separate gasholder is necessary.
5.2.3 Utilisation of biogas and of the gasification residue
Gas formed in the biochemical gasification consists of
Methane 50 - 80% by volume
carbon dioxide 20 - 45%
hydrogen up to 2%
as well as traces of hydrogen sulphide, ammonia, carbon monoxide and others. It is
saturated with water vapour at the operating temperature of the digester. The
lower heating value of the gas is usually about 20MJ/Nm~\
In most cases it is necessary to pre-treat the gas produced by entrained solid
particles, removing hydrogen sulphide and drying the gas. Particles are removed in
a filter. Hydrogen sulphide can be removed by passing the gas through ferric
hydroxide. The iron sulphide formed is periodically reacted with air to regenerate
the ferric hydroxide, the sulphide being converted into elementary sulphur. Water
vapour is condensed by cooling to ambient temperature to prevent further
condensation which could cause corrosion of the piping. If the gas is to be
compressed or fed into a distribution system further drying by glycol absorption is
necessary. The technologies are standard in natural gas processing.
If it is necessary to produce pure methane the carbon dioxide can be re-moved by
absorption in alkaline solutions such as ethanol amine or others. Standard
technologies are available for this separation.
The bio-gas produced can be used for energy production in various ways. The
simplest way is to use it as a fuel for cooking or in a boiler. The burners of
standard gas stoves and boilers have to be adjusted to the properties of biogas
otherwise standard gas equipment can be used. For the production of mechanical
energy internal combustion engines can be operated with biogas. For the combined
production of power and heat small internal combustion engines coupled with a
generator are available (TOTEM modules) in which the waste heat from the engine
is used for hot water preparation. In large installations internal combustion engines
of the Otto- or Diesel-type can be used. Compressed bio-gas can also be used as a
motor fuel if first dried and compressed; the removal of carbon dioxide is
advantageous but not absolutely necessary. Bio-gas can also be used with glowing-
mantle lamps for lighting purposes.
The residue of gasification consists of a solution and suspension of undigested
material and microorganisms in water. It contains all the plant nutrients of the feed
material as small losses only of nitrogen in the form of ammonia take place during
gasification. So the best way to dispose of the residue is to recycle it into the
biomass production by dispersing the suspension on the soil with due care for
hygienic aspects. In plants in which this is not possible, the solids are separated by
sedimentation and/or filtration; the liquid is sent to waste water treatment plants,
the solids are incinerated or gasified.
5.2.4 Economics of biochemical gasification
The cost of biochemical gasification consists mainly of the cost of the feed material
and the capital cost for the installation.
As the feed materials for biochemical gasification are mostly waste from various
sources its cost are usually low. Sometimes even a credit for its acceptance (gate
fee or avoided costs) can be obtained. Depending on the use, credits can also be
obtained for the biogas produced.
In small installations connected with farms the disposal of the gasification residues
on agricultural area is no problem. In larger installations some disposal cost can
occur. When fermenting sludge from wastewater treatment, contamination with
toxic heavy metals can occur. In this case the solids must be separated from the
liquid residue, dried and incinerated.
Investment cost for biochemical gasification is mainly the cost of the fairly large
gasifier vessels required. Depending on local conditions and on the technical
standard the gasifier costs range between 250 and 400ECU/m
volume; a reduction
is possible by using do-it-yourself methods, especially on farms.
In order to save investment costs in some countries bio-gas plants have been built
in villages on a community basis. Each farmer contributes manure, receives biogas
and takes back the liquid residue. If a surplus of gas is produced other houses in
the Village are also supplied with gas. This system is advantageous if the farms are
close together.
5.2.5 Future developments
Anaerobic digestion of biomass is a well known technology. Its use has been
limited in the past because of lack of competitiveness with energy from fossil fuels.
It is used today primarily as a process for disposing bio-waste from animal farming
and sludge from waste water treatment rather than for recovering energy. Its main
advantage is that it can take care of feed materials with a high moisture content,
such as waste water from agro-industry, sludge from waste water treatment, etc.
with prior drying. Another advantage is the fact that nearly all plant nutrients
contained in the feed material remain in the liquid residue after gasification and can
be recycled into the biomass production.
The technology of anaerobic digestion is well developed. Depending on local
conditions various types of plants are available:
small-scale plants for do-it-yourself groups, especially farmers;
small-scale plants from ready-made building blocks
large-scale plants custom designed for the particular case under consideration.
Future research and development will centre on efforts to reduce the digester
volume necessary, but no spectacular results can be expected.
The most interesting future application of anaerobic digestion is the use of marine
biomass for energy production. Algae and weeds can be grown on a large scale in
sea water and can be digested afterwards to produce gas. As the global land area is
of limited size the use of marine area for energy production could become
important in the future. Market penetration of biogas plants is dependant on
economic considerations, i.e. on the price levels of fossil fuels. At present it is
competitive only if the feed is available at no cost or, even better, if a credit is given
for accepting it as is the case with certain waste materials. Biomass produced for
the sole purpose of energy production is too expensive at present.
5.3 Thermochemical gasification- state of the art
Thermochemical gasification of biomass is similar in technology to the gasification
of coal, especially of soft coal, which was used extensively in Europe before natural
gas became widely available. Technology development is mainly directed at the
adaptation of existing gasification techno-logy to the requirements of various types
of biomass and of newly available fiuidised bed technology.
5.3.1 Principles of thermal gasification
Biomass is a complex mixture of organic matter consisting mainly of carbon,
hydrogen and oxygen. At temperatures above 700C all of them react with oxygen
and steam to form carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen and methane:
Partial oxidation C + 1/2 0
<> CO
Complete oxidation C + 0
<> C0
Water gas reaction C + H
0 <> CO + H
Carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, steam and hydrogen can undergo further
reactions during gasification:
Water gas shift reaction CO + H
0 <> C0
+ H
Methane formation CO + 3 H
< > CH
The arrows indicate that the reactions are in equilibrium, i.e. they proceed to a
certain degree only depending on temperature, pressure and concentration of the
reaction partners. Accordingly, the gas produced consists mainly of carbon
monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane and hydrogen in various portions.
As the use of pure oxygen for gasification is expensive, air is normally used; this is
standard procedure in gasifiers up to 50MWD,. Due to the nitrogen introduced with
the air the resulting gas is diluted by it and has a lower heat value of 4-6MJ/Nm
compared with 36MJ/Nnr for natural gas. Gasification with oxygen produces a
gas with a lower heating value of 10-15MJ/Nm
, gasification with steam a gas of
. The selection of the gasification medium depends on technical and
economic grounds. The gas produced is suitable as a fuel for boilers and for gas
In small plants the use of oxygen is too expensive, so air or steam gasifica-tion has
to be used. In large plants it is possible to use oxygen diluted with steam. The gas
produced contains no nitrogen and can be used for distribution by pipeline or for
the synthesis of chemicals, as e.g. methanol. A number of technical solutions for
the design of the gasifier have been developed.
Gasification with steam poses a technological problem. Whereas the partial and
complete oxidation reaction produces heat, the reaction of carbon with steam
consumes heat. This heat has to be transferred into the gasifier at the gasification
temperature of 700C and higher, which is difficult. Two solutions to this problem
have been developed: the transfer of the heat in the conventional way by heating
pipes or in an advanced way by circulating hot solids. Gasifiers are called
autothermal if they are self-sufficient in heat; if they require heat supply from
outside they are called allothermal.
If the gas produced is utilised at elevated pressure, as e.g. for gas turbines, the
gasification of biomass can be operated at elevated pressure in order to save
compression costs.
5.3.2 Feed materials pre-treatment
The requirements for the quality of the biomass differ according to the gasification
technology used. Main problem areas are moisture, particle size and nitrogen and
alkali contents. Several technologies can be used to reach the required
Drying: Most gasification technologies require a moisture content of not more
than 10 to 15% and the biomass delivered must be dried to this level before it
is gasified.
Particle size: the particle size specifications are different for different
gasification technologies. In most types of gasifiers gas has to pass through
the biomass so a particle size of 20 to 80mm is required; depending on the size
of the original biomass it has to be crushed or compacted. Compacting is also
required if the particles are not strong enough to withstand crushing in the
Fractionation: Nitrogen and alkali contents of the biomass are critical in
gasification as they are partially carried over into the gas. Smaller particles of
the biomass tend to contain less nitrogen and less alkali so fractionation into
finer and coarser fractions helps to produce a gas with fewer impurities.
Leaching: Nitrogen and alkali contents of the biomass can also be reduced by
leaching it with water.
Technical experience is available for milling, compacting and drying of biomass.
Fractionation and leaching have only been tried in laboratory scale.
Oversized biomass is first sent to a crusher or a chipper to reduce particle size.
Various types of this equipment with various capacities are available on the market.
Fresh wood from the forests contains 50 to 60% moisture. Air drying for about
two years reduces the moisture to 20%. For technical drying of biomass, rotary
dryers heated directly with flue gases or fiuidised bed dryers heated indirectly with
steam are used. Industrial experience for both types is available from the particle
board industry. Vapours from the dryer contain volatile organic substances, mostly
terpenes. In some countries control devices are required by emission regulations.
It is also possible to co-gasify biomass with other fuels, such as coal, peat, RDF,
and MSW. These materials are often available at lower cost than biomass so the
advantage of co-gasification is mainly an economic one. Depending on the type of
fuel to be used additional pre-treatment of the feed can be necessary in order to
avoid difficulties in the feeding system. The disposal of the ash from gasification
has also to be adapted to the quality produced in co-gasification as the additional
fuels can contain impurities which are not expected in biomass.
5.3.3 Fixed bed gasification
Fixed bed gasifiers have been used since for a long time for coal gasification; their
operation is similar to that of a furnace, the difference is that a quantity of air
necessary to reach the reaction temperature of about 1000C only is introduced.
According to the relative direction of flow of the biomass and the gases there are
three different types of fixed bed gasifiers.
In the updraft gasifier, Figure 5.2, the biomass feed is introduced at the top and air
is introduced at the bottom of the vessel through a grate. Immediately above the
grate the char formed higher up in the gasifier is com-busted, the temperature
reaches about 1000C. The ash falls through the grate at the bottom, the hot gases
pass upwards and are reduced; in some designs the grate is rotating. Still higher up
the biomass is pyrolised and in the top zone the feed material is dried, at the same
time the gases are cooled to about 200 to 300C. In the pyrolysis zone
considerable quantities of tar are formed which in part condense on the biomass
higher up and in part leave the gasifier with the gas. The temperature in the
gasification zone is regulated by adding steam to the air used for gasification or by
humidifying the air.
Due to the low temperature of the gas leaving the gasifier the energy efficiency is
high but the tar content of the gases is very high. On the other hand the particle
content of the gas is low due to the filtering effect of the biomass. The moisture
content of the feed stock should be 40 to 50% maximum.
In the downdraft gasifier, Figure 5.3, the biomass and the air both move in the same
direction downstream. At the bottom is a constriction or a grate through which the
ash is removed. The gases formed leave the gasifier after passing through the hot
zone, so part of the tar formed during gasification is cracked. The gases leave the
vessel with a temperature of 900 to 1000C.
The energy efficiency of downdraft gasifiers is low, as part of the energy is carried
out by the hot gases, but the tar content is lower as part of it is cracked during
gasification. The content of particles in the gas is high.
In the crossdraft gasifier, Figure 5.4, the biomass moves downwards in the gasifier
and the air is introduced from the side, the gases formed are with-drawn at the
same level at the opposite side of the vessel. Around the entrance of the air a hot
combustion/gasification zone forms, higher up in the vessel a pyrolysis and a drying
zone. The ash is removed at the bottom of the gasifier, the temperature of the
gases leaving is 800 to 900C. The energy efficiency of the crossdraft gasifier is
also low, the tar content of the gas is high.
In general fixed bed gasifiers have the advantage of a simple design but the
disadvantage of low heating value and high tar content (up to 40g/Nm
) of the gas
formed. The gas consists of 40-50% nitrogen, 15-20% hydrogen, 10-15% carbon
monoxide, 10-15% carbon dioxide and 3-5 % of methane; its lower heating value
is between 4 and 6MJ/Nm'. The high content of nitrogen doubles the gas volume
so the downstream gas clea-ning equipment is large and expensive. In order to
obtain a high heating value the moisture content of the feed material should not
exceed 15-20%, so normally pre-drying is necessary. Between 50 and 70% of the
energy content of the biomass is found in the gas formed.
Up-draft Down-draft Cross-draft
Figures 5.2 to 5.4 Fixed-bed gasifiers
Considerable experience in the design and the operation of fixed bed gasifiers is
available although mostly confined to coal gasification.
In order to improve gas quality it has been proposed to separate gasification into
two steps,(Figure 5.5). In the first step the biomass is pyrolysed by external heating
at temperatures up to 600C. The pyrolysis gases react with preheated air and
steam to increase the temperature and to crack the tar. In the second step the gas
produced is sent to the second reactor to react with the char formed in the first
step. The gas is further purified by standard methods; its quality is said to be
sufficient for use in a gas motor.
A problem is the heat transfer through the metal walls in the first step of the
process. An externally heated screw conveyer is used in the pilot plant so scaleup
will be difficult.
7\ lysis
Gas .
Figure 5.5 Twostep gasification process
5.3.4 Fiuidised bed gasification
Fiuidised bed technology has been used extensively for coal gasification for a long
time (Winkler generator, 1922). Its main advantage, compared with fixed bed
gasifiers, is the uniform temperature distribution in the gasification zone.
A problem of all fiuidised bed gasifiers is sintering of the bed material caused by the
ash components of the biomass, especially by alkali compounds, at higher
temperatures. Annual plants are high in alkali content of the ash and pose special
problems. At the same time the bed material is expected to have some catalytic
activity for tar cracking and should be inexpensive. Dolomite and olivine have been
tested and have shown good performance but there is still room for further
improvement. This important problem is discussed further in chapter 5.3.7 below.
Two different types of fiuidised bed gasifiers are available: bubbling bed gasifiers
and circulating fiuidised bed gasifiers. Recently a third type, the fast internally
circulating gasifier has been developed which combines design features of the other
two types.
Bubbling bed gasifiers. Figure 5.6, consist of a vessel with a grate at the bottom
through which air is introduced. Above the grate is a moving bed of finegrained
material, mostly ash, into which the biomass is fed. The temperature of the bed is
kept at 700 to 900C by regulating the air/biomass ratio. The biomass is quickly
pyrolysed in the hot bed to form char and gaseous compounds. The high-molecular
compounds in the gas are cracked by contact with the hot bed material so that the
tar content of the gases leaving the reactor is low (app. l-3g/Nm
). Fiuidised bed
gasifiers are readily scaled up to high capacities. To avoid problems of sintering of
the bed material caused by high alkali content of feed the bed temperature can be
set rather low, but in this case loss of the char with the ash removed will be higher.
As the heat stored in the bed material acts as a buffer, fluctuations in feed quantity
or moisture content can be tolerated and do not influence the composition of the
gas produced.
For gasifiers with high capacities circulating fiuidised bed gasifiers, Figure 5.7, have
been developed and are already used especially in the pulp and paper industry for
the gasification of bark and other residues. The bed material is circulated between
the reaction vessel and the cyclone separator from which it is recycled into the
reactor. In this way the char content of the ash is reduced. Boilers of this type are
used extensively in the pulp and paper industry for steam generation from waste
material. They have capacities from lOOMWu, upwards.
Steam and biomass are introduced into the reactor and react with each other. As
the gasification with steam consumes heat the bed material is cooled. Part of it is
transported into the combuster where air is intro-duced. A certain part of the char
is burnt in the combuster thus raising the temperature of the material by ~100C.
The flue gases are separated from the solids which are then recycled into the
reactor to supply the heat required for gasification so that the temperature in the
reactor is kept constant.
The gasification and the combustion can either take place in two separate vessels or
a combined fluidised-bed gasifier and an entrained flow reactor (riser) is used (fast
internally circulating gasification. Figure 5.8).
This design has three advantages:
the nitrogen content of the gas produced is low (=.3 - 5%) due to the fact that
the flue gases from the riser are not mixed with the gas produced in the
reactor. As a result the lower heating value of the gas produced is between 13
and 15MJ/Nm
compared with 6 to 7MJ/Nm
when gasifying with air.
less tar is formed during gasification when steam is used as gasifying medium
than when using air; for example at 750C with air the gas at the exit of the
gasifier contains about 10 to 15g/Nm3 of tar, with steam only about Ig/Nm3.
The tar formation can be further reduced by adding dolomite to the fiuidised
bed, when using steam to contents as low as 20 to 50mg/Nm3.
the moisture content of the biomass feed is not limited and can be as high as
60% so no pre-drying is necessary. It is expected that all of the steam needed
for gasification can be produced in the gasifier so that no steam boiler is
necessary for it.
Figure 5.6 Bubbling bed gasifier Figure 5.7 Circulating fiuidised bed
-y (lue gas
I^prod uct gas
Figure 5.8 Fast internally circulating gasifier
Up to now the fast internally circulating fiuidised bed technology has been tested in
lOOkW-scale only and technical experience with it is still lacking.
5.3.5 Entrained flow gasification
Biomass of small particle size can be gasified while entrained in air. To achieve
complete gasification in a short time temperatures of 1200 to 1500C are required.
The ash is removed in the form of a melt. Because of the high alkali content of the
ash from biomass there is considerable danger of corrosion of the firebrick lining of
the walls. No technical experience with this type of technology is available.
Entrained combustion of biomass is similar to staged combustion of fossil and
biomass fuels used to reduce the formation of nitrogen oxides during combustion.
In the first stage the fuel is reacted with enough air to achieve a reaction
temperature of 700 to 850C only; under these very reducing conditions very few
nitrogen oxides are formed. By adding secondary air downstream of the first stage
complete combustion is achieved with low nitrogen oxide emissions. Similar
advantages are claimed for entrained flow gasification of biomass.
Recently, entrained gasification has been used to substitute part of the fuel in
conventional coal-fired power stations (see Annex 1). In this case no complete
gasification is necessary but the mixture of gas and char formed in the gasifier is
immediately introduced into the main combustion chamber of the boiler for
complete combustion. In order to control the residence time a small circulating
fiuidised bed can be used for the gasification. The temperature can be kept at 800
to 900C so the problem of the corrosion of the walls is avoided; there is also no
need for gas purification. It is expected that up to 20% of the coal can be
substituted in this way.
5.3.6 Pressurised gasification
Biomass gasifiers can be operated at elevated pressure. This is of interest if the gas
produced has to be compressed afterwards, as, e.g. for use in gas turbines or for the
synthesis of synthetic natural gas, methanol or other chemicals. A few
demonstration units have been built and operated in Finland and in Sweden but
technical experience available is limited.
Some experience with pressure gasification is available from coal gasification where
similar problems arise. The design of the gasifiers includes an outside pressure-
bearing metal wall kept at a low temperature and an inner firebrick lined reaction
chamber at high temperature. Fiuidised beds are used for gasification in the
demonstration units built so far (Figure 5.9).
Figure 5.9: Pressurised gasification
One of the main problems connected with the pressurised gasifiers concerns the
introduction of the feed material into the gasifier. A number of solutions to this
problem have been suggested and some have been successfully tested in
demonstration units but are rather expensive.
5.3.7 Gas treatment
The gas formed in the gasifier contains a number of impurities, notably-
nitrogen compounds;
sulphur compounds; and
alkali compounds.
Depending on the intended use of the gas some or all of these impurities must be
removed. For this there are two principal possibilities: hot gas cleaning and cold
gas cleaning. Hot gas cleaning avoids cooling the gas and, therefore, is of
advantage when the gas is to be used hot. Cold gas cleaning presents less technical
difficulties but wastewater contaminated with tar is formed which requires special
treatment. For these reasons technical development has concentrated on hot gas
Particulate material in the gas produced consists of ash and char. The quantity of
particulates depends on the gasification technology used; it is higher when using
fiuidised bed technologies than with fixed bed gasifiers.
The coarser particles (>10) can be removed by conventional cyclones. The
material removed can be recycled into the gasifier. For further separation of the
particles filtering devices are necessary, such as filter bags or sintered ceramic or
metallic filter candles. Removal efficiencies of more than 99,8% are possible.
Clogging of filters is a problem, as soot and tar tend to adhere to the ash/char
particles and to the filter surface which leads to an increase in the pressure drop and
finally to complete clogging.
To reduce filter clogging high temperatures of operation (>500C) are necessary.
At lower temperatures tar tends to condense on the filter surface and can be
removed by controlled combustion only.
Tar removal
When cooling the gas downstream of the gasifier high molecular weight organic
compounds begin to condense at about 450C and continue to do so on further
cooling. This condensate is generally called tar; part of it is deposited on the walls
of the piping, part of it remains in the gas in the form of an aerosol. The tar content
is a major problem in the removal of the particulates from the gas, but especially in
the utilisation of the gas.
