Solid Biomass Conversion Processes
Logging, grinding, screening and drying operations are mechanical processes for enhancing solid biomass fuels. These operations help transform biomass into homogeneous fuel that is easy to handle, with a higher energy recovery (eg. woodchips, wood logs, agrofuel). In general, moisture content in woodchips used for energy generation in municipal or industrial plants ranges between 20-30%.
Densification is another popular way to transform woody material into an advanced fuel with high calorific value. This process involves compressing biomass and lowering moisture levels to a range of 8-10%, allowing for an homogenous fuel – either in the form of pellets or briquettes. The heat during compression fuses the lignin in the biomass, naturally binding the biomass together in a new, enhanced shape. Thanks to densification, the homogenous biomass fuel is easier to transport and can be used in automated biomass installations, such as pellet stoves and boilers.
Thermo-chemical conversions are now used to produce fuel with even higher calorific value, utilising torrefaction or steam explosion technologies. During the torrefaction process, wood is subjected to temperatures of 230°C-300°C at atmospheric pressure without oxygen. Comparable to some extent to coffee torrefaction, this method creates a fuel with unique characteristics. As compared to conventional wood, torrefied wood has very low (>5%) moisture content, is easily grindable and is relatively hydrophobic.
Thanks to advanced technologies, woody biomass can also produce liquid and gaseous fuels. Pyrolysis, for instance, is a thermal-chemical conversion that requires a high temperature (>400°C) and little oxygen to convert solid biomass into gas, liquid fuels (pyrolysis oil) and/or biochar. Gasification is another thermo-chemical conversion that takes place at high temperatures (>800°C), with limited oxygen and/or steam, and converts solid biomass into synthesis gas, known as syngas – which contains carbon and hydrogen and can be used to produce liquid fuels such as biodiesel.