Torrefaction: Improving Power Efficiency in Biomass

Aston’s European Bioenergy Research Institute (EBRI) is developing new processes to exploit the power of torrefaction

About

EBRI is investing in torrefaction as a groundbreaking method for treating biomass.

This innovative process produces significant efficiency improvements, furthering the case for biomass as a renewable fuel source and as a powerful addition to the arsenal of alternatives to fossil fuels and the harmful CO2 emissions they produce.  

EBRI is currently engaged in evaluating all aspects of torrefaction, including its characteristics around mass and energy balances. This is part of EBRI's Supergen Bioenergy Hub project: Torrefaction integrated assessment.  Data from previous research work will be used to develop full mass-energy balances for incorporation of torrefaction into selected bioenergy systems, including recovery of chemicals as part of an integrated processing scheme.  

The benefits of torrefaction

  • Dramatic increases in calorific value (energy per unit of weight) 

  • Torrefied biomass is easy to grind and can easily be compacted into a product with high volumetric energy density (energy per unit of volume)  

  • The torrefied material becomes hydrophobic (i.e. water repellent), meaning it can be stored for a long time without disintegrating  

  • The physical properties of torrefied biomass, such as durability and homogeneity are improved significantly, while the biological activity is strongly reduced. 

  • Torrefied biomass can be pressed into pellets to create a fuel with homogenous feeding and conversion properties.

What is torrefaction?

Torrefaction is a process for the thermal pre-treatment of biomass and involves heating the biomass in a range between 200 - 300°C, in an inert atmosphere. The process occurs in two stages: 

  1. At temperatures up to 300°C chemical water is removed as a product of by-chemical reactions through thermo-condensation along with carbon dioxide formation. In the range of 180-270°C exothermic reactions occur along with the partial degradation of hemicellulose within the biomass. Subsequently the biomass attains its brown colour whilst releasing carbon dioxide, chemical moisture, some phenols and large amounts of acetic acid.
  2. Drying at 125°C biomass undergoes a slight breakdown and release of physical water (moisture), with some light volatiles resulting in a weight loss of below 10%. 
The four-stage process
  1. Biomass preparation (grinding and drying)  
  2. Reactor (conversion of biomass into torrefied material and combustible gases) with condensation system 
  3. Cooling section (cooling of torrefied material) 
  4. Combustion section (non-condensable gases are burned with an excess of oxygen in the combustor and the generated heat is used the torrefaction process)
People and contact Us

We welcome collaboration opportunities with academia, government bodies and industry from around the world.

To contact us, email the EBRI Business Support Team, visit Bioenergy for Business or call us on 0121 204 3383.

Energy and Bioproducts Research institute (EBRI)

Aston University

Aston Triangle

Birmingham

B4 7ET