The nature of the tar produced in the gasification of biomass depends very much on
the type of biomass, the gasification process used and on the operating conditions
in the gasifier. Gasification with air tends to produce tar of high viscosity and low
reactivity, gasification with steam produces a liquid tar of low molecular weight.
With higher temperatures of gasification the oxygen content of the tar becomes
lower so that high temperature tar consists nearly completely of hydrocarbons.
Because of these differences in composition the interpretation of the analytically
determined concentrations of tar in the gas is still a problem: depending on the
compounds contained in the tar the same total quantity of tar in the gas sometimes
leads to condensation and sometimes not.
There are two different strategies for the control of the tar content of the gas:
the improvement of the gasification technology so that no or rather little tar is
the development of removal processes for the tar.
Tar formation in gasification depends on the feed material, the gasification
technology, the gasification medium and on the operating conditions of the gasifier.
Recently tar levels of less than lOOmg/Nm
have been achieved in bench scale
gasification with steam as the gasification medium but it remains to be
demonstrated that this can be reached also in large scale plants.
Tar contained in the gas can be destroyed by cracking at high temperatures or
removed at low temperature; in the latter case the tar removed is recycled into the
Tar can be cracked catalytically at 800 to 900C or thermally at 900 to 1100C. As
the gasification temperature is usually in the range of 750 to 850C thermal
cracking requires heating the gas; as indirect heating is technically very difficult at
high temperature the best way for heating is to introduce a small volume of air.
This is an effective way but reduces the energy efficiency of the gasification
process. For this reason catalytic cracking is usually preferred. Dolomite, olivine
and nickel compounds show catalytic effects. Catalysts in the form of granules ( 5-
20mm in diameter) or in the form of extruded beehives are used. During operation
the surface of the catalyst is covered with alkali compounds and thus de-activated.
It has to be replaced from time to time. Conversion efficiencies of up to 99% have
been reported.
Tar removal is a technology well known from coke oven gas cleaning. The best
way is the use of electrostatic precipitators which are able to catch aerosols also.
For its use it is necessary to cool the gas to 60-80C.
When cooling the gas, water is also condensed. As part of the organic substances
in the gas is soluble in water this condensate is heavily contaminated and requires
special disposal.
Removal of trace impurities
Biomass contains small quantities of nitrogen, sulphur, chlorine and other trace
elements which are volatile under the operating conditions of the gasification. For
this reason the gas coming from the gasifier contains also nitrogen, sulphur,
chlorine and alkali compounds in small quantities, the exact concentrations
depending on the feed stocks used and on the opera-ting conditions in gasfication.
For certain applications the removal of these impurities is necessary, details of the
specifications are given below in section 5.4.
Nitrogen compounds are mainly ammonia, with small contaminations of hydrogen
cyanide possible. In combustion of the gas these compounds will form, to a large
extent, nitrogen oxides leading to emission problems. The nitrogen compounds are
gases that can not be removed by filtration but by wet scrubbing with water or
aqueous solutions, which requires cooling of the gas to about 50C.
To eliminate wet scrubbing it is usually preferred to leave the nitrogen compounds
in the gas and to use low-NO
techniques in combustion or selective catalytic
reduction of the nitrogen oxides in the flue gas.
Chlorine is mostly present in the form of hydrogen chloride, HCl, in the gas from
the gasifier, the concentrations depending again on the feed stock and on
gasification conditions. Hydrogen chloride causes corrosion of the downstream
equipment and also emissions after combustion. It can be removed by wet
scrubbing or by adsorption on active material, but little technical experience is
available in this respect.
Alkali metal compounds, especially potassium and sodium compounds, are volatile
at high temperatures, although it is not as yet quite clear which compounds are
actually present in the gas. Alkali compounds cause corrosion of ceramic filter
materials and also of turbine blades. The best way to reduce alkali content of the
gases is to cool the gases to about 500C so that most of it will condense and to
filter the gas afterwards.
Carbon monoxide/methane conversion. CQ
As mentioned above the gas from the gasifier consists mainly of hydrogen, carbon
monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrogen. For certain applications, as e.g.
for the synthesis of liquid fuels or for fuel cells, hydrogen only can be used. So it is
necessary to convert or remove the other components.
For the conversion of carbon monoxide and methane, well known techno-logy is
available from other processes for the production of synthesis gas. Methane is
reacted with steam to form carbon monoxide and hydrogen:
CFL, + H2O < > CO + 3 H
It is an equilibrium reaction and requires a catalyst, usually nickel-based, and excess
of steam. Technical expertise is available from a number of engineering companies.
The carbon monoxide can also be converted into hydrogen by the well-known shift
reaction with steam:
CO + H2O < > CO2 + H
This is also an equilibrium reaction requiring a catalyst; two stages at different
temperatures are normally used to reduce the final concentration of carbon
monoxide to low levels. Technical expertise is available commercially, as is the
catalyst. If the remaining small concentration of carbon monoxide in the reacted
gas is not permissible it can be converted catalytically into methane by reacting it
with hydrogen.
The carbon dioxide originally in the gas or formed by the shift reaction can be
scrubbed using an alkaline fluid, usually an aqueous solution of ethanol amines.
The reacted solution can be regenerated by heating.
Using these reactions it is possible to adjust the composition of the gas coming
from gasification to the requirements of the intended use but it must be remembered
that each conversion step requires investment and causes loss of energy efficiency.
Hydrogen separation
For some applications it is necessary to produce (almost) pure hydrogen, e.g. for
some fuel cells. In this case the hydrogen must be separated from the impurities in
the gas.
Standard hydrogen production from coal uses oxygen/steam gasification, methane
decomposition, carbon monoxide conversion and carbon dioxide scrubbing. The
same principle can be used for biomass gasification but plants are expensive and
The diffusion of hydrogen through palladium membranes has been suggested for
this process but up to now only laboratory tests have been performed. The main
problem is the pressure drop through the membrane of-lObar.
5.3.8 Ash disposal and waste water treatment
The ash from the biomass feed to the gasifier is withdrawn from it as a solid
material which still contains appreciable quantities of char. Part of the ash is
carried out of the gasifier with the gas in the form of fine particles.
The ash contains potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and other elements of interest
for the growth of plants. It is, therefore, important to recycle it into the soil.
Problems in this direction arise from toxic heavy metal compounds also present in
the ash. If their concentration is above the limits set by the local authorities it must
be disposed ofin a controlled way.
Wastewater that has been in contact with the gas is contaminated with tar. At low
levels biological treatment can suffice, usually it will be necessary to use
wastewater incineration or high-pressure oxidation with air.
5.4 Gas utilisation
The gasification of biomass has to be seen in connection with the utilisation of the
gas produced. Economic competitiveness for biomass gasification depends to a
considerable extent on using the specific advantages in the utilisation of the gas. So
the proper combination of gasification and utilisation is an important technical task.
5.4.1 Direct combustion and conventional power production
If the gas produced by gasification of biomass is directly combusted there is no
necessity to purify it, which reduces its costs considerably. The temperature of the
gas has to be kept above 600C in order to prevent the condensation of tar in the
piping system and the heating value of the gas is increased also.
In co-combustion systems of gas from biomass gasification with solid waste or with
coal, the gas can be kept at high temperature and in this way the problems with tar
formation and separation can be avoided.
A number of updraft gasifiers are in operation in Finland in combination with
district heating plants. In this case, too, the gas is immediately combusted without
cooling it. It is claimed that this combination is competitive with combustion of
biomass using grate type furnaces, because the gasifier is very flexible as to feed
stock quality: it can gasify wood chips, straw, waste, and even peat. But in Finland
a high number of annual peak operating hours can be expected (see section 5.8) so
the competitiveness of this process in other locations remains to be demon-strated.
If the gas is to be distributed through a pipeline system it is necessary to cool it and
to separate the tar, otherwise the piping system will be clogged sooner or later.
The purification of the gas is technically complicated and expensive so the
advantages of gasification cannot be fully realised.
This is also true for the use of gasification for steam boilers. In this case
gasification can be used to avoid one of the biggest handicaps of biomass in the
conventional production of power, i.e. the limitation of the steam pressure and of
the superheating temperature due to the corrosive nature of the flue gases in direct
combustion. Because of these limitations which are normally set at 60bar and
475C the conversion efficiency of biomass to power is 30 to 32% maximum. If
the biomass is gasified and the gas produced is purified, standard boiler operating
conditions could be used and the efficiency raised to 40+%. Nevertheless, at
present this process is not considered to be economically viable.
As the gas produced in the gasification of biomass contains part of the nitrogen of
the biomass in the form of ammonia, its use for the substitution of ammonia used
for the reduction of nitrogen oxides ("reburning") in power plants based on fossil
fuels has been suggested and tested with good results. In this case the credit for the
gas is higher than that for its energy content.
Gasification followed immediately by combustion of the gas produced has also been
used for limekilns especially in the pulp and paper industry. Several units are in
commercial operation. In this application an efficient removal of the ash particles
from the gas is necessary as the ash carried over will contaminate the lime. The
lime is used in pulping so its purity is critical.
5.4.2 Gas motors
Internal combustion engines of the Otto or the Diesel type can be operated with gas
produced by the gasification of biomass. Motors operating with natural gas are
standard design. For use with gas from biomass some changes are necessary to
adapt the engines to the con-siderably lower heating value of this gas; some
operating experience is available with motors operating with landfill gas and with
biogas. Specifications for the gas purity for use in gas motors are reported to be
maximal concentrations of 30mg/Nm
of particulates and 100mg/Nm
of tar but
operating experience over longer periods is still lacking. The difficulties in the
interpretation of the analytically determined tar concentrations in the gas have
already been mentioned above.
The energy efficiency of the conversion of biomass to power using internally ignited
4-stroke gas motors running on gas from biomass gasification is 35 to 40% which is
higher than with conventional steam cycles but less than achieved in conventional
power plants using fossil fuels. Motors with capacities up to 3MW gas input per
engine are available. In order to improve energy efficiency it is possible to recover
low-temperature heat from the cooling system of the motor in the form of hot
v/ater and to use this for district heating or for industrial applications. In this way
the energy efficiency can be raised to 75-85%. Modules for the catalytic treatment
of the exhaust gases are available. Gas motors can be used for power production in
low-capacity plants as they are standard equipment.
Gasification of biomass combined with gas motors has been operated in pilot plants
but experience in commercial operation for longer periods is still lacking,-when gas
qualities within the specifications are secured, good reliability can be expected.
5.4.3 Gas turbines
In the last years gas turbines have found widespread application in power
production from natural gas, so the use of gas from biomass gasification also
appears interesting but poses a number of problems.
Gas turbines are available in a wide range of capacities. Two principal types are on
the market: lightweight aero-derivatives and industrial machines. Fuels used are
gas oil and natural gas. In power production for peak shaving, open-cycle gas
turbines are used which means that the hot gases of the turbine exhaust are
released into the atmosphere. Accordingly the energy efficiency of this process is
low. To improve efficiency, integration with steam turbines in combined cycle use
has been developed. The hot exhaust gases from the turbine are led into a waste
heat boiler to generate steam. This steam is used in steam turbines to raise
additional power. A further increase of energy efficiency is possible by using flue
gas condensation systems producing hot water for district heating or for industrial
use. Integrated gasification-gas turbine-steam processes (IGCC-processes) involve
a complex technology so their field of application is limited to large-scale
operations. Various plant configurations have been suggested. Efficiencies in
power production of 35 to 45% can be expected, in CHP operation an additional
30 to 50% in the form of low temperature heat.
Compared with conventional fuels for gas turbines (natural gas, gas oil) the gas
from gasification of biomass has a considerably lower heating value: natural gas
about 36MJ/Nm
and gas from standard gasifiers 4-6MJ/Nm
. This poses two
problems in the use of conventional gas tur-bines. In order to obtain the same
combustion temperature a substantially higher volume of low-calorific gas is needed
compared with natural gas. So in the turbine expander the mass flow is larger and
there is an excess of energy compared with the design point of the engine. There
are various proposals to cope with this problem but little actual operating
experience is available.
Gas turbines are very sensitive regarding fuel gas purity so very tight gas
specifications apply: - maximum lmg/Nm
for sulphur and its compounds and
maximum 0,lmg/Nm
of alkali metal compounds have been cited, but due to lack
of operating experience it is not sure if these figures are too low or too high. The
limit for sulphur can be reached by using zinc oxide filters but the limit for alkali
metal compounds is very difficult to achieve.
As the combustors of the gas turbines work under pressure, gasification under a
suitable pressure is an advantage and helps to improve energy efficiency. Another
possibility to achieve this is steam injection but to be effective fuel gas of higher
calorific value is necessary; here steam gasification is of advantage.
5.4.4 Fuel cells
In the last years fuel cells of various types have been developed which permit the
direct conversion of chemical energy (hydrogen, methane, etc.) into electricity
without prior conversion into heat energy. In this way the well-known problems of
the Carnot cycle can be avoided and, at least in principle, high efficiencies obtained.
Up to now their use has been mainly restricted to space applications.
The technical development of fuel cells is not yet finished and further progress can
be expected. The following table gives an overview of the types that have been
described so far:
Alkaline cells
Membrane cells
Phosphoric acid
Molten carbonate
Solid oxide cells
Conversion to
(efT. %)
40- 60
50- 60
40- 50
50- 60
50- 60
to impurities
The only type that is commercially available is the phosphoric acid cell; all others
are either not produced by industry or are only in demonstration stages yet.
As can be seen from the table above conversion efficiencies to electricity are in the
range of 40 to 60% which is higher than in conventional power plants but implies
that the rest of the energy, i.e. 40 to 60% is lost. In order to improve the energy
efficiency it is, therefore, necessary to utilise the waste heat in the form of low-
pressure steam or hot water. This is possible only if the operating temperature of
the cells is high enough (>120C).
High-temperature cells are less sensitive to fuel purity; it appears also possible to
use internal reforming so that gas mixtures can be used as a fuel. This would save
all the equipment needed for gas conversion to hydrogen.
At present the cost of fuel cells is high; it remains to be seen if prices can be
reduced by mass production in the future.
5.4.5 Synthesis of natural gas and liquid fuels
The production of methane (synthetic natural gas, SNG) from biomass, using
gasification, has been proposed as in this way the existing natural gas pipe line
systems could be used for its distribution.
The synthesis of methane is possible using a reaction which requires a catalyst:
CO + 3 H
> CH, + H
Any nitrogen in the synthesis gas will dilute the methane formed.
The production of synthetic natural gas from biomass is at present too expensive to
be of commercial interest.
Two well-known technologies are available for the production of liquid fuels using
gasification of biomass:
the production of methanol
CO + 2H
the production of a mixture of hydrocarbons (Fischer-Tropsch synthesis)
CO + 2H
> -CH2-- + H2O
Both technologies have been used commercially so technical experience is available.
Methanol is produced in large quantities for use in the chemical industry. Normally
natural gas is used as a raw material but some plants use coal as well. Methanol is
suitable for use as a motor fuel and as a fuel extender. It is also possible to produce
higher alcohols, e.g. ethanol, propanol or butanols. The Fischer-Tropsch synthesis
is used commercially in South Africa to produce motor fuels from coal via
gasification in large quantities.
The use of biomass gasification for the production of liquid fuels is at present an
economic and not a technical problem.
5.5 Environmental and safety issues
In the utilisation of the gas produced, flue gases can cause emissions into the
atmosphere as from any other fuel, so these emissions are not covered here.
The tars formed during gasification consist of hydrocarbons and oxy-genated
compounds, such as phenols. Parts of the compounds in the tar are highly
unsaturated and tend to polymerise after condensation of the tar to form a solid
substance. Some of them are toxic, a few are suspected to be carcinogenic. It is,
therefore, important that it is not necessary to handle and store the tar separated
from the gas but that it is at once consumed by recycling it into the gasifier. At
present there is little experience available as to the effects of this recycling on the
gasification. Wastewater, especially when contaminated with tar, is a much graver
problem. Although there are some indications that it could be purified by biological
waste water treatment methods, at present it is generally assumed that it will be
necessary to treat it in an incinerator. Little technical experience is available in this
If biomass dryers are used, the vapours from the dryers contain a number of volatile
organic compounds, especially terpenes. As in the case of wood chip driers in
particleboard manufacture, purification of these vapours is necessary to meet the
specifications of some countries in the European Union, such as Sweden, Germany
and Austria. High temperature oxidation is required to destroy all organic
compounds, which is rather expensive.
Safety aspects in gasification plants are connected with the handling of large
quantities of combustible material and gases.
Danger of fire and explosion is increased if the biomass is pre-dried. Dust
explosions can take place in large volume storage vessels and have to be guarded
against. Mixtures of the producer gas with air are also explosive. In all cases
standard methods of accident prevention should be followed.
The health effects of tar from biomass gasification are not well docu-mented but in
analogy to coal gasification and pyrolysis it must be assumed that certain
components of the tar are cancerogenic (see chapter 6.4.2).
There is also very little information about the possibility of dioxin formation in
biomass gasification. The chlorine content of wood is very low but is higher in
certain annual plants. Under the reducing conditions of the gasifier dioxin
formation is unlikely. If the chlorine compounds are removed from the gas there is
no possibility of dioxin formation during the combustion of the gas.
5.6 Economic aspects
The economics of biomass gasification depend mainly on the local conditions of its
use as biomass cost and power and heat credits differ considerably at different
locations even within the European Union. Despite this fact it is possible to analyse
the existing economic data and to draw important conclusions from them.
As a result of a collaborative project organised by the IEA Bioenergy Agreement
with the participation of the EC, a detailed economic and technical analysis has
been published (" Electricity production by advanced biomass power systems",
Technical Research Centre of Finland, Espoo 1996, ISBN 951-38-4881-1).
Investment and operating cost data given in this report have been used in the
following analysis.
5.6.1 Investment costs
The analysis of published data about actual plant cost corrected as to their scope, to
a common time value of the money and to a West European location has resulted in
the following equations:
Scope of cost: Total plant cost from prepared feed to clean gas
Time value of money: 1994
Range of validity: 100-100.000 kg/h biomass feed (dry, ash free basis)
1.9-1900 GJ/h biomass feed (dry, ash free basis)
Atmospheric gasification:
Investment cost = 32400 cap
0.698 [ECU, 1994]
Pressurised gasification:
Investment cost = 90423 cap
0.6383 [ECU, 1994]
(cap = capacity of gasifier in kg/h of dry and ash-free biomass feed)
At the present state of the art it is obvious that the figures calculated from these
equations are estimates only with a considerable range of uncertainty.
More interesting than the absolute figure is the contribution of each of the plant
sections to the overall costs.
Reception of feed, storage and
Size reduction and screening
Gas scrubbing and waste water
atmospheric pressurised
% of total plant cost
From these figures it becomes apparent that the cost of the gasifier itself is between
one third of the total plant cost for atmospheric type gasification plants and about
one half for pressurised plants. Major additional contributions come from biomass
drying, gas cleaning and from wastewater purification.
5.6.2 Costs of production
Costs of production of power, or heat and power, in gasification plants consist
mainly of :
cost of biomass;
labour; and
capital cost.
In the case of combined heat and power production the credit for heat produced
and sold is important.
Cost of biomass, cost of labour and capital cost differ considerably among the
countries of the European Union so it does not make much sense to give detailed
figures for them. More important are the contributions, from each of the sectors
mentioned above, to the total cost. A number of model calculations for the
production of power using various biomass gasification processes are available
using average values for the variables.
Basis of the calculation:
Capacity 30MWel
Cost of biomass 9.54ECU/MWh energy content
Peak operating time 5000 h/a
Maintenance 1.6% p.a.
Capital cost (annuity method) 5% p.a.
Depreciation 20 years
Credit for heat 18ECU/MWh
Cost of production of energy :
Fuel cost
Investment dep.
Total production
Credit for heat
Production cost of
Atmospheric IGCC
Pressure IGCC
*' includes interest, depreciation and maintenance
As can be seen from the table above, quite independent of the technology used, the
most important factor for total cost of production are the invest-ment dependant
costs. Other important factors are the price of the feed material and the credit from
the recovery and sale of heat.
Taking note of economies of scale it can be expected that in plants with a smaller
capacity than 30MW the influence of the investment cost will be still larger and in
plants larger than 30MW somewhat lower.
5.7 European Commission projects achievements
The gasification of biomass, especially of wood, was developed and used between
1930 and 1945 but the technologies of this time are not suitable under our present
environmental standards. When interest in gasification of biomass arose again
around 1980 it was realised that further develop-ment would be necessary both in
fundamentals and in technology. Groups in a number of countries started to work
in this area but it soon became apparent that the problems could be solved better by
international co-operation. In the beginning this co-operation was organised both
within the International Energy Agency's Bioenergy Agreement and within the
European Union's research programmes, but now there is close co-operation
between the efforts of both organisations. So the present state-of-the-art in
biomass gasification is the result of intensive research efforts in the past 10 years; a
major part of this effort was supported by the European Commission.
Biomass gasification was already used during World War II to a considerable
extent to substitute gasoline in vehicles. New interest in gasification started around
1980 but it was quickly recognised that the technologies available were not suitable
under modern environmental and technical standards. So the goals set for the first
step in the technological development were
to widen the range of possibilities for applications of gasification;
to improve energy efficiency and
to improve the environmental impact of biomass gasification.
As a result the research projects for biomass gasification have been mainly focused
on four problem areas:
feed materials and feed preparation
gasification processes
gas purification and
gas utilisation.
In all of these areas JOULE and THERMIE projects have made major
technological progress possible in biomass gasification in the last three to four
Feed materials and feed preparation: New feed materials and new methods for feed
pretreatment have been developed. The fact that bio-genous residues are cheaper
than biomass is clearly reflected in the research projects. Co-gasification of various
waste materials, but also co-combustion of biomass with coal and oil with
pretreatment of the biomass by gasification are interesting new developments that
will lead to a reduction in costs for the energy produced.
Gasification processes: Improvement of the gasification technology is another focus
of the research projects. Fixed-bed gasification has been improved and fluidisd-
bed gasification has been developed according to technical requirements. The
feasibility of steam gasification is being tested.
Gas purification: The contamination of the producer gas with particulates and tar is
one of the greatest obstacles to the deployment of the gasification of biomass.
Numerous processes are under investigation: hot gas cleaning and catalytic tar-
cracking appear to have the best chances, i.e. the least cost.
Gas utilisation: The utilisation of the gas produced for the production of power by
combined gas turbine-steam turbine cycles and the use of fuel cells are another
focus of the research work. Co-production of heat and power is essential to ensure
competitiveness with fossil fuels.
In addition the THERMIE programme aims at the demonstration and deployment
of the technologies developed by research, it requires the participation of industrial
organisations and economic feasibility is a prerequisite of the projects. The
improvement of gasification technologies and their use in various sectors of the
energy market are the main themes, but in addition, the integration of the plants
into the local production systems of biomass is an important objective. The
rationale of the THERMIE actions is the fact that the cost of plant using new
technologies is high and subsequent plant will profit from the know-how gained
(learning effect). By contributing part of the additional cost required for
demonstration plants the deployment of a new technology can be accelerated
considerably. Most of the projects involve the co-operation of industrial partners
with university institutes. In this way the flow of know-how from basic research
into technical utilisation is ensured. On the other hand problems encountered
during design, construction or start-up of the new plants can immediately be
referred back to research in order to solve them.
As a result of the common effort in this area the technical progress in biomass
gasification in the EU countries the past years was considerable. The experience
and the know-how available within the EU is now better or at least equal to those
in other countries; this fact is shown by a comparison of the plants of other
countries with those of EU countries (see Annex). The main problems mentioned
above have been solved: biomass gasification now complies with modern technical
and environmental standards - obviously at the expense of higher investment and
production cost. But in the meantime the prices of fossil energies have been
decreasing steadily so that, at present, despite the technological success of the
development efforts, biomass gasification is competitive under special conditions
only. For this reason the goal of future research efforts in biomass gasification
must be to reduce costs while maintaining the technical and environmental
standards. It is important that the financial support for these efforts by the
European Commission is continued in the future as the widespread application of
this technology would be an important contribution to our efforts towards
sustainable energy supply but depends on its competitiveness with energy from
fossil sources.
5.8 Future prospects
5.8.1 Comparison of gasification technologies
The utilisation of biomass gasification in the various sectors of the energy market
sets certain requirements in order for the technologies to be utilised. This section
will identify these requirements in terms of the capacities of the gasification plants
and possibly the pressure and composition of the gas produced.
CHP; In CHP plants the utilisation of the heat produced is limiting the capacity. As
discussed earlier the quantity of heat is up to six times as much as the quantity of
power produced. Electricity can be transported easily to other locations where it is
needed but the heat has to be used at the location of its production; so the local
demand for low-temperature heat is the limiting factor.
This demand for heat can either be use in industry or residential heating via district
heating, the latter depending on the climatic conditions of the location. In Northern
European countries space heating amounts to 3000 peak operation hours/a, in
Central European countries to 1500 to 2000 hours/a, in South European countries
to 500 hours/a or even less. Industrial use is normally at 7000 to 8000 hours/a at
full load. This difference in the number of peak operation hours/a is important as
investment dependant costs are the largest factor in the production cost of energy,
as discussed in section 5.6.2. On the basis of the data given for 5000 peak
operating hours/a, an operating time of only 2000 hours /a will increase fixed cost
by a factor of 2.5 and an operating time of 8000 hours/a will decrease them by a
factor of 0.625. Taking into account that about two thirds of the total costs are
fixed costs this means an increase of total cost of 100% or a cost reduction of 25%
compared to the figures given in section 5.6.2 above. It thus appears that the use
of CHP with biomass fuels is primarily of interest when the heat can be utilised by
industry. This statement implies that the determining factor for the selection of the
location of a CHP plant, as well as for the selection of its capacity, is the industrial
plant to which it will sell the heat produced.
The upper capacity limits of CHP plants are also set by the availability of biomass.
Limitations of land use due to the requirements of food and feed production, as
well as for industrial use (pulp and paper, fibre and particleboard, timber, etc). The
following table gives indications of the quantities of biomass needed and of the
energy produced. A yield of 5t/ha/a of dry biomass is used as the basis of
calculation although up to 15t/ha/a have been achieved, as it cannot be expected
that highly productive agricultural land is used for the production of biomass for
conversion to energy, but rather marginal land not suitable for food production.
In Northern Europe, forest areas of 1000km
(100.000ha) and more are available
and the supply of biomass will be limited only by availability of transportation. In
the densely populated countries of Central and Southern Europe a maximum of 5 to
10% of the area can be expected to be available for energy production. So there
will be a practical limit of about lOOMWu, biomass input for CHP plants (in fact for
any plant using biomass), the limitation being both the local availability of biomass
but also the maximum heat requirements for average industrial plants.
Plant capacity
Power + heat
MW, + MW,
1 + 1
5 + 5
30 + 30
300 + 300
Area required
Power and heat
GWh/a each
CHP plant operation assumptions: 7000 peak operation hours/a, energy efficiency
= 40% heat + 40% power = 80% total, biomass 20% moisture, productivity 5t/ha/a
Regarding gasification, annual biomass has two handicaps compared with wood
and bark:
its seasonal harvest which requires not only large storage facilities but also
stability in storage against decay, i.e. a moisture content of less than 15-20%;
the formation of tar in gasification is much higher with annual plants than with
wood or bark.
These two facts imply that the competitiveness of biomass gasification is much
better in forested areas and will be more difficult in agricultural areas.
In agricultural areas of Central Europe another aspect in the use of gasification
could become important: - its possible contribution to improve the competitiveness
of biomass fuelled district heating plants. Numerous such plants with capacities of
0.5 to lOMWth are in operation but nearly all of them need public subsidies to be
competitive with fossil fuels. The use of gasification for the co-production of
electricity could improve their economy if simple, low-cost, technologies would be
available. In this case heat production would be the main purpose so the
conversion efficiency to power could be low. No suitable technologies have been
suggested so far for this purpose.
In addition to the limitations in capacity special requirements for the gas quality
exist depending on the technology used in the CHP plant. Due to lack of
experience in the operation of commercial plants most gas specifications are still
preliminary; some data are listed in section 5.4.
Gasification and combustion: The capacity requirements for gasification plants with
combustion of the gas produced depends on the energy requirements of the
consumer. A good example are forging plants where up to 15 independent
furnaces have to be supplied by one central gasification plant. The furnaces are
usually not larger than a few MWu, but larger furnaces also exist. It can be assumed
that the total energy requirement of any single consumer would not exceed
Gasification for synthesis gas production: Gasification of biomass for the
production of synthesis gas requires very large capacities as the plants will produce
at least 100.000t/a of motor fuel for economic reasons. Assuming that methanol is
produced, this type of plant will require a gasification system of about 120MW. In
addition, the gas produced has to have a low nitrogen content and should be
supplied under pressure in order to save compression costs. To meet these
requirements the gasification plant would operate under pressure with an
oxygen/steam mixture.
5.8.2 Improvement of gasification technologies
In this section an attempt is made to define objectives and targets for the further
improvement of existing technologies and for the development of new technologies
for the gasification of biomass. Although such improvements are of a technical
nature their objective is an economic one, in general to make gasification more
competitive with other energy technologies. The economic situation can be
improved either by a reduction of the costs or an increase in the income from the
products. These two possibilities will now be analysed.
Reduction of costs: As discussed in section 5.6.2 the production costs of the
gasification process consist of about two thirds investment costs and nearly one
third of fuel costs. Cost of labour becomes important also at small plant capacities.
Two items, reception and storage and handling of feed are well-known and well-
developed processes, so the chances for further improvement are small. The
situation is different with drying of biomass, gas scrubbing or waste water
treatment as there is at least the theoretical possibility that technical progress will
make these steps unnecessary.
Even now it is possible with certain gasification technologies to use biomass with a
moisture content of 50 to 60% (i.e. as it comes from production) for gasification
without undue reduction of the gas quality and the energy efficiency. There is still
a lack of plant experience with these technologies but chances appear to be good
for further improvement. An additional advantage of the use of biomass with a
high moisture content is an appreciably lower danger of explosion of biomass dust
in storage.
The same is true for improvement of the gas quality. Here two targets can be
further reduction of the tar content of gas to make gas purification and, as a
result of this, water purification unnecessary;
reduction of the nitrogen (N2) content of the gas in order to reduce gas
volume; as the size of the gasifier and all downstream equipment is determined
by the gas flow through them, any reduction of the gas volume will
automatically lead to smaller equipment and to a reduction of cost.
A further reduction of the tar content is necessary as tar-cracking cannot be
expected to have conversion rates higher than 99%. A limit for the tar content of
the exit gas of 5mg/Nm
implies a limit for the inlet gas of 500mg/Nm
The nitrogen in the gas is an inert component. It decreases the heating value and
increases the volume of the gas. Its reduction or, better still, elimination would
reduce the gas volume by at least 50% and as a consequence reduce the cost for the
gasifier and the downstream equipment by 30%. It would also eliminate the
existing difficulties with the combustion of gas of low heating value in gas turbines
and allow a higher proportion of steam injection.
The fuel cost comprises approximately one third of the total cost of production.
The difference in prices for different types of biomass is considerable:
Lowest price levels apply to biomass wastes from forestry, agri-culture,
industry or municipalities, such as bark, straw, saw dust, shavings, olive pits,
Medium price levels apply to biomass from forests, e.g. wood chips from forest
operations, thinning, etc.
Highest price levels apply to biomass specially produced for energy production
e.g. annual plants, short rotation coppices, etc.
In some cases it is even possible to obtain a credit for accepting a feed, e.g. for
sludge from waste water treatment or refuse derived fuel (RDF). In order to
smooth seasonal variations of availability of biomass, coal can also be used as a
feed. The co-gasification of such materials has to be investigated in each case as
their properties can differ considerably from those of biomass.
Until recently the price of energy plants was low due to the subsidy for setaside
land but this cannot be expected in the future.
The market prices of different types of biomass fluctuate considerably. In order to
be able to utilise these fluctuations in feedstock buying it is necessary to provide for
a flexibility of feed stocks in designing the plant, especially in the storage, the
inplant transport and the feeding sections.
The value of biomass for energy production depends primarily on its energy content
but also on moisture content, contaminants, etc. The drawbacks in using annual
plants in gasification, as mentioned above (seasonal harvest, problems with stability
in storage, tar formation), must also be considered in the selection of a feedstock.
In small installations the contribution of labour cost to total costs tends to become
considerable. A minimum of two persons per shift will be required for safety
reasons. Assuming five shifts, this involves costs of about ECU300.000 per annum
which is equivalent to the feed costs in an 8MWu, gasification plant. Automisation
is technically no problem, but it is not clear if, or under what conditions, authorities
will permit automatic operation of gasification plants without the presence of
operating personnel. Within the framework of existing industrial plants the
gasification plants could be supervised by staff from other operations in order to
save costs.
Increase of income: An increase of income can be realised by
increasing energy efficiency, e.g. by utilising CHP technology instead of power
production alone;
producing products of higher value, e.g. by decreasing the ratio heat/power in
High energy efficiencies imply high ratios of reduction of carbon dioxide emissions
and are favourable both for the economic and the environ-mental performance of
the processes.
Products of higher value are primarily electricity and liquid motor fuels. As the
quality standards for motor fuels are very strict their production from biomass
involves problems; at the same time it must be remembered that the indirect
substitution of motor fuels by substituting fuel oil produced from petroleum is an
interesting strategy.
5.9 Conclusions
This study investigates the recent development in biomass gasification from the
technical, the environmental and the economic viewpoints and comes to the
following conclusions:
Gasification is an interesting option as it allows the use of biomass for energy
production in various sectors of the energy market;
Capacities of future gasification plants will be limited by the quantity of
biomass available locally. Except in the northern European countries the
capacities will probably not exceed 50 - 100MW fuel input;
Power production from biomass by conventional steam processes has an
energy efficiency of 35% maximum, while the use of combined-cycle plants
involving biomass gasification and gas turbines could come up to 45%. High
plant costs and high fuel costs will result in a higher cost of the electricity
produced compared with power stations using fossil fuels;
Combined heat and power plants will be preferred to stand-alone power
production. Their capacity is limited by the local demand for low-temperature
heat; industrial acceptors of the heat are to be preferred to district heating
systems as the annual operating time of them is longer;
Gasification of biomass for the production of liquid motor fuels or synthetic
natural gas (SNG) is expensive and by all probability not competitivein the near
As energy market data differ considerably from country to country, and even within
different regions of countries, it is necessary to evaluate the local conditions and
identify in detail the segments of the energy market in which biomass gasification
has the best chances to succeed and the technologies required for these segments.
Nevertheless, the conclusions cited above imply the following guidelines for the
future development of the gasification of biomass:
Biochemical gasification of biomass by anaerobic fermentation is well advanced
in technical development; its use, especially for the gasification of biomass with
high moisture content is state-of-the-art and limited by economic factors only;
As the fixed cost of biomass gasification plants is the main cost factor, future
technical development should concentrate on the simplification of the plants.
Possibilities for such simplification can be recognised: - in avoiding pre-drying
of biomass; - in reducing tar formation in the gasification by improving gasifier
design to avoid elaborate tar removal and waste water purification systems; - in
improving steam gasification which avoids dilution of the gas produced by
In power production the use of waste heat can contribute to improvement of
the economics and should be encouraged;
Plants for the supply of local district heating systems have a high cost for the
heat produced as the annual peak hours of operation are low; combined power
production by simple systems and low investment cost could improve
The use of fuel cells could become interesting if the price of them is reduced in
the future. Depending on the type of fuel cell, gas conversion and purification
will be necessary.
Utilisation of the waste heat of the fuel cells is necessary in order to improve
economics and environmental effects;
Gasification of biomass waste and co-gasification of biomass with waste
materials and with coal has the potential to improve economics and should be
further investigated.
Principal demonstration and commercial thermochemical gasification plants
In this section a number of demonstration and production plants for the gasification
of biomass will be described. A more detailed description of ongoing research,
development and demonstration activities is given in the "State-of-the-art report on
biomass gasification", prepared by the European Union Concerted Action "Analysis
and Co-ordination of the Activities Concerning Gasification of Biomass", ALR 3-
CT94-2284, published in November 1997.
A.l Updraft gasification
Location of plant:
Owner/operator of plant:
Plant capacity:
Technical details:
Demonstration of updraft gasification technology
Harbore, Denmark
Ansaldo Vlund R&D department, Kolding, Denmark
4-6 MWu,
Wood chips, straw
Atmospheric updraft gasifier; advanced grate design;
thermal and catalytic cracking of tar
After successful gas cleaning a gas motor and a
generator will be added.
A.2 Circulating fiuidised bed gasification
Location of plant:
Owner/operator of plant:
Plant capacity:
Technical details:
Plant cost:
Gasification of wood to produce gaseous fuel for a
lime kiln
Pietarsaarii, Finland
Wisa Forest, Pietarsaarii, Finland
35 MW*
Wood chips
Fuel crushing in a hammer mill; pre-dryed in a flash-
dryer by hot flue gases; gasifier employs Ahlstrm
Pyroflow circulating bed technology; gas is used in a
lime kiln.
Several other similar plants are in operation
A.3 Fiuidised bed gasification with steam
Location of plant:
Owner/operator of plant:
Plant capacity:
Technical details:
Plant cost:
Steam gasification of biomass
Vienna, Austria
Institut fr Verfahrenstechnik, Brennstofftechnik und
Umwelttechnik, Technische Universitt Wien,
Getreidemarkt 9, A1060 Wien, Austria
100 kWu,
Wood chips up to 40 % moisture, bark, solid waste,
plastics waste
Fiuidised bed gasification of biomass with steam; part
of the bed material is contacted in a riser with air to
heat it up and returned into the gasifier to supply the
heat of gasification; gas contains 24% nitrogen only,
lower heating value 1214 MJ/Nm
Industry, Austrian Research Fund
A larger demonstration unit is in the design stage
slum '
A.4 Pressurised fiuidised bed gasifier
Location of plant:
Owner/operator of plant:
Plant capacity:
Technical details:
Plant cost:
Demonstration of pressurised gasification
Laboratory of Thermal Power Engineering, University
of Delft, Mekelweg 2, NL-2 2628 Delft, The
as above
1,5 MW,
Pelletised straw, Miscanthus
The fiuidised bed gasifier operates at 700-900C and a
pressure of 4 to 8bar; ceramic filter for the gas
produced; ammonia removal.
APAS, Delft University
Plant was originally designed for coal gasification
recirculated flue gas
- nitrogen
A.5 Pressurised gasification with IGCC
Location of plant:
Owner/operator of plant:
Plant capacity:
Technical details:
Plant cost:
Demonstration of pressurised gasification and
integrated combined cycle power production
Vrnamo, Sweden
Foster Wheeler Energia Oy together with Sydkraft
18 MWu, input biomass; 6 MW
+ 9 MWu, output
Wood chips
Operating pressure 22 bar; gasification temperature
950 -1000C; heating value of gas 5 MJ/Nm
; gas
purification by ceramic filters at high temperature;
steam pressure 40 bar, steam temperature 470C.
A.6 Entrained flow gasification
Location of plant:
Owner/operator of plant:
Plant capacity:
Technical details:
Plant cost:
Cofiring of biomass with coal in a power station
Zeltweg, Austria
sterreichische Draukraftwerke A.G.Kohldorferstrae
98, A8740 Klagenfurt, Austria
Biomass gasification 10 MWu,, power plant 1000
Wood chips and bark, moisture app. 50 % as received,
25 % after drying
Entrained flow gasification of biomass combined with
a fiuidised bed; the gas produced including the char is
introduced into the coal combustion chamber without
any prior purification
Rue gas
Hcburn zone



A.7 Production of electricity from biomass by IGCC
Location of plant:
Owner/operator of plant:
Plant capacity:
Technical details:
Plant cost:
Demonstration of power production from biomass
Aire valley, Yorkshire, UK
Yorkshire Environmental Ltd., Leeds, UK
Chips from willow coppices dried to 10-20 %
Atmospheric gasification in a circulating fiuidised bed,
tar cracking in a second fiuidised bed of dolomite, cold
gas cleaning, compression to 20 bar, gas turbine,
steam boiler
36.4 MECU
In design stage
Gas Cooling
Gas Purification
Fuel Gas
Gas Compressor
A.8 Electricity production from biomass by IGCC
Location of plant:
Owner/operator of plant:
Plant capacity:
Technical details:
Plant cost:
Demonstration of the production of power from
biomass in an integrated combined cycle
Cascina, near Pisa, Italy
Bioelettrica S.p.a.
Gasifier 41 MW.h, 12MW
Wood chips, olive residues, grape residues, saw
dust;predried to 7 % moisture
Atmospheric circulating fiuidised bed gasifier; cold gas
purification; gas turbine; condensing steam turbine.
In design stage
Integrated Atmospheric Gasification Combined-Cycle Plant
for Biomass Electric Conversion.
THERMIE Project 199^
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A.9 Hawaii Biomass Gasifier Project
Location of plant:
Owner/operator of plant:
Plant capacity:
Technical details:
Plant cost:
Gasification of bagasse and use of the gas to produce
electricity by IGCC
Paia, Maui, Hawaii
50 to 100 t/d biomass
Bagasse from a nearby sugar plant, wood chips,
alfalfa, paddy rice straw, RDF
Gasification of biomass in a bubbling fiuidised bed
with an air/oxygen/steam mixture at a pressure of 1 to
2.2 MPa to produce a medium heating value gas; hot-
gas clean-up of the gas; utilisation in a gas turbine to
drive the generator (RENUGAS process)
50 % DOE, 50 % private enterprises
Process still in development
.10 Vermont Gasification Project
Location of plant:
Owner/operator of plant:
Plant capacity:
Technical details:
Plant cost:
Demonstration of the Batelle Columbus Laboratories
gasification process
Burlington, Vermont, USA
Future Energy Resources Co., Atlanta, Georgia, USA
200 t/d solids
Wood chips
The gasifier consists of two fluidisedbed reactors, one
for gasification and one for combustion working at a
pressure of 0.17 MPa; the solids circulate between the
two reactors so that the heat for gasification with
steam is supplied by the hot solids from the
combustor; the gas produced is of medium heating
value; it is cleaned by tar cracking, cyclones and
scrubbing; at present the gas produced is cofired in a
conventional power station, at a later date the gas will
be used in a gas turbine;
50 % DOE, 50 % private enterprises
Process still in development
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Pyrolysis is one of the three main thermochemical routes to convert biomass into
useful primary energy products. It consists in the heating of a raw material in the
absence of oxygen. As a result of the thermal decomposition of the organics of the
material, a gas, a liquid and a solid are formed which can be used as such or
upgraded to give more usable or more value added products. Figure 6.1 and Table
6.1 illustrate the range of products and yields achievable through pyrolysis.
Heat 11. K
Figure 6.1 Products from biomass pyrolysis and their uses.
The control of the main reaction parameters: temperature, heating rate and
residence time as well as the biomass characteristics, mainly moisture content and
particle size, make it possible to influence the range of products obtained as follow:
Conventional slow pyrolysis commonly named carbonisation at temperatures
around 450C, with low heating rate and long vapour residence time gives an
approximately equal proportion of solid, liquid and gas,
Fast (or also called flash) pyrolysis at a temperature of 500C, at very high
heating rates, and short vapour residence times (less than 1 second) allows high
liquids yield, typically 60 to 70% on dry basis.
Fast pyrolysis at temperatures above 800C, at very high heating rates and
short vapour residence times allows high gas yields up to 80% and above.
Fast pyrolysis
60 - 80%
12 - 20%
5- 15%
Slow pyrolysis
30 - 35%
25 - 30%
20 - 35%
25 - 30%
20 - 25%
40 - 45%
Table 6.1 Range of products achievable through pyrolysis
This chapter concerns pyrolysis for the production of solids and liquids (as gas
production has been developed here above).
Pyrolysis of solids is well known if not completely understood, as charcoal was
involved in the development of Mankind through use in metallurgy. Charcoal
remains of great interest as it is used for numerous applications world wide and
constitutes the main domestic energy source in several developing countries, mainly
in Africa, where it can represent, with fuel wood, up to 90% of primary energy
consumption (e.g. Niger, Mali).
Fast pyrolysis offers a major advantage in providing a liquid product which can be
stored, handled, transported in an easy way and decoupled from the conversion
technology (compared to gasification for example). Even if it is less developed
than combustion and gasification, pyrolysis for liquids has benefited from active
research programs since the 80s, because bio-oil can be substituted directly for fuel
oil or upgraded for more demanding applications as transport fuel.
As reaction parameters and mechanisms are of great interest for the understanding
of the products produced, a simplified reminder of fundamentals is necessary.
6.1 Pyrolysis mechanisms and pathways
As biomass is treated under non-oxidizing conditions, its components degrade and
vaporize. An over-simplified kinetic model of biomass pyrolysis (I) is useful to
illustrate the classification established above (Figure 6.2).
CHAR, f CO> + ,
GAS (CO Ml , Ci I.)
Figure 6.2 Simplified kinetic model of biomass pyrolysis as grouped parallel
reactions (1)
The three main primary first order parallel pathways are identified with nominal rate
constants, Kl , K2, K3 with respective activation energies that increase in the
sequence El < E2< E3.
Reaction 1, which dominates at low temperature, gives a conventional slow
pyrolysis regime associated with charcoal production. Reaction 2 dominates at a
higher temperature rate giving mainly liquids, - it is the fast pyrolysis regime. At
yet higher temperatures, Reaction 3 dominates and mainly gives gas. Reaction 4
represents the vapour phase reaction with recombination of primary pro-ducts to
increase gas yields. Relatively slow at the pyrolysis temperature, Reaction 4
doesn't affect liquid production yield if the residence time of the vapour is short.
These reaction pathways are competing with each other and the biomass
composition adds complexity to the pyrolysis mechanism.
Numerous studies have been performed on the main constituents of biomass, i.e.
cellulose, hemi-cellulose, lignin, even if cellulose has received the greatest attention
due to its easy purification and separation. The most well known reaction
pathways for the pyrolysis of cellulose have been proposed by Shafizadeh (2,3),
Piskorz & al (4) and Antal (5). Lignin, which is the most thermally stable
component, has been subjected to research attention. Nevertheless, most results
have been obtained from model components, such as kraft lignin. Abundant works
are available for those who need more information and an extensive bibliography is
given by Bridgwater (6).
As many papers have been published during the last decades on the fundamentals of
biomass pyrolysis, an agreement on a general model for wood decomposition might
be expected. Unfortunately, even if there is a consensus that the mechanism of
biomass pyrolysis behaves as superposition of the kinetics of the primary
components, there are still controversies and uncertainties as a great number of
parameters are involved. As an example, LEDE & al (7) recently discussed the
nature and properties of intermediates formed during the reaction of biomass
decomposition which may be of interest (primary pyrolysis products being liquid or
gas, the final quality of the products might be very different depending on reactor
design). The main benefit of these studies is optimisation of the process
engineering and reactor design so as to predict yields and composition. Reaction
pathways allow the pyrolysis process parameters to be specified for the production
of specific chemicals in significant yields.
The Table 6.2 below summarizes the parameters involved in the pyrolysis reaction
and their influence for solid or liquid yield and quality.
Biomass composition
and nature
density of biomass
particle size
moisture content
Reaction (final) temp.
High temperature
Heating rate
high heating rate
low heating rate
Vapour residence time
High pressure
Pyrolysis for solid
higher density increases solids
yield and density of charcoal
large particles increase solid
yield as heat and mass transfer
arc limited
high moisture content slightly
de-creases the yield of solid
and in-creases friability
Decreases solid yield
Increases fixed carbon content
Increases friability
increases friability
increases solid yield
Long residence tiine increases
solid yield
Don't affect solid yields
Increases solid yield and
decreases fixed carbon content
at the same temperature.
Pyrolysis for liquid
Affects liquid yields as it influences the heat capacity, the
permeability and the heat transfer.
Provides high molecular weight compounds especially
with very short vapour residence time, de-polymerisation
Affects liquid composition and properties as it might have
catalytic activity, particularly alkali
large particles > 2-6mm decrease liquid yield and
products degrade as secondary reactions occur within the
particles (not that true with ablative pyrolysis).
high moisture content decreases liquid yields as it affects
heat transfer and thermal conductivity. Liquid properties
will be affected: phase separation above certain level,
HHV, viscosity, etc.
increases liquid yields with optimum around 500C for
increases liquid yield if there is no mass transfer
Long residence time >l-2s, causes secondary cracking,
affecting liquid properties.
Very short residence time increases liquid yield and
affects product quality as it limits further decomposition
of lignin
Chemical composition of liquid changes depending on
catalyst. Few experiments with online catalyst.
Decreases liquid yield as it limits product elimination
Increases liquid as very low vapour residence time is '
Table 6.2 Pyrolysis parameters involved in liquid and solid products yield and
6.1.1 Products quality
Characteristics of pyrolysis end-products
A large range of product performances as fuel is reported depending on the
operating conditions and the biomass feedstock. Typically the range of energy
efficiency which can be achieved is summarized in Table 6.3. Process parameters
and feed characteristics induce a wide variety of results as shown in Table 6.4.
Table 6.3 Comparison of main product energy yields.
The typical chemical composition of a char obtained from slow pyrolysis is 80-85%
fixed carbon, 15-20% volatiles and 0-2% ashes. Ash content depends on the initial
biomass ash content. Volatiles content depends on the pyrolysis parameters. For
example, pressurized pyrolysis process gives char with a higher volatile content (up
to 30% for the same final temperature) than atmospheric pressure pyrolysis. Table
6.5 gives some characteristics of charcoal quality as a function of processes and
biomass used.
Temp. C
Ablative (8)
Fluidized bed (9)
Fixed bed retort
zed (IC
"bagassa guianensis
Table 6.5 Analysis and composition of chars from different pyrolysis process.
Feedstock Species
Moisture content wt%
Particle size, mm
Process parameten
temperature C
pressure, bar
vapour residence time,
(moisture free feed)
Total liquids u1%
Liquid const.
(t% liquids)
Formic acid
Acetic acid
LOO (9)
LOO (9)
: , 00.
, (8)
Tropical wood

Tropical wood'

Son wood
* including formaldehyde
** wet feed
*** bagasse guianensis
Table 6.4 Product yields and composition obtained by pyrolysis processes
As solid fuel, charcoal is used around the world for domestic purposes, (developing
countries), for castiron production (Brazil, Malaysia), in electrometallurgy as
silicium reductor (worldwide) and in the production of chemicals and activated
carbon. The world production is difficult to estimate as a large part is produced
and commercialized through informal markets. From different studies and statistics
published, the world production is over 10 million tonnes per year.
Pyrolysis liquids are referred to by such names as pyrolysis oil, biocrude, biooil
pyroligneous liquids, tars, liquid smoke, wood distillates, and are well known over
the years from slow pyrolysis process where they are largely used for chemical
applications (today replaced by the petroleum chemistry).
Biomass pyrolysis liquids are complex, dark brown colored, viscous, highly polar
and acid products. Typically, the pyrolysis liquids are singlephase liquids
containing various amounts of solids, as well as amounts of water, which keep the
biooil in a liquid form. Water content is around 20% on a dry feedstock (10 wt %)
and higher with wet feed. Water also comes from chemical reactions during
pyrolysis. Elementary analysis is close to that of the biomass it comes from. The
Table 6.6 shows a spectrum of characteristics of the liquids from different pyrolysis
processes compared to fuel oil.
Moisture (%)
Specific gravity
Ultimate analysis mf
Ash %
HHV raw MJ/kg
Viscosity cSt (40C)
BTG (13)
rotating cone
Pine wood
A (15)
gas oil
Table 6.6:
* calculated from elemental composition
** moisture free
*** at 50C
Characteristics of the liquids from different fast pyrolysis processes
compared to light fuel oil.
The bio-crude contains several hundred different chemicals in widely varying
proportions, ranging from low molecular weight to complex high molecular weight
phenols and anhydrosugars. The complexity and the variation come from the
degradation of the different primary compounds inherent in the feed material
(biomass complexity) and from uncontrolled degradation/recombination in the
process i.e., liquid from fast pyrolysis has significantly different physical and
chemical properties compared to the liquid from slow pyrolysis.
Phase separation can occur and different factors are involved in the phenomenon:
water content: An excess of water in the pyrolysis oil (50%wt.) causes phase
separation. It depends on the pyrolysis liquids and their origin. Czernik shows
that the water content of the oils increases slowly with time while the viscosity
simultaneously increases. These facts were explained by the occurrence of
condensation of lignin derived components (16).
feedstock nature: For example, peat and rapeseed may produce two or three
distinct phases in the liquids (17). Lignins are also at the origin of the heaviest
molecular part of the liquid.
storage and ageing: The heaviest part of the compounds gradually settles at the
bottom, forming a thick sludge. Exposure to air also causes bio-oil
degradation - minimum exposure to oxygen is necessary to avoid
polymerisation. Nevertheless, bio-oil can't be kept in a sealed enclosure due to
gas formation during storage (risk of pressure increase).
process parameters: slow pyrolysis and long vapour residence time increases
the phase separation although the interaction between temperature and
residence time is less understood. Part of the char is carried over from the
separation devices and collected in the liquids. This char will increase phase
separation due to some interaction with the lignin-derived fraction.
Furthermore, polymerisation and phase separation can be caused by
temperatures above 100C.
Water-soluble fractions largely consist of carbohydrate derived products while the
water insoluble fractions are a highly viscous phase and mainly derive from lignin.
However, the separation is not so exclusive. Meier (18), who set up new
fractionation techniques in order to allow an easier precipitation and filtration of the
high molecular fraction, confirms after GC/MS and GPL analysis that this fraction
is very similar to natural lignin.
Pyrolysis liquids have a heating value of nearly half that of a conventional fuel oil,
typically 16-18MJ/kg. The water content of the liquid varies widely depending on
the feed moisture content and, to a certain extent, on the process. The heating
value varies proportionately.
The density of the liquid is very high at around 1.2kg/l compared to the biomass it
comes from (between 0,4 and 0,8) or to light fuel oil (=0,85kg/l). Compared to the
bulk density of certain biomass resources, like agri-based residues, straw or
sawdust (which may have bulk densities as low as 150kg/m
), pyrolysis liquids offer
a large reduction in the cost associated with storage and transportation.
Non-condensable gases are produced during pyrolysis as discussed above. Their
share and composition vary according to the process conditions. Gases typically
represent 5% of the biomass energy content for fast pyrolysis and up to 25-30% in
the case of slow pyrolysis.
Main constituents are CO, CO2, CH4 and H
for 95% and over on N2 free basis.
The balance is constituted by a few C2 to C4 hydrocarbon gases.
The Table 6.7 gives a breakdown of the gas composition.
Ablative Aston
Ablative Aston
Fluid bed Waterloo
i ne
Table 6.7 Main constituents of different pyrolysis gases
6.1.2 Feedstock requirements
Feedstock quality
Remarks and comments from the previous chapter on gasification are more or less
the same for pyrolysis. The requirements for the feedstock differ from one biomass
to another and on the expected product. Nevertheless, feedstock requirements for
fast pyrolysis are stricter in terms of particle size and moisture content:
the heat transfer rate requirements described impose particle size limitations on
the feedstock for pyrolysis. In theory, particle size should be as small as
possible in order to increase liquid yield. The cost of size reduction in financial
and energy terms is obvious but there is a lack of data to define such a penalty
associated with the small particle sizes demanded in fluid bed and circulating
fluid bed systems. The optimum size of the particles, depending on the reactor
design, ranges from 2 to 6mm. Ablative reactors such as NREL's are less
sensitive to particle size as far as heat transfer is concerned.
drying is required to less than 1 Owt% moisture otherwise the water content of
the crude oil is too high as the reaction water alone will average llwt%.
Selective condensation may reduce the water content of one or more fractions
but at the expense of operating problems and a possible loss of low molecular
weight volatile components.
For slow conventional pyrolysis there is no feedstock size requirement as far as
charcoal is concerned. Nevertheless, high efficiency and production technologies
require feedstock preparation in order to reduce the reaction duration (full log
carbonisation is possible and achieved in tropical countries but with a several day
cycle duration). The optimum feedstock characteristics can be associated with
those of off-cuts from dry sawn timber processing.
A wide variety of feedstock has been tested, from wood species to agri-based
residues and industrial wastes. It is therefore almost possible to get approximate
yields of solids, and to a certain extent, liquids and gases, achievable under different
process parameters and feed quality (moisture, ash content, etc.).
In the case of fast pyrolysis, feedstock has been less extensively tested. Most of the
literature reports results on wood based biomass. Some results are reported on
biomass agricultural residues such as straw or olive shells, but less extensively.
Few processes have been adapted to waste management. The most advanced
process is promoted by Pyrovac. Nevertheless, product qualities are not so well
known, particularly of waste resources, due to the wide range of product mix.
Feedstock availability
Feedstock availability is the main concern with energy, as the economics of plant
will largely depend on a sustainable fuel supply. Agri-based wastes are mostly
available on a seasonal basis. Their use requires storage, increases the risk of decay
during storage and implies the use of multi-fuel technology, which is not so obvious
with gasification and pyrolysis in particular. Woody biomass, i.e. residues from
wood industries, bark, short rotation coppice or forest residues, constitute the most
sustainable biomass resource to a certain extent. Indeed, Chartier (19) mentions
that except for the Swedes, Finns and Austrians, forestry owners have not been able
to create a real production distribution chain for wood energy. The supply of large
biomass energy plants has to be properly organised in order to minimize the risks
inherent in fuel supply availability and price. On the other hand, the development of
a wood energy market may disturb the existing market flow for paper-mills, as
plant managers will try to get the easiest and cheapest supply. However, in the
long run this problem may become an advantage as product requirements are not
the same and the industrial and energy exploitation could be complementary, with a
consequent benefit for the overall forest resource management.
The exploitation of a wide variety of wastes derived from industry, commerce and
the domestic sectors has received considerable attention throughout the world.
This is not only because it offers the opportunity to conserve conventional fuel
resources, but also because it is considered to offer both a cheap source of supply
and a means to protect the environment. Pyrolysis, particularly slow pyrolysis,
offers an interesting solution for waste management as it allows separation and
concentration of pollutants into the different fractions depending on the operating
conditions, thus facilitating downstream treatment. It has been investigated by
several organisations and industrial pilot plants exist in Europe for municipal solid
wastes (MSW). These technologies are out of the scope of this work. Moreover
the use of MSW or industrial wastes should be considered with caution for fast
pyrolysis, with the aim of bio-oil supply to market, due to possible contamination of
the products. Finally, experiments have shown that waste inorganic contaminants
interact with the pyrolysis phenomenon and modify liquid yields and quality.
6.1.3 Process characteristics and requirements
As it has been explained biomass primary components degrade at different rates and
by different mechanisms. Hemi-cellulose and cellulose degrade rapidly over a
narrow range of temperature while lignin starts to degrade at low temperature, but
at a low rate, continuing up to high temperature when the others have already
decomposed. The process parameters and the reactor design will therefore have a
great influence on the rate of decomposition of this component and subsequently on
the quality of the products, - particularly liquids. Even if energy use of the liquid
accepts a wider range of product quality compared to chemical applications, the
need for standards on the end user side will require a strengthening of the process
parameters into a narrower range.
Process for liquids
In order to fulfil the requirements for liquid yield and quality, a typical biomass fast
pyrolysis unit involves the following steps:
chipping: depending on the size of the biomass a wood chipper might be
necessary to reduce the size of the material. It can be done in the forest area
(short rotation coppice, forest residues) or on site (wood residues),
drying: moisture content of the feed should not exceed 10 to 15%, - a dryer is
therefore necessary, except for some agri-residues,
grinding: in order to get sufficiently small particles to ensure rapid reaction it
has been demonstrated that biomass size should be reduced down to 2 to6mm,
- 2mm is probably the optimum. This step can be avoided with ablative
reactors but no scale-up has been attempted,
separation: hot vapour-phase cyclone to separate char and a solid/solid
separator to separate char from the bed material in case of circulating fluid bed
reactor (ENSYN). Char removal is an essential requirement for fast pyrolysis
as hot char is known to be catalytically active: - organic vapours are cracked to
secondary char, water and gas. Moreover, the presence of char creates
problems with end uses.
cooling and liquid collection.
It is obvious that the reactor configuration and the heat transfer medium strongly
influence the quality of the crude oil in terms of average molecular weight. A wide
variety of reactor configurations have been investigated, - particularly in Europe
through EC programs. Nevertheless, three different main types of reactors can be
recognized for fast pyrolysis (others are derived from them or a combination).
Each of them is representative of a predominant heat transfer mode, i.e.
conduction, convection or radiation.
1. Ablative reactors, where over 95% of the heat transfer mode is conduction.
The largest results available are from Lede, Diebold and Peackoke on lab scale
experiments. This type of reactor offers an advantage in accepting large
feedstock size. On the other hand it presents two main disadvantages which
limit up-scaling, - heat supply is problematical and the high mechanical char
attrition creates char separation problems.
2. Fluid bed reactors, in which approximately 90% of the heat is transferred by
conduction and 10% by convection. The largest existing plants are based on
this reactor design. The design also represents the most tried type of reactor as
it profits from wider use of biomass thermochemical energy conversion. The
main advantages are a limited char abrasion, high heat transfer rates and a
simple reactor configuration. Major problems are related to economics, as
these reactors require a small particle size. Based on this design, ENSYN has
developed a transported bed reactor. Its main added advantages are a very
high heat transfer rate and a very low residence time of the vapour (down to
0.02s). However the design increases the complexity of the technology as it
necessitates solid recirculation and solid/solid separation.
3. Entrained flow reactors in which 95% of the heat transfer is performed by
convection. Entrained flow reactors were investigated less (ENGEMIN) and
with variable results
Process for solid
Process requirements for solids are of minor importance compared to fast pyrolysis,
as biomass low heat conductivity is the major limiting factor to heat transfer with
large size particles. Most of the reactors are fixed bed reactors where heat supply
is provided by the partial combustion/gasification of the feedstock and the heat
transfer mode is a mix, with a predominance of convection (bio-alternative and
most widely used conventional kilns), convection by gas/vapour recirculation
(Usine Lambiotte - France) and radiation and conduction in retort (Chenviron -
6.2 State of the art
Pyrolysis for solids as well as liquids from biomass is a relatively old technology. It
was largely used for the production of chemicals prior to the development of the
petroleum industry. Based on slow conventional carbonisation processes where
both solid and liquid were produced, few units have passed through the '70s. Two
large plants still exist in Europe and will be briefly described later.
Oil crises have reactivated thermal biomass conversion as a renewable source of
energy. Increasing attention has been paid to liquids due to their ease of handling,
storage and transportation. The fast pyrolysis principle was first investigated in the
'80s by the University of Waterloo (Canada), which can be credited with the
foundation of the present fast pyrolysis method. Compared to combustion which is
used worldwide on a commercial basis, and to gasification which has reached the
stage of demonstration, fast pyrolysis is at a relatively early stage.
6.2.1 Pyrolysis processes
A recent extensive review of fast pyrolysis processes experimented on worldwide
has been published (6). These studies provide detailed information on activities
carried out in this field over the past fifteen years. An overview of the current
position of processes that are advanced technically or are commercially available is
presented below.
North America
Fast pyrolysis of biomass for liquids began in North America around the '80s and
has reached the commercial stage, with one company offering plant with
performance guarantees and also some industrial and pilot scale units.
Ensyn - Canada
Ensyn RTP is the only commercial technology for fast pyrolysis plant with a
performance guarantee. By 1997, three plants have been sold, - two of which are
aimed at commercial production of food chemicals. The largest unit, a one dry
tonnes per hour unit at Red Arrow in Wisconsin (USA) operates 5 days/week,
24hr/day, depending on the market. The bio-oil is used for chemical production
and as a boiler fuel for both heat and power production. Another plant is located in
Ottawa and has a nominal capacity of 80kg/hr. dry feed. It operates at a 93% load
factor 7 days a week and its full production is dedicated to the food chemical
market. The third unit is a 650kg/hr. pilot plant installed in 1996 at Bastardo in
Italy. Further operations are planed over the first half of 1998 to produce bio-oil to
meet EC contractual requirements. Additional units have been sold or are in
various stage of negotiation with several customers. The total throughput of the
Ensyn plants is quite difficult to know. It is thought that 14,700t of dry wood have
been processed in 1997, producing ll,000t of bio-oil. On a basis of 300days/year
production, and a 90% load factor, it would represent an installed capacity of 54
dry tonnes per day, which is roughly the installed capacity of the three existing
plants. Throughputs are projected to increase in 1998 with the construction of four
new units, among which two are in Europe, for a total capacity of 300,000t/y of
bio-oil. From this bio-oil production, about 90,000t will be sold into the chemical
market, 154,000t will be sold as boiler fuel for heat and 56,000t used as fuel for
power production (20).
Resource Transforms International ltd. (RTL Canada)
RTI is a University of Waterloo spin-off company whose mandate is the
commercialisation of fast pyrolysis technology, as well as R&D activities and
consulting. The main market scope is chemically oriented with products like
levoglucosan, hydroxyacetaldehyde, etc. Two pilot units of 10 and 20kg/h with a
fluid bed reactor are currently operating to produce chemicals and bio-oil samples.
The manufacture of bio-lime, to be used for emission control, is being investigated
by Dynamotive (Canada).
Pyrovac (Canada)
The Pyrovac process is a horizontal moving-bed vacuum process for biomass and
waste developed by the Laval University and commercialised by a spin-off company
Pyrovac Inc. A 200kg/h pilot plant unit is operational. A new pyrolyser relying on
heat transfer from a molten-salt based indirect heating system, with approximately
3t/hr. throughput, for biomass application is being developed to address the heat
transfer limitation usually encountered in vacuum pyrolysis technologies. Extensive
work has been carried on waste material such as used tyres, automotive shredder
residues, plastics, municipal wastes and contaminated soils. Pyrovac is also
investigating the chemical market, particularly with respect to the phenolic fraction.
National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL. USA)
NREL has actively contributed to the present knowledge of fast pyrolysis.
Nevertheless, a 30kg/hr. vortex ablative pyrolyser, which had been developed, was
dismantled and a smaller reactor of 20kg/hr. capacity is used at higher temperature
for gas production. NREL activities on fast pyrolysis focus mainly on chemical
applications from bio-oil and also on up-grading.
European Union
Within Europe the situation is less developed. As most interest has been stimulated
by the JOULE and AIR programs, pyrolysis technology in EU is still at laboratory
or pilot scale. Nevertheless, within the past decade, the plant capacity has
increased and considerable progress has been made in the development of fast
pyrolysis and in the utilisation of the liquids produced. Two fast pyrolysis units
within Europe are significant in terms of capacity:
the 200kg/h dry biomass Union Fenosa plant in Spain, - based on the
University of Waterloo (Canada) fiuidised bed reactor. In this plant, shown in
Figure 6.3, forest residues, mainly eucalyptus, oak or pine are first dried and
ground down to 2mm before being introduced into the fiuidised bed reactor.
Pyrolysis products are separated and cooled, resulting in a liquid and a solid
fraction. The non-condensable gases are recirculated to the reactor once
preheated. The plant has now been operating for an extended period of time
allowing the accumulation of valuable experience regarding the influence of the
different parameters that can affect the production of the bio-crude on a pilot
scale basis. Union Fenosa bio-oil has been extensively used by different
organisations in the framework of EC funded projects to investigate upgrading,
motor diesel testing, etc. Although bio-oil of relatively stable characteristics
was regularly obtained, slight variations have been observed even if the same
feedstock, and apparently the same process parameters, was used,
the 650kg/hr. dry biomass ENEL plant in Italy based on the ENSYN entrained
flow reactor is illustrated in Figure 6.4. The plant is based on the latest Ensyn
RTP design. The feed is first dried to a maximum moisture content of 8% with
a maximum size of 6mm and then fed to the circulating fiuidised bed reactor.
The separation of the bed material and the char is performed by a cyclone. The
heat of combustion of the char is used to reheat the sand in a direct contact
heat exchanger. Non-condensable gases are partly sent to the pyrolyser and
partly to the sand reheater. The reuse of gases and char should make the plant
self sufficient in energy during operation. The objectives of this EC funded
project are to assess the reliability of the process on a large-scale basis and to
evaluate the economics of the technology. The bio-oil produced should be
supplied to different organisations mainly for the testing of power generation
applications. After the start-up test run in June 1996, the plant was stopped
and the planned programme has not yet been performed. The plant is due to
start again to fulfil EC contractual obligations.
Figure 6.3 Union Fenosa fast pyrolysis plant in La Coruna (Spain)
Figure 6.4 ENEL fast pyrolysis plant in Bastardo (Italy)
Besides these plants, which are both based on Canadian technology, Biomass
Technology Group BTG (Netherlands) has developed under EC programmes its
own fast pyrolysis reactor based on ablative pyrolysis achieved in a rotating cone.
The concept is that biomass particles are fed in at the bottom of the heated rotating
cone and are then deposited on the heated surface, with the char and ash residues
expelled from out at the top of the cone. A pilot plant with a throughput of
200kg/hour biomass is under construction.
There are many lab scale fast pyrolysis devices being used in research institutes and
universities within Europe, - some are supported by EU programmes. Through the
Biomass Information System, Bridgwater has established a comprehensive database
of biomass pyrolysis related activities and several documents have been published.
A list of active European institutions researching into pyrolysis and related activities
is given in the appendix.
Furthermore, two large industrial plants for both charcoal and chemicals are still in
operation in Europe. Both are based on well-established slow pyrolysis processes.
CHENVIRON (Germany): 70-80.000t/y of dried wood are carbonised in
retorts to make approximately 23,000t/y of charcoal sold for domestic uses.
Gases and vapours are cooled down and recovered. Several chemicals are
recovered from the liquids, such as acetic acid, proprionic acid and other
products used as additives and smoke flavours -all representing niche markets
Usines Lambiotte (France): approximately 100,000t/y of wood are carbonised
in a continuous Lambiotte design process to make approximately 20,000t of
charcoal per year, which is sold for domestic uses. Vapours are cooled down
and condensed and the non-condensable gases are used in a process for heat
supply to the dryer and the carbonisation unit. As with Chenviron, several
chemicals are recovered, after fractionation, as acetic acid, methanol, solvents
and some aromas, such as wild strawberry aroma. The chemical market, which
represented the main share of the company turnover when the plant was set up
in 1947, is second behind charcoal market today. Indeed, there are several
other products which can be recovered from the oil but are not currently
The relatively rapid commercial development of fast pyrolysis in North America
compared to Europe can be explained partly by the nature of the market. Indeed,
the existing market for chemicals used in food production, produced by slow
pyrolysis with low liquid yield, has rapidly benefited from fast pyrolysis technology
with high liquid yield. Being a high value-added market, this gives the opportunity
for further energy use of the bio-oil as it is based on the marginal cost of by-
product utilisation.
However, the recent announcement that pyrolysis is included in the current UK
Non Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO) tender has increased interest and may offer
opportunities for this technology to be implemented on an industrial scale basis.
Indeed, it is understood that seven contracts have been offered on gasification and
pyrolysis technologies at an average capacity of lOMWe (32). There are 5 years,
for those contracts awarded, to implement the technology. The development of
such a technology in the present European energy situation is related to local
schemes to subsidize and support renewables, as is done through, e.g., NFFO or
Danish regulations.
6.2.2 Pyrolysis liquids quality
It is now widely accepted that, as the temperature is increased, the relative
proportion of tar and gas can be increased while producing less char. The complex
interactions of time, temperature, feedstock and process quality do not allow
achievement of a "standard" pyrolysis liquid yet. Figure 6.5 illustrates the
achievable product yields as a function of temperature.
0 0
60 -
4 0
20 -
FK<X5C. feed
ut Tnuisgcireetbd
1 1
4 0 0 50Q OC TOO
Texapersiue C
Figure 6.5 Product yields from Eastern red Maple fast pyrolysis as a function of
temperature (9).
Biooil fuels present a number of specific properties and characteristics which
require consideration at each step, including production, storage, transport,
upgrading and utilisation.
They have become better understood over the last five years as several institutions
have worked on characterisation, standardisation and analysis procedures, e.g.
NREL, Waterloo University and RTI in North America, Aston University, Institute
for Wood Chemistry or VTT in Europe.
Density, viscosity, surface tension and heating value are typical key properties for
energy applications in combustion for boilers and engines. But other characteristics
such as solid content (char), particle size and ash content (remaining alkali) may
have a major effect. The main well-known product characteristics are presented
Solid and ash content
Ash and particle content may be high in the liquids due to fly ash and char carry-
over. Both have influences on the liquid quality and possible use.
Depending on size and proportion, solid particles contribute to the aging of the fuel
during storage by catalytic effects such as condensation and polymerization
Since combustion equipments, particularly engine injection systems, are made with
great precision to allow high efficiency and a clean environment, they are very
sensitive to abrasion by char particles. In addition, depending on size, solid
particles can contribute to clogging of filters or fuel nozzles. For large slow diesel
engines, which are the most appropriate, the size of the particles should not exceed
Finally, ash content is important as part of it consists of alkali metal oxides (Ca, ,
Na) which may be high depending on the feedstock. Indeed, the alkali metal
content in the bio-crude is partly in solution (alkali compounds such as potassium
and sodium are volatiles at fast pyrolysis temperatures above 500C) and partly
included in the char. The balance between these two forms may vary and is not
well known because it is not so easy to measure.
Gas/solid separators have been designed to remove most of the solids from the
pyrolysis vapors before condensation. Their efficiency is a function of particle size
and dispersion, as well as flow rate. Char removal will also contribute to reducing
the alkali metal problem but can increase the filtration problem.
Hot gas filtration systems without cyclones, or placed after cyclones, have been
developed by NREL with success in removing fines in a very effective way (down
to 0,00 l%wt). Diebold was able to lower the total alkali metal levels to lOppm
using a NREL hot filtration device. This figure may be the lower limit obtainable
with conventional technology. These systems are still experimental as no long-term
test run has been carried out and very specific operating conditions are necessary.
Water content
Water content is important as it has several effects:
as far as energy is concerned, it reduces the heating value (see Figure 6.6). At
typical 25%wt water, the low heating value is 1516MJ/kg for woody
feedstock (Wood species influence the heating value of the liquid in the same
order of magnitude as the feed it derives from).
18 -

14 .






I . 1
Hardwood Softwood Straw

I . I .
15 30 35 40 20 25
Water, wt%
Figure 6.6 Heating value versus water content on biooil ( eucalyptus) (17)
it reduces the viscosity the measure of viscosity is important as it
characterises the resistance of a liquid to flow, which affects the pumping and
injection ability. Figure 6.7 shows that, unfortunately, water is not the only
parameter affecting viscosity.




Hardwood Softwood Straw


1 , 1 .
25 30
Water, wt%
Figure 6.7 Kinematic viscosity versus water content on biooil ( eucalyptus) (17)
it affects the pH and influences both chemical and physical stability and
subsequent upgrading processes.
Viscosity is one of the most important parameters for the design of piping, oil
storage, supply facilities and atomisation. High viscosity of the bio-crude induces
high-pressure drops in pipelines, more costly pumps, etc. It can be reduced by the
addition of water or solvents such as methanol or ethanol but this will affect the
heating value of the bio-oil and the combustion properties.
Careful low-temperature heating also can be suggested.
Feedstock composition with lignin content is also known as an important criterion
for bio-crude viscosity. High lignin feed gives higher viscosity products as
previously mentioned.
Polymerisation or deterioration of the liquid can be caused by temperatures above
approximately 100C, which adversely affect physical properties such as viscosity,
phase separation and deposition of a bitumen-like substance. Heating the liquid to
reduce viscosity for pumping or atomisation needs to be considered carefully and
thoroughly tested, although in-line steam heating to 90C has been successfully
used in combustion trials.
Exposure to air also causes deterioration, but at a slower rate than temperature
increase. Holding the liquids in a sealed enclosure has been claimed to cause
substantial pressure increases, - so some minimal venting is necessary to avoid
pressure build-up, but minimise exposure to oxygen at the same time. Pyrolysis
liquid has been stored in this way, in a useable form, for up to two years without
any problem.
Liquids produced from waste materials appear to be much more unstable.
Bio-oil characterisation and analysis standards
For bio-oil the lack of a standard for characterisation is one of the main problems
related to commercialisation. This has encouraged the PyNe and PYRA members
to attempt to establish one.
Oasmaa et Al (17) have tested the applicability of standard fuel oil methods to
different pyrolysis liquids and suggested some minor modifications where necessary
in order to get a common and reliable analytical protocol to characterize the
physical properties of pyrolysis liquids. A comprehensive publication is available.
Meier et Al (18) are developing methods for fast pyrolysis products
characterization and are trying to set up a standard procedure common to EC
laboratories under the PyNe network, - results have been published.
To sum up, Table 6.8 gives some typical characteristics for wood derived pyrolysis
Physical properties
Specific density
Ultimate analysis (moisture free)
LHV on dry basis
Solids content
Viscosity (40C)
Viscosity (80C)
Pour point
Flash pint
Typical range
1.20 to 1.30 kg/dm
18-22 MJ/kg
0.1 to 1%
40 to lOOcp
50 to 70C
Table 6.8 Typical characteristics of wood derived pyrolysis liquids
Depending on the application, upgrading requirements are more or less severe.
Because bio-crudes contain a high oxygen content, around 45% by weight and a
low hydrogen to carbon ratio, a high rate of upgrading is necessary and catalytic
upgrading routes have been investigated. More-over, as discussed earlier, they may
contain a high percentage of water and too high a solid, ash or alkali fraction to be
directly used. Therefore, they will need further physical upgrading before they can
be used.
Catalytic upgrading
Several works have been carried out on catalytic upgrading of bio-oil in order to
use them as a regular fuel and some have been supported by the EC. The two
methods that are currently available to upgrade bio-oil will be briefly summarized
hydrotreatment, which typically involves C0-M0/AI2O3 or N1-M0/AI2O3
catalysts. In this process high hydrogen pressure is required. The products
from this process consist of aliphatic hydrocarbons. The cooking of the
catalyst is a major problem.
catalytic cracking at atmospheric pressure and where hydrogen is not required.
A wide variety of catalysts are available such as silica, alumina, zeolite, etc.
Products obtained depend on the type of catalyst used.
None of these methods are technically proven. The main concern is catalyst
stability and lifetime. Moreover, both results lead to unacceptably high product
costs even if catalytic cracking does not have the hydro-treating constraints of high
pressure and high hydrogen requirements.
Physical upgrading
Any water separation must be avoided as wastewater is heavily contaminated with
dissolved organics and will require treatment before disposal. Efforts to fractionate
the condensation step have indicated yield and environmental limits (23). Indirect
cooling has the disadvantage of increasing the residence time of the vapour at
temperatures where further reaction can still occur, thus decreasing yield and
product quality. Therefore, water content reduction should be achieved through
feedstock moisture reduction prior to pyrolysis.
Water evaporation or distillation is also difficult as at normal temperatures
significant changes and losses occur in the liquid. Lower temperature drying has
not shown better success due to the strong interaction existing between the water
and the organics.
The use of additives like ethanol can lower the viscosity. Bio-oil diluted in ethanol
has been used with success in diesel engines. Bio-oil and diesel oil are not miscible,
diesel can't be used to improve the quality of the bio-crude as the emulsions are not
stable and are costly to produce.
From slow pyrolysis processes water is produced in more significant quantities,
depending on the feedstock moisture, than for fast pyrolysis. However, since the
residence time of the vapour is high and the heating rate low, pyrolysis vapour
recombines and a phase separation in the liquid appears above 20%wt (that is to
say, a two phase liquid is almost always observed). The aqueous phase is highly
contaminated with dissolved and suspended organics (24). Since slow and
conventional pyrolysis is mainly considered for charcoal production or for waste
disposal, pyrolysis vapors are not condensed and are incinerated. Indeed,
incineration constitutes the most appropriate route to get rid of environmental
problems with water disposal (25). However, two large companies in Europe are
producing chemicals from slow pyrolysis, Usine Lambiotte in France and Chenviron
in Germany, - details have been given earlier.
Within an EC contract an Italian company has demonstrated that electron
bombardment by a plasma reactor is useful to upgrade bio-oil, but the energy
balance is drastically effected.
Hot gas filtration systems without cyclones, or placed after cyclones, as already
discussed, may remove fines and alkali metals in a very effective way. These
systems are still experimental and no long-term test runs have yet been carried out.
6.2.3 Applications for combined heat and power
A summary of the uses of pyrolysis liquids is given in Figure 6.8 (26). Within
Europe the most promising application is seen as electricity production due to the
anticipated ability to use crude bio-oil in an engine without any extensive
upgrading, as well as the ability to decouple the fuel production source from the
end use location (27). A narrow market exists for chemicals and food additives. A
larger, more substantial, market can be expected for those chemicals as some of
them can be obtained with a higher degree of purity. Up to now market prices or
extraction yields are too low to enhance the overall economics of conversion.
/ FASfSvSbEYSiS'"-:
y. *. ..TO;LIQUIDS gyf
- 1
Boiler 1
[ Up-grading
Turbine j
Fig. 6.8 : Application of pyrolysis liquid (8)
Figure 6.8 Application of pyrolysis liquid (8)
Pyrolysis liquids could replace either heavy or light fuel oils. Nevertheless, in
practice, economics will determine market structure from country to country
depending on tax levels and market structure. As mentioned earlier, substitution
for the light oils used for domestic heating will offer considerable advantage, as this
oil will then become available for transport use. However, this market constitutes
the most difficult one for the reasons developed in the previous chapter.
Neste Oy has estimated the possible use in Finland to be in the range of lOOkW to
1MW (about 20-200 bio-crude It/hour) boiler size (28).
Existing oil-fired burners can not be directly fuelled with pyrolysis oils, however,
only relatively minor modifications are required. Problems have been reported due
to high viscosity and suspended char causing atomisation difficulties and incomplete
combustion with some bio-crude oils. Modifying existing systems to meet the
specific requirements of bio-crude oil is necessary so that upgrading requirements
can be avoided.
Extensive tests carried out on boilers confirm that:
bio-crude is difficult to ignite due to its water content, - the combination of the
high temperature required for ignition and the thermal degradation of the oil
requires precise control of the chamber temperature. This will be difficult to
achieve with household equipment
bio-crude can be burnt using simple pressure atomisation equipment with levels
of emission between those for light and heavy fuel oils. (See Table 6.11)
Particulate levels are higher due to higher fuel solid content.
the high nitrogen content of the fuel results in higher NO
emissions than with
conventional fuel oils and combustion of bio-crude may require low NO
the high water content of the bio-crude will result in a higher water vapour
content in the exhaust gases and consequently in a higher dew point. This
value may limit the potential for energy recovery from the exhaust gases in
large boilers
there are major problems encountered with storage, pumping and keeping
nozzles clean after shut down.
Commercialisation of bio-oil will make it necessary to define a minimum quality
that can be met in production. This means that viscosity, solid and ash content,
acidity, lubricity, ignition temperature, stability and reactivity have to be guaranteed
with different processes and feedstock.
Raw bio-crude produced with presently available technology cannot meet the
requirements of residential fuel oil heating. Replacement of a heavy fuel oil is
possible to a certain extent but economic feasibility would be rather low and, from
a macro-economic point of view, more difficult to justify. Indeed, heavy fuel oil is
a byproduct of transport fuel production and thus its price remains rather low.
Charcoal based slurries with water or diesel oil have also been tested as they
provide an alternative liquid fuel. Several char/water slurries and ternary slurry
manufacturing processes have been tested. Combustion tests in boilers and in
engines have been performed. Boiler tests were successful with minor
modifications of the equipment. Engine tests were more problematic and confirmed
that power generation using slurries was not presently feasible.
The technico-economic evaluations concluded that there were limited opportunities
for implementation. The results of extended work programs funded by EC or
others have been reported by Esnouf (29).
Diesel- Engine
Bio-oil has been successfully fired in diesel engines where it behaves similar to
diesel oil in terms of engine parameters and emissions (22, 31). The main engine
test programs are summed up in Table 6.9.
Engine testing
Wartsila diesel
Ormrod diesel
Pilot injection diesel engine
Gas turbine
Diesel engine
0.3 MW.
Table 6.9 Bio-oil engine test program
The results of the test carried out by Wartsila and Ormrod have been reported (30,
32). They demonstrate that the basic engine design is suitable for operation on
liquid bio-oil with the following remarks:
A pilot fuel is required for ignition at a continuous level of - 5 % while
operating primarily on pyrolysis liquid (7.5% pilot diesel fuel is better).
Specific attention should be paid to the injection system in order to offer
reliable commercial units.
Nevertheless, work to date clearly demonstrates that a diesel engine can be run on a
95% bio-oil fuel with no deterioration in rating. Some deposits were observed on
pistons and valves at the end of few hours running on raw bio-oil (9 hours run by
Ormrod). Such results may confirm that minimum upgrading is required. Long-
term test runs are on-going to confirm performance and to obtain emission data.
Gas turbine
Gas turbines have strict requirements regarding fuel purity, but required and
achievable tolerances have not yet been determined.
Significant tests of bio-oil in gas turbines have not yet been reported. Bridgwater
mentions that Orenda (Canada) has made a successful pre-test on filtered bio-oil in
a silo combustor fitted with 2.5MWe gas turbine within an EC contract. But these
tests are not sufficient to confirm the feasibility of power production using gas
Bio-oil upgrading will be required to improve fuel purity for use with gas turbines
and the economics will thus depend on the fuel standard required.
The production of chemicals constitutes an interesting route to investigate for fast
pyrolysis oil use due to the high added value. This market in Europe is not as
developed as it is in North America for uses such as, e.g., food flavouring using
liquid smoke.
Opportunities include special chemicals for pharmaceutical applications, additives
for pollution control, cosmetics and perfumes. The main constrain is the lack of a
defined market, the expected limited size of these markets and the current
inadequate production methods with inherent higher costs.
The co-production of chemicals and fuel undoubtedly offers the most interesting
opportunity for the development of bio-oil.
Nevertheless, EC experience in this field is limited to exploratory studies and
limited data is available. Most of the time results are confidential as the markets
involved are very competitive. RTI in Canada is the most advanced in this field.
Two approaches might be investigated:
the recovery of specific chemicals present in the bio-oil, an option already used
by Chemviron and Usine Lambiotte,
the conversion of the whole bio-oil, or of an easily separated fraction, into new
products for specific applications, such as soil conditioner, Biolime for SO2 and
emissions control, etc.
Thus chemical utilisation of bio-oil requires:
the development of new processes for separation
the presence of a chemical in bio-oil in a quantity large enough to make it's
recovery economic. Radlein (33) reports that for conventional lignocellulosic
feedstock the number of possible candidates is not very large. He mentions
hydroxyacetaldehyde, acetic acid, formic acid, levoglucosan and
the identification of new and very high added-value products.
The opportunity for further use of bio-oils will depend on the methods of extraction
and separation, which would give product qualities suitable for fuel applications.
6.3.1 Feedstock limits
Biomass, having a low thermal conductivity, requires high heating rates for fast
pyrolysis that can only be achieved from small particle sizes or from erosion of the
products as occurs in ablative pyrolysis. It is currently accepted that the maximum
size of particle for fluid bed reactors and derived reactors or entrained flow
reactors, for high liquid yield, is 6mm. The optimum would probably be 2mm.
This limit does not exist with ablative pyrolysis as the char formed at the interface
with the hot surface is constantly removed. Grinding equipment exists and is
satisfactory except in terms of cost and energy consumption.
Low bulk-density feedstock creates transport and handling problems. They may
induce fluidisation problems, as their size may not be homogeneous and require
further preparation. Their grinding may give high levels of fines difficult to
separate in the cyclone and the results might be a higher solid content in the oil.
Moisture content of the feedstock has to be reduced to 10% to keep bio-oil
moisture content below 25% as the reaction water contributes up to about 15%
moisture to the bio-oil from a moisture-free feed. Each 1% moisture in the feed
adds approximately a further 1.25% moisture to the bio-crude.
Drying equipment exists, but the main concern is again additional cost and energy
consumption. Environmental considerations have to be addressed with dryers as
volatile compounds can be released, particularly with fast high temperature units.
New policies and regulations in EC and the US are being discussed to reduce such
emissions and may yet increase the cost of drying.
Biomass ash content and composition with significant quantities of alkali metals
produce liquids and solids with high ash and alkali content. This ash and alkali
content in the oil results mainly from incomplete char removal from the
conventional cyclone. NREL has made considerable progress in developing a hot
gas filtration technology specific to the needs of biomass pyrolysis. These needs
are different from other high temperature filters because the gas and vapour
residence times through the filtering device are important considerations. Low
temperature and low residence times are required to prevent further vapour
decomposition. Long-term test runs are necessary to assess the viability of such
equipment. Nevertheless, optimisation of the time and temperature operating
conditions may improve the quality of the product and a small decrease in yield
might be more than compensated by a significant improvement in the oil quality.
Contaminated biomass as waste material may be catalytically active and may reduce
liquid yield and quality. Moreover, it's use as feedstock should be considered with
caution. Indeed, bio-oil produced from waste material may present some potential
contamination. The need for a specific exhaust gas treatment required to meet the
environmental regulations may limit the economic feasibility of such an option,
except for large-scale waste treatment plants.
6.3.2 Process problems
The major technical problems encountered with the process concern the vapour
cooling and the condensation and recovery of aerosols. Indeed, various quantities
of stable aerosols, which are not well known, are formed which pass readily
through the condensing device and require specific handling. Direct contact with
recirculating liquid helps with collection. Electrostatic precipitators have been
tested and work well, but long term test runs and industrial applications are still
needed. Except for aerosols, appropriate designs for liquid cooling and collection
are available.
As most of the pyrolysis reactors are based on conventional fluid bed or circulating
fluid bed reactors, they can be designed and operated in a conventional way. Only
ablative type reactors might show problems with up-scaling as heat transfer will be
difficult to achieve with a surface controlled process.
6.3.3 End product problems
It has been said that pyrolysis liquids are complex mixtures of low and high
molecular weight compounds and water. Feedstock, feed rate, reaction
temperature, vapour residence time, etc, have a significant interaction with
pyrolysis oil composition and therefore properties such as molecular weight
distribution seem to have a large influence on viscosity, the amount of free acids
might play a role in condensation reactions. Commercialisation of bio-oil will need
to fix the composition in an acceptable range, which is not readily achievable with
the present level of knowledge. Moreover, the achievement of a reproducible bio-
crude with the highest possible value is a major concern in fast pyrolysis.
International specifications and standards need to be developed for bio-oil to
progress further towards commercialisation.
Solid content in the oil has been addressed earlier. It can be expected that bio-oil
with lOppm remaining alkali metal can be used to feed a turbine. The impact on
the engines has not yet been observed due to the lack of a sufficiently long-term
test run.
More than 400 different compounds have been identified in pyrolysis liquids, -
including more than 40 PAH and 50 nitrogenous organic compounds with evident
mutagenic and carcinogenic activity (34). These compounds can induce health and
safety problems which will need to be resolved.
6.4 Environmental issues
The environmental issues of pyrolysis products, either liquids, solids or gaseous,
have been considered, on the one hand, from the impact on environment, and on
the other hand, from the impact on human health. The possible impact on the
environment is described for both the pyrolysis process and the use of pyrolysis
products (i.e. combustion).
6.4.1 Impacts on environment
Pyrolysis process level
The pollutants emitted during pyrolysis processes can be classified into three
- gaseous emissions
- tar and ashes
- soot particles
For slow pyrolysis processes,
aimed at producing
charcoals, the gaseous
emissions consist of CO2,
, H
0 and organic
compounds formed by the
decomposition of the
biomass constituents.
In existing industrial units
two solutions are used for
the treatment of those
emissions. One solution is to
integrate an incineration unit
and thus the outlet gases are
mainly composed of CO2,
CO, NOx, H
0 with only
traces of organics and
As an example, a series of analyses have been performed on a carbonisation unit
equipped with such an incineration system. The results are given in the Table 6.10.
The unit on which these analyses were performed consisted of 12 carbonisation
ovens, 14m
volume each, equipped with fume collecting pipes which directed the
fumes into a central incinerator. The total combustion volume of incineration was
. The oven ignitions were phased so that a maximum of four ovens were
C2H4, C2H6
+ furfural cpds
+ Hydrocarbons
273.6 g/Nm
1.6 g/Nm
42.6 g/Nm
0.154 g/Nm
0.024 g/Nm
0.005 g/Nm
Table 6.10. Emissions from carbonisation
with flue gas incineration unit
ignited at the same time, in different stages of carbonisation. The temperature
inside the incinerator was between 850 and 1100C.
The other solution is to condense the organics formed during pyrolysis for further
recovery of chemicals (or for use as bio-oil). This is the case for the Usines
Lambiotte system and Chenviron.
However, incineration remains the simplest and most efficient way to eliminate the
byproducts of slow pyrolysis.
Soot particles are also eliminated during incineration, as shown by the analyses.
The industrial units have to meet specific regulations, at national and European
levels, concerning gas and particulate emissions, and thus the outlets from pyrolysis
units have to be carefully managed.
In the case of fast pyrolysis for bio-oil production, considering the small number of
industrial units, the environmental impact has not been deeply investigated this far.
Most often the reactors are designed with re-collection of gases and chars, for heat
supply to the pyrolysis reaction. Thus, gas emissions mainly consist of CO, CO2,
and H
0. Organic traces might also be found, as well as soot particles, since
biomass in small particle size is used as feedstock.
Cyclones are used for the collection of particles. The ashes are recovered in the
crude oil with subsequent technical problems for oil utilisation.
Incomplete aerosol recovery should not create environmental problems as the non-
condensable gases are burnt for the process heat supply. Nevertheless, process
engineering will have to consider potential aerosol contamination in the design of a
Another important environmental problem concerning bio-oil production and
utilisation is the product handling, storage and transport. Indeed, bio-oil contains
chemicals hazardous to the environment as well as to human health. The PYRA
Group has made a detailed review of the toxicity of biomass pyrolysis liquids. This
aspect will be developed in chapter 6.4.2.
Application level
It is obvious that conversion of solid biomass to a liquid fuel can potentially achieve
a large reduction in both CO2 and SO2. However, the nitrogen content of bio-oil
will require the use low NOx burners in order to keep the NOx emissions at
acceptable levels.
Environmental impact due to the use of pyrolysis oil as fuel is still under ongoing
research funded by the EC.
Two main types of pollutants may result from the combustion of pyrolysis oil, -
gaseous emissions and particles and ashes. Gas emissions consist of NO
, CO,
CO2, PAH and some organics in aerosol form.
These emissions have been monitored on some pilot plant scale units, both on
combustion units and diesel engines, and the results compared to the emissions of
standard heavy fuel oil combustion. Results from Neste Oy on simple pressure
atomisation equipment commonly used with light fuel oils in intermediate sized
boilers, but modified in order to meet specific bio-oil requirements, are summarised
in Table 6.11.
Examination of the data on exhaust gas composition reveals slightly greater levels
of CO and NO
than for fuel oil. In the test, sulphur emissions were not recorded
but similar tests carried out by Ensyn on a Canmet flame tunnel show that sulphur
emissions from bio-oil were drastically lower than those from the petroleum based
fuel-oil, - even if some sulphur content in the oil was reported. Results are
summarised in the Table 6.12.
Water content wt%
Heating value
Viscosity cSt
Flash point C
Ash wt %
Sulfur wt %
Nitrogen wt %
Sauter diameter

Typical emissions
CO (ppm)
particulates (Bach.)
Pourpoint C
Medium light
fuel oil
< 0.010
10 bar
20 C
80 - 120
0. 2-1
900 - 150
24- 6
60 - 100
20 bar
85 C
120 - 150
2. 5-5
Wood chips
8 - 6
2- 4
500 - 6000
80 - 160
+ tars, PAH
Heavy fuel
30 bar
130 C
200 - 400
1 - 4
50 - 150
Table 6.11 Pyrolysis liquid properties, emissions and comparison to other fuels in
combustion (29)
Another problem reported in the combustion of pyrolysis oil concerns the unburned
oil which thermolyses on hot surfaces.
CO ppm
NO ppm
TSP ppm
Oil SO2 content wt %
Wood derived
Box board
derived bio-oil
N 2 fuel oil
Table 6.12 Combustion test on two Ensyn bio-oil in a Canmet boiler (35).
Some modification to the combustion system and combustion optimisation may
lead to a reduction of carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrous oxide NO, emissions.
The ash content comes from the initial ash in the bio-oil (coming, in turn, from the
initial ash in the biomass). Some attempts have been made to separate the ash in
the bio-oil before combustion and also the heavy products, both of which disturb
the functioning of the engine described earlier.
As combustion in gas turbines is at an early stage, no figures are available yet.
6.4.2 Impact on human health
The PYRA Group has made a detailed review of the toxicity of biomass pyrolysis
liquids and smokes (36). They contain a great number of hazardous chemicals.
Indeed, as described above, the composition depends on temperature and residence
Primary vapours are mainly oxygenated compounds from the partial decomposition
of biomass macropolymers (lignin, cellulose, hemi-cellulose).
Secondary vapours are formed by cracking of the primary vapours at higher
temperatures or with longer residence times, and are phenolic compounds.
Tertiary vapours are mainly PAH.
Figure 6.9 shows the type of organic compounds found in the vapours as a function
of temperature.
400 500 600 700
I ' l l
oxygenated compounds
phenolic ethers
alley, phenolics
ic ethers
Figure 6.9. Type of organic compounds found in the vapours as a function of
On the whole, the pyrolysis oils and charcoal smoke are a mixture of primary,
secondary and tertiary vapours, as some particles may locally reach a higher
temperature or stay a longer time in the reactor.
In the PYRA study, 74 products have been reported to be either in oils, smokes or
both, with a concentration of at least 0.1 %wt. The toxicity of each product has
been examined.
Acute toxicity
By inhalation; - the lowest permissible exposures are found for acrolein and
formaldehyde (max. 28-30mg/m
). However, those products, as well as phenolic
compounds, like Gaiacol, have a low smoky odor threshold, so that 25mg/m
oil is
the value for detection by the human nose.
So any operator would be alerted of the presence of dangerous concentrations of
pyrolysis oil vapours. The main risk comes from CO, which is odourless.
By ingestion; - formaldehyde and furfural alcohol are the most dangerous products,
followed by acrolein, furfural, acetaldehyde, phenolics and formic acid. No additive
effects have been observed in pyrolysis oils.
By contact; - the pyrolysis oils are known to be irritating to eyes, leading to cornea
damage. No dermal toxic effects have been observed.
Chronic toxicity
Pyrolysis oils or smokes contain (possibly carcinogenic) chemicals such as
acetaldehyde, benzofuran, cresols, formaldehyde, furan and propiolactone. They
also contain mutagenic chemicals (phenolics, cresols, aldehydes, organic acids and
However, on primary pyrolysis oils, no mutagenic activity or tumor incidence has
been observed.
Secondary and tertiary pyrolysis oils have significant effect on tumor development.
Charcoal smoke appeared to increase lung cancers while wood smoke did not (less
PAH), but decreased lung function.
In conclusion, the aldehyde and furan families are responsible for the acute toxicity
of pyrolysis vapours, either by ingestion or inhalation. Chronic toxicity is more
dependent on benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
It has been recommended that for fast pyrolysis oils a warning label should state
that they are hazardous substances to the eye and to inhalation exposure, but not to
dermal exposure, and that these oils can be handled safety on a routine basis using
protective clothing.
With time, the pyrolysis oils become less irritating to the eyes because of the
physical loss of volatile vapours, as well as further chemical reactions within the oil,
involving the offending compounds (condensation and polymerization).
To sum up, fast pyrolysis oils may cause health problems to the pyrolysis operators,
with less effect for the end users who would normally handle oils which are several
days old. This should be investigated further.
6.5 Economic aspects
Since most of the fast pyrolysis and bio-oil utilisation technologies are still under
experimental trials and need further optimisation, the economic assessment of bio-
oil production and utilisation can only be estimated.
The studies performed on the economic aspects of the use of bio-oils have focused
biomass resource availability
markets for decentralised electricity production units
modelling of the whole network; biomass production, harvesting, pyrolysis
process, transport, storage, end-use
barriers to the introduction of bio-fuel utilisation.
The situation in Spain, Greece, Italy, Austria and the UK has been particularly
studied. Indeed, the introduction of bio-oil depends on local environment,
resources availability, agricultural potential for energy crops, incentive policies and
energy sector development. These countries have set up favorable incentive and
regulation conditions.
In order to convert solid biomass into electricity via a fast pyrolysis system, a
complete technical chain is necessary:
Feedstock supply (harvesting and transport). - the respective cost is generally
included in the feedstock price but flow control is essential in terms of a
sustainable supply.
Feedstock reception and storage. - will depend on the plant capacity but may
represent an area large enough to be significant in terms of cost, depending on
the location.
Feedstock pre-treatment. - screening, drying (down to 10%wt.), grinding
(down to 2mm) and storage. The investment costs related to this step are very
high and will be a function of the biomass type. It represents an investment
cost in the same order of magnitude as the conversion unit itself. This stage is
also significant in terms of production cost (energy consumption, maintenance,
Conversion process. - the fast pyrolysis unit.
Pyrolysis oil collection, upgrading and storage. - a minimum up-grading will be
necessary in order to match the market requirements (solid and ash removal,
water content, and homogenisation). Depending on the market requirements
this part may represent up to 25% of the total process cost.
Generation set. - e.g., a duel fuel diesel engine.
The main advantage of fast pyrolysis compared to direct combustion, and
particularly gasification, is that fast pyrolysis liquids offer the opportunity to
decouple the biomass conversion stage from the power generation stage. This
relative flexibility allows bio-oil production and generation to operate at different
times or at different locations. It can provide real market opportunity and cost
reduction compared to other thermochemical routes.
Compared to gasification, pyrolysis requires higher quality feedstock in terms of
moisture content and particle size, resulting in higher feedstock preparation costs.
Cost estimations have been attempted but remain rather uncertain as the process
strongly depends on feedstock quality, pyrolysis and conversion efficiency, local
networks, etc. The most extensive work on economics has been done through the
LEA bioenergy group. These costs are based on depreciation over 20 years at a
nominal interest rate of 10% per annum. The figures are very favorable as
investment represents the most important factor. Moreover, maintenance costs
used for the calculation, depending on the author, are between 1.6 and 2.5% of the
total plant cost. Here again these costs are underestimated, 4%, and probably 8 to
10% for the first plant, should be considered for the economic evaluation.
Simulations carried out by Bridgewater (37) show that fast pyrolysis systems are
most competitive on a small scale (below lOMWe output) compared to better
established biomass steam cycles and IGCC gasification systems. These results are
based on lower investment costs for pyrolysis than compared to gasification and
bio-oil conversion efficiency improvements over combustion systems. Total plant
costs used for the calculation are given in the Figure 6.10. Above lOMwe,
efficiency advantages are less significant as combustion systems are much cheaper
and IGCC offers very high efficiency.
5 10 15
Net system output, MWe
Figure 6.10. Total biomass conversion plant cost as a function ofinstalled capacity
Production costs mainly consist of feedstock costs, which are highly site specific.
Economic assessments carried out for Denmark and Finland through an APAS
programme show that:
The feedstock prices obtained locally on straw on the island of Zealand (DK)
vary from 4.4Ecu/GJ to 5.5Ecu/GJ, whereas the breakeven cost of the
feedstock was found to be 2.8Ecu/GJ in the most advantageous combination of
production and application. This constitutes a major limiting factor.
In Finland (where the pyrolysis oil scenario is replacing rape-seed oil as a boiler
and diesel power plant fuel for an energy scheme study of Forssa city), the
overall system economics show a largely negative present value, whereas
conventional straw CHP plant was shown to be close to feasibility.
Manpower costs may be very high depending on the plant size. Indeed, the
different stages of the process are difficult to automate, and depending on the
nature of the fuel supply, a minimum staff level is necessary for fuel preparation and
plant operation. This staffing requirement during operation will give an advantage
to fast pyrolysis due to the ability to decouple the process from the end use.
A lMWe dual-fuel diesel engine would give an energy cost of approximately
0.218Ecu/kWh while a 20MWe installation would give approximately
0.112Ecu/kWh (32). These costs are high compared to standard heavy fuel oils,
but the cost for the 20MWe unit is believed to be acceptable for countries where
incentive policies for biomass energy have been adopted.
6.6 European Commission projects achievements
Both JOULE and FAIR have been to sponsoring projects on fast pyrolysis since the
end of the third framework programme. A few projects were supported by APAS
in the early '90s, and none have been supported by the Thermie programme.
Thermie has supported new slow pyrolysis technology for carbonisation but with
limited success.
As discussed already, considerable progress has been made within Europe in the
development of fast pyrolysis. The increasing size of plant capacity allows for the
production of bio-oil in sufficint quantity for testing in different applications (full
scale and long run) to assess the feasibility advantages and constraints of the
different options. Unfortunately these programmes are still at the R&D stage and
none have reached the commercial stage yet. The two major facilities erected and
operated with EU assistance, i.e. the Fenosa and Bastardo plants, have been
described in chapter 6.2.1.
EC funding through specific programmes and its contribution to IEA, PYRA and
PyNE has also largely contributed to the ongoing development of standards for the
liquid products, - particularly in terms of quality.
PyNE (Pyrolysis Network for Europe), established in 1995 to provide a forum for
reviewing fast pyrolysis and related processes is particularly relevant in the sense
that members from all the EC countries (except Luxembourg) have merged in a
network working closely together and in relationship with their country network.
This network has succeeded in sharing information and experiences, disseminating
information, establishing common procedures and standards and avoiding
duplication of research activities.
6.7 Future Prospects
Being a relatively new concept, only ten years old, pyrolysis for liquids is less
developed than the other thermochemical technologies, i.e., combustion and
gasification, but offers the considerable advantage of a liquid product that can be
produced and utilized in different locations and time scales.
There are still many challenges to be met in order to reach full commercialisation.
Nevertheless, EC ongoing programmes have been well defined and focussed to
answer to some of the problematic points already mentioned. This section will
attempt to define the future needs for the development of biomass pyrolysis
technologies in order to offer some guarantee to end users.
Feedstock related needs
Despite the considerable advantages to be expected, both in terms of environmental
and social impact, the development of the use of biomass has numerous constraints.
These feedstock related constraints are:
a generally high moisture content, up to 60%wt, which varies from species to
species but also as a function of the climatic conditions,
a very low bulk density resulting in high transportation costs and over-sizing of
feed systems and storage capacity,
relatively high ash content, up to 15%wt, with, depending on the biomass, a
high alkali metal content,
seasonal harvesting, except for wood and bark.
These constraints induce a high degree of complexity imposed by the feedstock.
Two options can be followed to develop biomass conversion technologies:
biomass pre-treatment in order to get a homogeneous feedstock from different
design of flexible processes able to accept feedstock variability.
Both options have been tested but the first option has rapidly appeared to be the
more economical despite costs involved in drying, grinding, etc.
In order to avoid feedstock supply risks, to minimize storage costs and due to the
seasonality of some biomass, it is recommended that a fuel mix be used, e.g., 60 to
80% wood with 20 to 40% straw (or other agri-based residue), in order to assess
pyrolysis oil yields and quality. This option may limit the effects of seasonal
variation of product quality.
A wide range of biomass feedstock needs to be tested on long term basis in order to
predict yields and possible applications. This aspect is developed later.
The use of waste as feedstock for fuel applications is foreseen on a long-term basis
(except for specific wastes presenting predictable results) as more information is
needed to better understand the action of contaminants on bio-oil quality and
stability. Moreover, the use of wastes may induce specific environmental problems
which have to be handled according to EC emission standards.
Fast pyrolysis as a waste management technology might be of interest and should
be investigated, but energy applications should not be the first goal.
Conversion technology
Further development of existing technologies or new technologies can be expected
for the pyrolysis of biomass. Many types of reactors have been tested to date and
no optimum has emerged. Opportunities for liquid yield improvements are low and
should not be considered as a priority. Indeed, most of the work done on
laboratory scale or pilot plant has demonstrated the same limit of around 80%
liquid yield, - which can be considered as a goal on a moisture-free feedstock.
As ablative pyrolysis is less sensitive to feedstock preparation, a cost reduction
might be expected. Up-scaling should be attempted based on the existing
knowledge within Europe and on previous works carried out by NREL. A lt/hr.
dry-feed pilot plant set up should be envisaged within 5 years.
Product quality improvement should receive most of the attention, as expectations
are tremendous on the application side. This should include reactor design
improvement, but mainly more efficient collection and separation of the products in
terms of yield and quality. Aerosols, which are not understood, are very difficult to
capture and lead to yield losses and to environmental problems. However, more
information is needed in order to:
better understand their formation and nature, through more accurate models
and reaction process understanding,
increase the design engineering capability.
In the same direction, selective condensation or fractionation can be explored again
to improve product quality and possibly enhance yields of chemicals, - an option
that can make biomass pyrolysis cost effective as combined development is
Finally, there is a problem related to the char and ash in the liquid which appear in
too small an amount to be separated by conventional cyclones. Hot vapour
filtration is being experimented with, but yield drop and product quality alteration is
expected. Even knowing bio-oil viscosity and stability characteristics, char and
liquid separation are difficult to carry out without unacceptable losses. Adaptation
of applications accepting high char content appears to be the most promising route
to be investigated in the short term, e.g., slow marine engines for CHP.
The Bastardo plant is an appropriate scale up for RTDD activities. Two years
operation of a plant such as this, including a minimum of six months continuous full
load operation, is a minimum to get appropriate feedback on operation costs and
efficiency. These operating conditions on a pilot scale plant would give information
minimum storage facilities and related problems. - from 3 to 6 months
production will probably need to be stored on the plant site in order to face any
customer failure, particular weather conditions and seasonality of some
bio-oil stability for the same and different feedstocks. - the Fenosa plant has
demonstrated that this parameter may constitute a problem as long as strict
requirements are fixed by the application.
the impact on the environment. - appropriate control of the plant and the
related storage and transportation of pyrolysis oil.
Any pyrolysis plant should follow EU environmental standards as far as emissions
are concerned. Large-scale boiler emission regulations should be applied. Existing
plants need to be monitored.
On a medium term basis, a total of 150MWth (bio-oil equivalent) pyrolysis
demonstration plant might be implemented in order to demonstrate the feasibility of
pyrolysis and produce bio-oil in volumes large enough to allow long term
application tests. An average cost of 1200 to 1500Ecu/kWth would appear to be a
realistic goal to achieve for these plants.
Catalytic pyrolysis is being investigated to enhance the pyrolysis process and
improve the product quality. Ongoing programmes are too recent to get enough
information on their feasibility. Nevertheless, catalyst lifetime, chemistry and cost
may lead to uneconomic results and thus it should be considered as long term
option or related to the chemical market.
Product quality
Pyrolysis liquids present significantly different characteristics from conventional
fuel oils. Each potential application has specific requirements, which need to be
defined precisely. The steps necessary to satisfy these requirements will therefore
have to be studied in order to be able to establish commercial characteristics, as
well as standard tests. Furthermore, new tests may have to be set up to adapt
existing oil standards or to measure bio-oil specific parameters such as stability or
Due to the complicated composition of the bio-oil, chemical analysis is important to
identify and quantify products as well as to help process analysis and optimisation.
Analysis requires more support to ensure appropriate feedback to existing research
programmes and to identify new chemical applications.
Research activity has to be supported in order to set up methods and standards.
Establishing a European laboratory network to develop such standards and to
guarantee results in the short term is highly recommended.
Based on present knowledge, it is quite difficult to fix quality standards, as
application tests are not sufficient and parameters are too inter-related.
Nevertheless, these standards need to be developed and quality control procedures
will also have to be defined.
In order to cover the diversity of feedstock, a range of biomass should be selected
on the basis of:
availability and cost
ultimate and proximate analysis
specific properties.
Long duration test runs (minimum 100 hours) at the optimum process parameters,
and bio-oil characteristics should be carried out on selected products in order to
assess the ability of biomass to produce quality bio-oil. Each bio-oil should be
tested for CHP applications.
The results of these tests would be used:
to predict pyrolysis oil yield, quality and application for new biomasses based
on their physical and chemical characteristics
to avoid difficult and costly tests for each new biomass source
to establish more accurate country energy planning and recommendations
based on the available resources.
Indeed, the development of a market is closely related to the ability of the pyrolysis
technology to produce bio-oil on a standard basis. Private users may not support a
complete set of tests necessary to assess the ability of such a biomass to produce
usable bio-oil for their needs.
As slow pyrolysis under pressure has shown very high solid yields and
corresponding energy efficiency, the use of charcoal as a fuel source in co-
combustion should be envisaged since it offers the advantage of a concentrated fuel
that can be stored and transported. In addition, the production of a liquid via use
of slurry should be reconsidered. Esnouf cost estimates took into account a
charcoal energy recovery of 50%. The 75% apparently achievable through
pressurized pyrolysis changes the conclusion and makes this option more feasible,
as biomass can be converted with minimum preparation compared to fast pyrolysis
and gasification. Further investigation is needed.
The first market envisaged for fast pyrolysis oil was transport fuel as it offers some
similarities with current transport fuels, represents the largest market and because
other biomass thermochemical technologies would have difficulties to fit into this
market in the short to medium term. This option has led to concepts where bio-oil
should be upgraded in order to meet the high requirements of transport fuels.
Numerous research programmes have been carried out with respect to this but have
shown large cost limitations.
Since then most of the research programmes have followed the idea that bio-oil has
to be adapted to standard fuel-oil properties. Such a goal might be achieved
through high-tech solutions resulting in high cost. Therefore, these routes need to
be investigated with respect to long-term market considerations.
In the heat market overall available experiences using pyrolysis oil combustion in
boilers indicate that uncertainties exist on the possibilities of producing bio-oil with
sufficient quality guarantee for use in the domestic heat market, where maintenance
capability and manpower skill is very low. Indeed, the problems related to the
storage of such a product, the high ignition temperature required and the cleaning
requirements to keep injectors operable after shut down are not compatible with
such a market and up-grading requirements will result in high costs.
Pyrolysis bio-crude will meet the requirements of light to heavy fuel oil replacement
when fuel oil prices or regulation will make it feasible. Nevertheless, problems
emain and need to be solved, such as:
handling, storage and transportation,
start up and shut down,
corrosion and deposits.
On-going EC programmes will address some of these questions but long term
operation and optimisation is necessary in order to assess the feasibility of the
application and to offer guarantees.
For the short term, power generation and co-generation offer the most promising
options and particular attention should be paid to the adaptation of applications
accepting a wider range of quality, i.e., higher solid content. It seems to be the
most promising route to be investigated. Two routes can be recommended:
the use of a more robust engine, such as a slow marine engine, might be
investigated. It would limit the electrical efficiency but will probably reduce
bio-oil production costs as it will avoid any upgrading.
develop an innovative separation device, such as hot vapour filtration for which
a long-term test (500 hours continuous) and cost evaluations are needed.
As for combustion, long term operation and optimisation of engines is necessary in
order to assess the feasibility of the applications and to offer guarantees.
When the feasibility of engine applications has been demonstrated on pilot long run
tests (minimum 200 hours full load with high particulate content: 0,2%wt on
moisture free basis) demonstration plants should then be subsidized for a total
installed capacity of 5 to lOMWe with different feedstock and system
configurations (district heating CHP, stand alone power plant, power plant
connected to the grid). This goal could be achieved through the 5th framework
Considering the previous remarks, and the very high sensitivity of gas turbines to
fuel purity, this application should be considered as a long term option even if it
represents the most interesting option in terms of energy efficiency with scope for
further improvement. Indeed, gas turbines offer a large opportunity for increasing
efficiency with the use of more advanced materials or construction concepts to
withstand higher temperatures.
Chemicals offer the highest value-added opportunities as, with the present
knowledge, fuel applications suffer from low economic competitiveness except for
some locations where specific conditions might be present. The production of
chemicals from bio-oil with the possibility of further fuel applications for the
remaining products remains an interesting topic. These aspects need to be further
investigated as interest is increasing in Europe. Indeed, from 2 to 10% of the bio-
oil might be recovered for chemicals and sold on the world market at relatively high
prices. Depending on the extraction/separation methods these chemicals may
payback the additional investment cost and thus make the energy generation fully
competitive with conventional fuels.
A market assessment based on analysis results has to be carried out as soon as
possible. More information may be needed in order to increase the yield for 4 to 5
of these chemicals based on their market opportunity.
The modification of the bio-oil quality due to the extraction processes will probably
impose an immediate on-site energy use in order to avoid further degradation and
handling problems.
The table on the following page summarizes the various remarks and
recommendations made earlier for each application.
High capacity
(Industrial uses).
Low capacity
(domestic uses)
Engine for power
Activated carbon
Co- combustion
- Slurry
Waste treatment
(industrial or
municipal solid
Technical achievement
On-going, few results
Almost proven feasible.
Not well investigated.
Rather well covered on
laboratory scale.
On-going, almost proven
Not yet investigated.
Few on-going works.
Well developed.
Not yet tested in boiler for
large CHP.
Rather well investigated.
On-going programmes
Further development
Major R&D necessary on
oil upgrading to meet
Long run test and
Need for upgrading and
feasibility test.
Standards for transport and
Adaptation or appropriate
engine design to minimize
upgrading (solid content
and stability).
Should be tested with coal
for large CHP plants.
Need for separation
fractionation methods and
pro-ducts identification.
test for by-products use.
Need for tests and
economic evaluation.
Need for new economic
assessment with high solid
Fast pyrolysis could be of
interest and investigated.
Comments and challenges
Highly challenging but
probably an expensive
Not competitive with the
current heavy oil prices.
Niches for light oil de-
pending on local policies.
High maintenance
requirements not compatible
with domestic uses, safety
and environmental hazards.
Very long term option to be
competitive with current
Probably the most promising
energy application both
technically and economically.
Possibility to increase the
share of bio-oil, compared to
solid biomass, due to lower
ash content.
High value added market but
only in case of significant
volume to allow further fuel
Commercially available but
rather few opportunities for
fast pyrolysis char residue.
Might be of interest with
high solid yield.
Market limited to boiler
Phase separation and
pollutant concentration will
limit energy uses.
European Companies and Research Organisations involved with pyrolysis products and
Companies currently
active include:
Main fields of interest
Reactor design
Chemicals and charcoal
Power generation
Power generation, plant
Reactor design
Combustion in boiler
Engine manufacturer
Oil company
Reactor design
Power production
Chemicals and charcoal
Engine combustion
Oil company
Research organisations currently active include :
Aston University
CNRS, Nancy
CNRS, Corsica
Danish Technological Institute
Hamburg University
Imperial College London
Joanneum research
Leeds University
Oldenberg University
Naples University
Sassari University
Stuttggart University (ZSW)
Twente University
University of Dublin
Zaragoza University
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7.1 Overall assessment of biomass in the energy area
Various forms of biomass energy are in use all over Europe. However, its
utilization is not widespread or evenly distributed in all of the EU Member States.
In many of the countries, the main driving force towards further development and
introduction of biomass is the long-term need for sustainable energy resources.
The single most important question to be focused on in the assessment is whether a
system in which biomass will play a significant role in the energy system can be
developed in the short term. The answer is partially in the affirmative, since
biomass energy has already gained widespread application. But it is also in the
negative, since the cost of utilizing biomass is high at the present time in many
In all analysis work in the field of bioenergy, it must be borne in mind that the end
product in the conversion of bioenergy is electrical energy, thermal energy (heat) or
combined heat and power (CHP) and liquid fuels. In many countries, the
generation of heat alone from bioenergy is profitable compared to the
corresponding generation from fossil fuels. The generation of electrical energy or
CHP is much less profitable, which is mainly due to the fact that the technical
conversion alternatives available for bioenergy are more expensive than their
counterparts for fossil fuel. The main reason for this is the feedstock bioenergy
represents. Biomass is far more bulky than fossil fuels and is not, generally
speaking, homogenous, which generates a problem when specifying the fuel.
Although biomass in the European Union as a whole has much greater potential
than its present consumption would suggest, the consumption varies widely
between different countries. It can be assumed that, in the future, the energy
consumption per capita will decrease, other renewable energy sources will emerge,
and biomass productivity will also increase. The current land availability in
European countries, shown in the table, below gives a hint of the existing situation.
Yugoslavia (ex)
United Kingdom
Total productive
Table: Land availability in some European countries (ha/inhabitant)
The table shows that the situation in Northern European countries is more
favourable, since the area available in these countries per capita of population is so
large that biomass could be expected to meet most of the energy demand. This is
not the case in virtually any other European country. The strategies for the
utilization of biomass for energy generation must obviously reflect this constraint.
Drawing conclusions from the table is not entirely simple. As an example, the
interest in biomass in the Netherlands in no way reflects the availability of land area
and resources in the country. This applies, to an equal extent, to the circumstances
in southern Europe, even though it may be somewhat simpler to explain the interest
in these countries by the fact that it would enable efforts to be focused on areas
outside the field of energy, such as agriculture as well as development of small and
medium-sized companies.
If biomass is to be used on a larger scale, energy crops must be utilised to a larger
extent and would thus encroach on land that has been or could be regarded as
destined for growing food crops. This conflict is not easy to assess, since our
views on the matter may change in time. However, this aspect should be
considered in good time before a conflict could emerge. In any case, the fact is that
the potential for generating energy from renewable sources within the European
Union is much greater than the energy currently generated. Barriers and
constraints therefore obviously exist to explain the present limited utilization of
renewables. These barriers and constraints can be traced both to the technology
itself (both small-scale and large-scale applications) and to the market in which
economics, social acceptance, etc. are of major importance.
Although the barriers appear to be easily identifiable in theory, the area is complex
and extremely difficult to evaluate. The reason is that the area is very
heterogeneous in terms of costs and the way the costs vary from one application to
the next and from one country to the next.
As described in previous chapters, a number of technologies have been developed
for utilizing biomass. Although biomass has long been used, it is not until recent
years that efficient technologies for biomass utilization have emerged on the
market, mainly due to the need to develop systems for replacing fossil-fuelled
energy systems.
Substantial improvements in the various technologies (see 7.3 below) have been
achieved over the years, in parallel with the introduction of biomass in Member
States, i.e. continuous positive development has taken place in countries in which
biomass already accounts for a large proportion of the energy supply. Such
countries are Sweden, Finland and Austria. New countries in this area include
Denmark and the Netherlands. The main reason for the development in these
countries is the encouragement given by governments, which enables the players in
the field of biomass to be more active and to seek new ways of utilizing biomss.
Although technologies have been developed for this purpose, the question arises as
to whether they are economical in competition with existing energy sources, mainly
fossil fuels, and whether the existing infrastructure is adequate for biomass. Once
again, the answer is in the affirmative, since a market in which biomass can be
competitive is already established in some countries, but also in the negative, since
competing technologies (especially in large-scale applications) are also being
continually developed, bearing in mind that the generation of electricity from
biomass is not yet fully mature.
7.2 Analysis of the introduction of biomass
The single most important parameter that affects the introduction of bio-mass is the
cost of the energy generated In general terms, the end cost for generation of
electricity consists of the cost of biomass (around 40%), investment cost (about
40%), and overhaul and maintenance (roughly 20%). The figures are only
indicative and may vary widely between technologies, applications and regions.
However, they give an indication of how important the fuel costs are, and how
these costs affect, both directly and indirectly, the final cost of utilised bioenergy.
It is not unreasonable to assume that some expectations of the market may help
develop areas that are considered to be of importance. Such expectations include
the 'green energy' thoughts in some regions of some countries. Biomass may
become important in the future as a result of such expectations, although it must be
borne in mind that these may not create a large market for biomass in the short
The actual player on the market is of great importance to the development of the
renewable energy sector, and of the bioenergy sector in particular. In the case of
biomass, the players in the district heating sector are mostly local energy utilities,
while the players in the electricity generation sector may be from outside the region
where the biomass is produced. The development in this area, where electricity has
to be produced at low costs, may be highly dependent on the size of the market and
on who would be willing to take the risks for building such plants.
Biomass is used in many ways in the EU countries. The Nordic countries,
especially Sweden and Finland, have a long-established industrial sector linked to
biomass, which means that some basic infrastructure is already in place. However,
it must be borne in mind that bioenergy is obviously in conflict with the industrial
use of biomass, due to the need of industry (mainly the pulp and paper industry) for
forest products. The conflict between industrial and energy uses of biomass must
therefore be given particular attention when evaluating the future use of biomass as
a source of energy. This also largely applies to the debate on the utilization of
agricultural land for energy crops.
In the Nordic countries, biomass is commonly used for generating heat, and the
technique is reasonably well developed. Keen interest has recently also been shown
in putting biomass to efficient use in the generation of electricity. Work has
therefore been started on the development of new technologies with expected
improved performance than present technologies. One example of this is the
development of gasification technology. This is very important, since a long lead-
time is needed before any new technology is introduced on the market. It is
therefore by no means certain that biomass can be introduced on a larger scale in
the near future. Biomass will have the capability for strong market penetration in
the energy sector, but it demands technologies that are deployed after development
and demonstration programmes. In particular, it will require a rapid transition from
the existing technologies to new, high efficiency systems for biomass utilization.
This development may take a long time to establish.
An extremely important matter in this respect is to disseminate information on all
the results obtained from various projects, including - but not exclusively -
demonstration projects. The purpose of disseminating information on the results of
successfully demonstrated energy technologies is to assist them in breaking down
the market barriers and becoming commercially viable. This information should be
incorporated into the subsequent programme of demonstration activities.
In all new fields, it is important to spread the news and findings as quickly as
possible to those to whom knowledge of the technology may be of interest.
Education and information at various levels is important for achieving better
understanding of the role that bioenergy can play in the total energy system. This is
true for most areas in the field of energy, not merely for that of biomass. Another
important issue is the lack of information of the technical possibilities and the
economic advantages of various biomass fuels. It is not clear whether this
information is disseminated efficiently among countries.
Generally speaking, biomass has a high standing in the public opinion of most
countries, although the use of obsolete technologies in the past has led to
environmental objections in some countries. However, it must be emphasised that
protests - mild though they may be - are voiced against the establishment of
biomass. In some cases, the reason for this is somewhat difficult to establish,
although it is vital to recognise why this so. In the field of bioenergy, it may be
difficult to obtain public acceptance of large-scale direct conversion by firing with
biomass, especially in populated areas. The reasons for this are the shortcomings in
the understanding of how the infrastructure performs and consequently the extent,
for instance, of the fuel transport when the plant is in operation. One area in which
public concern appears to be serious is that of possible emissions from the biomass
firing process. This concern may differ from country to country and even from
region to region, but it must not be disregarded.
So even if biomass is generally accepted by the public, it does arouse something of
'not in my back yard' syndrome that must be considered very seriously.
Finally, use of biomass is an area that demands industrial development, not merely
for lowering the costs, but also for identifying spin-off effects in related areas.
There are several examples of this, including, but not limited to, the development of
gas turbines and the collection of particulates.
7.3 Achievements in projects funded by the European Commission
Many efforts have been made in recent years to introduce biomass through EU
programmes. A number of these efforts have gone hand in hand with the activities
in the Member States while others have been more actively done through these
programmes. Examples of the first activities are such as can be found in the small-
scale combustion area while examples in the latter area are targeted projects in the
gasification area.
Most of the projects funded by the Commission have made an effort to the progress
in the biomass area and to shed more light to where more efforts have to be put in
order to achieve an increased contribution of the biomass energy to the market.
This conclusion can be drawn from the previous chapter and is also in line with
what is generally understood to be the case in the sector.
The contribution from the Commission has, in many cases, been as the catalyst to
start the development in the different sectors. A more detailed description is given
in the previous chapters.
7.4 Analysis of technical barriers
The most important factors affecting the utilization of biomass appear to be the
cost element and lack of competitiveness as stated above. Decision-makers on all
levels need adequate information on how a given technology performs before an
appropriate decision can be taken. In this respect, biomass technology still appears
to lack market credibility. Comparing the introduction of biomass to the
introduction of oil in the 1950s and natural gas in 1960s, the difference is
considerable. On those occasions, the fuels being introduced were of a higher
technical quality than the biomass now being introduced, since biomass is more
heterogeneous and has a lower energy content, and may involve all kinds of
drawbacks to it user, especially since no market for service, etc. has yet been
The infrastructure is a major obstacle to the introduction of biomass. The main
reason for this is that biomass is a more bulky product and the distribution network
for biomass is generally much more complicated than that for oil and other products
with high energy content.
Biomass utilization technologies are available for many applications and are widely
used, although only in a few countries to a substantial level. It must be emphasised
that even if any technology can be improved further by research and development,
the lack of appropriate technologies is not the only reason for the limited use of
bioenergy in the European Union. Lack of competitiveness compared to fossil fuels
is most likely the most important reason. Bioenergy plants sometimes use
expensive fuel and involve high investment costs. Their use is currently limited to
niches in which these disadvantages can be avoided, such as (in most cases the only
generated commodity is heat):
the use of waste biomass from agriculture, such as straw, for energy
the use of firewood by the forest owners themselves, whose labour cost is not
included as an element in the price of firewood,
the use of industrial waste (residues), such as sawdust and bark, for conversion
into energy within the plant and
the use of municipal waste for generating energy
In all other cases, bio-fuel must still be subsidized to achieve competitive energy
costs. The form of these subsidies may vary from country to country, including
general energy taxes from which bioenergy is excluded, carbon dioxide taxes,
subsidies on investments for bioenergy, and also undertakings in some cases by
electricity utilities to use a certain proportion of renewable energy sources.
An important conclusion that can be drawn from the above is that the main barrier
to expanded use of bioenergy is, as stated several times above, its costs. Although
the utilization of renewable energy sources, especially bioenergy, is expected to
assist in solving the problems of reliability of supply and environmental impact of
energy generation from fossil fuels, the possible advantages of bioenergy will have
to be compared to the additional cost incurred by its use. This means that the
objective of all bioenergy research and development efforts must be focused on
lowering the cost of bioenergy feedstock and the associated investment cost.
Although this objective for further development of bioenergy applies to all
European Union countries, the strategies for achieving the objectives will differ.
This is due to differences in the economic, geographic, demographic and climatic
conditions in the Member States, and the lack of a common denominator for
comparing the countries.
The various technical factors that affect the costs of bioenergy are of vital
importance to its future utilization. The main technical barriers have been described
in preceding chapters. Some of the more important obstacles that are similar to all
technologies as well as users are:
Specifications and standards for biomass fuels
Fuel pre-treatment
Feeding of fuel, especially in pressurised systems
Storage of fuel
Ash removal and handling
The importance of demonstrating such projects in any field, including that of
bioenergy, can never be over-emphasised. The role of demonstration is of
paramount importance. No technology can penetrate the energy market without it.
In some cases, a demonstration is substantially strengthened by being repeated,
especially if there are parameters that cannot be demonstrated by only one unit.
The fundamental issue appears to be to demonstrate the step towards cost effective
systems. It must also be borne in mind that demonstration projects always
necessitate important and well-focused R&D projects to be conducted.
The conclusions that can specifically be drawn from the four areas studied in this
particular work are as follows:
Small-scale combustion
Small-scale biomass combustion (<100 kW fuel input power) covers a
substantial proportion of the energy demand for residential heating in the
Alpine and northern countries of the European Union and is expected to
continue to be of importance if the use of fossil fuels is to be reduced in this
Most of the small-scale biomass boilers in service today are fuelled with wood
logs. In the past 15 years, other wood-based biomass fuels have also become
available, such as wood briquettes, wood chips and wood pellets. The
emergence of these fuels prompted the development of automatic small-scale
boilers, and these have now reached the stage in which they offer an attractive
alternative to oil-fired and gas-fired boilers.
Harmful emissions (carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and
particulates) from large and medium-sized biomass combustion systems have
been minimised by special furnace design and advanced control systems. These
techniques are basically also applicable to small-scale combustion plants.
However, further R&D is necessary to lower the costs of these techniques and
to integrate them into small-scale plants.
At the present (1998) level of oil and natural gas prices, the specific costs of
heat (energy) from small-scale biomass-fired boilers are generally higher than
those from oil-fired and gas-fired boilers. However, in cases such as a lOOkW
wood-chip fuelled boiler, the specific cost of heat (0.04 - 0.05ECU/kWh) may
be the same as that from oil-fired and gas-fired boilers.
In special cases, CHP generation may be favourable in medium-sized systems
(lOOkWc -10 MWc). CHP generation in small-scale combustion systems is not
considered to be viable.
A number of improvements in biomass combustion have been achieved in
recent years in several projects subsidised by EU. However, further R&D
efforts must be devoted to optimising the combustion process, such as by the
application of medium-sized and large-scale techniques to small boilers, and to
improving the competitiveness of small-scale biomass combustion systems.
Large-scale combustion
Development of new techniques for combined firing of virgin bio-mass fuels
with fuels that have negative costs (urban wood waste or demolition timber) in
order to reduce the overall fuel costs to approximately 1 ECU/GJ looks very
Development of new and innovative techniques or combinations of techniques
for improving efficiency, e.g. by installing separate wood-fired superheaters for
raising the steam conditions when firing with straw looks interesting.
Use of biomass fuels in reburning for reducing the NO
, thus excluding the
need for secondary NO
reducing equipment in order to cut capital costs seem
to be interesting to further develop.
Employing CHP generation for medium-sized system in northern Europe for
both district heating and process industries, and also for process industries in
southern Europe seems adequate. A cost analysis clearly illustrates that CHP
generation would be a preferred option, especially for systems smaller than
around 30 MW.
Firing with biomass to replace some proportion of a fossil fuel such as lignite,
coal, oil or natural gas has great potential in large-scale systems using
pulverised fuel firing and particularly fiuidised bed systems. Gasification as
pre-treatment before firing together with fossil fuels also offers the potential of
using the gas in an induct burner, firing the gas together with the fossil fuel in
the boiler, or using the gas as a reburning fuel for NO
reduction. The firing of
biomass together with fossil fuels generally appears to have the greatest
potential for achieving high efficiency by enabling steam to be generated at
high temperatures and pressures.
Firing of biomass fuels together with waste fuel with negative costs is of
particular interest for reducing fuel costs in fiuidised bed systems.
Pre-treatment of problematic fuels with high chlorine or alkali contents by
leaching or fractionation may also be an option in the future, but depends on
the development of suitable technology and on the costs.
One market for the smallest of the large-scale systems is that of low-
temperature district heating systems, which should be equipped with flue-gas
condensing systems. However, the geographical locations of such systems are
of major importance. These systems ought to be located in Scandinavia where
the peak annual operating time is 3500 hours, corn-pared to 500 hours in
southern Europe.
Industrial CHP generation systems are also largely independent of geo-
graphical location, except as regards the price of electricity. For the reasons
mentioned above, CHP generation for district heating should be located in
northern Europe.
Since the fixed cost of biomass gasification plants is the main cost element in
such plants, technical development should concentrate on simplification of the
plant by avoiding the biomass pre-drying stage. Tar formation in the gasifier
should also be minimised by improving the gasifier design, in order to avoid
elaborate gas purification and wastewater treatment systems. If possible,
gasification with air should be avoided, since the nitrogen in the air dilutes the
gas gene-rated, which leads to bulky equipment and larger piping. Small-scale
production of oxygen is expensive, and the use of oxygen in small gasification
plants should therefore be avoided.
The technical development of biochemical gasification of biomass by anaerobic
fermentation is well advanced. The use of this system, especially for the
gasification of biomass with high moisture contents, has reached fully
developed status, and is restricted only by economic considerations.
The gasification of biomass waste and the gasification of biomass jointly with
waste materials and with coal have the potential for improving the economics
and should be investigated further.
Compared to other thermochemical conversion, fast pyrolysis of liquids is a
relatively new technique that offers scope for separating the biomass
conversion stage from the utilisation stage. Research work is therefore still
needed for bringing this technique to maturity. Attention should focus mainly
on process engineering to assist in the development and up-scaling of pyrolysis,
and also on the formation, properties and uses of chemical compounds.
Ablative pyrolysis offers the advantage of limiting the feedstock pre-treatment,
particularly grinding and, to some extent, also drying, thus lowering the cost.
Up-scaling to a pilot plant with a capacity of 0.5 - lt/h of dry feed should be
Within the next coming years a fast pyrolysis R&TD plant should be built in
order to demonstrate the feasibility of pyrolysis and to produce bio-oil in
sufficient quantity to allow for long-term application tests, process
optimisation, economic evaluation, and assessment of environmental and safety
In terms of application, the most promising options are power generation and
combined heat and power generation. A more robust, low-speed engine
should be tested, since lower efficiency may be acceptable in return for wider
fuel flexibility and cost reduction. At the same time, scope for chemical
applications in parallel with energy applications should be investigated, since
the chemical is a high value-added option which may make the energy
application competitive compared to conventional fuel.
7.5 Conclusions
Renewable energy currently accounts for almost 6% of the energy consumption in
the EU. The European Commission's White Paper on "Energy for the Future:
Renewable Sources of Energy" sets a target of 12% for the year 2010. Biomass is
expected to account for approximately 9%, i.e. biomass will be the dominant
renewable energy raw material. The aim is that the contribution of bioenergy to
this target should increase from about 45Mtoe/year at present to 135Mtoe/year by
the year 2010. The future development of bioenergy, and particularly the
technologies employed for using biomass, will have to be analysed against this
Bioenergy power plants sometimes use an expensive fuel and their in-vestment
costs are high. Their use is currently restricted to niches in which these
disadvantages can be avoided. The present barrier to increased use of bioenergy is
evidently its inability to compete with fossil fuels. The objective of all research and
development efforts on bioenergy must therefore be to lower the cost of all stages
of bioenergy utilization. However, it should be borne in mind that further research
will only reduce - but will not close - the gap between the cost of energy from
biomass and that of energy from fossil fuels. Additional financial measures will
therefore be necessary to achieve a further increase in the utilization of bioenergy.
The present energy market in the European Union performs well, with low prices
and an ample supply of energy. So to achieve the best economic and environmental
effects of the introduction of bioenergy onto this market, the existing options for it
must be assessed. At the present time, the best results can be expected by
employing biomass for small-scale space heating and for combined heat and power
(CHP) generation in medium-sized and large plants, and reasonable results can be
achieved if biomass is used for process heat. In addition, an interesting application
appears to be to fire biomass fuel together with coal or waste in existing power
plants. Gasification of biomass fuels for producing motor fuel via synthesis gas is
not competitive at present, but could become so in the future.
Since the energy market data differs considerably from country to country and even
within different regions of individual countries, it will be necessary to evaluate the
energy demand conditions and identify in detail the segment or segments of the
energy market in which bioenergy would have the best chances of making progress,
and the technologies needed for the relevant segments.
There are specific technical obstacles for different techniques, however, these
obstacles may be overcome, leaving the cost for the generated energy as the main
obstacle for the introduction of bioenergy. In view of this, the following guidelines
will have to be observed in the development of the conversion of biomass into
useful energy.
1) Out of all renewable energy sources, biomass is of greatest interest, since it is
available in large quantities and the technology for its utilisation is also
2) Biomass resources appear to be large enough to supply a reasonable
proportion of the energy demand in Europe. Forestry by-products represent a
very abundant resource, and so do urban, industrial and, to some extent,
agricultural residues. The availability of land for energy crops will depend on
developments in agriculture and on future world market trends.
3) The biomass resources around Europe are diverse and diffuse, which explains
the difficulties in evaluating the quantities available and their potential.
4) The capacities of electricity generation plants will depend on the quantities of
biomass available locally. Except in the Northern European countries, the fuel
input ratings will probably not exceed 50 MWe.
1) The costs of biomass utilisation are still high, and innovations are therefore
needed for achieving cost reductions.
2) All efforts should be made to introduce combined heat and power generation in
simple systems that involve low investment costs, which should improve the
competitiveness of biomass fuels.
1) It appears reasonable to develop small-scale combustion systems in particular
low-cost, high-quality fuels. To make the combustion system attractive, it is
vitally important to develop plants with high availability and reliability. In all
cases, the main commodity produced is heat, and whether or not it is combined
with electricity generation is determined from case to case.
2) Large-scale biomass combustion systems with high performance are much
easier to develop than small-scale systems. On the other hand, competition
with fossil fuel fired plants is fierce.
3) Combined heat and power (CHP) plants are preferable to pure power
generation plants. However, the capacity of CHP plants is limited by the local
demand for low-temperature heat. Due to their longer annual operating times,
industrial applications are preferable to district heating systems.
4) Power generation from biomass by means of conventional steam processes has
a maximum energy efficiency of 35%, while combined cycle plants employing
biomass gasification and gas turbines could achieve 40 - 50% or even higher.
High plant costs and high fuel costs result in the electricity generated being
more expensive than that from fossil fuel fired power stations.
5) Since the fixed cost of biomass gasification plants is the main cost element in
such plants, technical development should concentrate on simplification of the
plant by avoiding the biomass pre-drying stage. Tar formation in the gasifier
should also be minimised by improving the gasifier design, in order to avoid
elaborate gas purification and wastewater treatment systems. If possible,
gasification with air should be avoided, since the nitrogen in the air dilutes the
gas generated, which leads to bulky equipment and larger piping. Small-scale
production of oxygen is expensive, and the use of oxygen in small gasification
plants should therefore be avoided.
6) The technical development of biochemical gasification of biomass by anaerobic
fermentation is well advanced. The use of this system, especially for the
gasification of biomass with high moisture contents, has reached fully
developed status, and is restricted only by economic considerations.
7) The gasification of biomass waste and the gasification of biomass jointly with
waste materials and with coal have the potential for improving the economics
and should be investigated further.
8) Fast pyrolysis is a relatively new technology compared with other
thermochemical conversion methods, but offers the opportunity of decoupling
the biomass conversion step from the final use. However, R&D is still
necessary to bring the technology to maturity. Attention should be focused
mainly on process engineering to assist the development stage. In terms of
application for pyrolysis, power generation and co-generation with engines
seems to offer the most promising options. Co-production of chemicals should
be investigated as it may improve economic viability.
9) The use of fuel cells could become of interest if their cost is reduced. Gas
conversion and purification may be necessary, depending on the type of fuel
10) Existing technologies for biomass utilisation are perceived, to some extent, as
being unreliable.
Demonstration and dissemination
1) The technologies now being demonstrated appear to have long lead times
before they are established on the market. This is particularly true of very new
techniques, such as IGCC, which has not yet been demonstrated in more than
one application (Vrnamo in Sweden).
2) Demonstration has a vital role to play, and must be evaluated further and
3) The need for disseminating information is sometimes underestimated and must
be pursued in parallel with education and training.
Country by country approach
1) There appears to be a gap in the bio-gas activities between individual Member
States, and between the Member States and the Commission, which may give
rise to sub-optimisation and to problems in implementing new technologies in
existing energy systems.
2) It is by no means obvious that activities in different countries can be compared
with each other, since consideration must be given to both small-scale and
large-scale plants, and to the heating and electricity sectors.
7.6 Recommendations
1) Since the cost of heat and electricity generated is vitally important to the
competitiveness of biomass, it is extremely important to devote work to the
issue of costs, in order to find ways of decreasing the costs in all parts of the
chain. It is recommended that substantial R&D efforts be devoted to this area.
It may also prove necessary to find new methods of financing R&D projects,
since it is not entirely self-evident that existing companies on the bioenergy
market - or linked markets - will carry on financing as they have done so far.
2) A system of specifying different biomass qualities must be established in order
to achieve a stable and secure supply of biomass. This must be done on a
European level, using existing standardisation organisations on the market and
in close co-operation with all Member States. All efforts should be made to
secure this.
3) The way of introducing biomass into countries in which the present utilisation
is limited could begin by building systems for supplying heat, which could later
be combined with electricity generation. Plans towards this end should be
drawn up and considered.
4) Efforts should be made in non-technical areas such as socio-economics, public
acceptance, etc. in order to show the benefits of utilising biomass technologies.
This aspect may be so important in the future that a strategic plan may have to
be drawn up in co-operation with a number of organisations in different
5) A long-term strategic plan should be drawn up covering all aspects of biomass
and its implementation, including demonstration units and related R&D
projects aimed at, but not limited to, removal of the technical barriers. This
should be done in co-operation between the Commission and the Member
States. This may be one of the best and most efficient ways of introducing
bioenergy in the future. If the costs of bioenergy are to be minimised,
considerable efforts should be devoted to all parts of the chain.
European Commission
EUR 18029 Biomass conversion technologies Achievements and
prospects for heat and power generation
Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities
1999 X, 178 pp. 14.8 21 cm
ISBN 92-828-5368-3
Price (excluding VAT) in Luxembourg: EUR 31.50
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