From Coal to Biomass: Spotlighting Pretreatment Technologies

By Anna Simet | August 01, 2014

Yesterday, I moderated a webinar on biomass pretreatment technologies. When I came up with the concept for the webinar, I anticipated it would be a well-attended event. That hunch was influenced by my experience moderating a panel on the same topic at the International Biomass Conference & Expo in March. It was the last panel of the last day of the event, and the room was packed.

Yesterday, the registration record for BBI International’s line of webinars was broken. And I have to hand it to the experts who presented—our friend Bill Strauss from FutureMetrics, Amber Broch from Desert Research Institute, Hiroshi Morihara from HM3 Energy and Donald Fosnatch with the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Interest in torrefaction, steam explosion, hydrothermal carbonization and other pretreatment technologies is great, and these individuals and their affiliated organizations/companies are adding greatly to the library of knowledge being built in this area.

Progress in the U.S. is moving along.

And I can see it right here in Minnesota, less than a three-hour drive away from me, where, after an enormous amount of research, experimentation and data collection, Donald Fosnatch and UMD’s Natural Resources Research Institute are in the process of constructing a torrefaction demonstration plant.

While Donald, Hiroshi, and Amber’s presentations all focused on various pretreatment technologies, Strauss brought white pellets into the conversation, and made the case as to why even white pellets are nearly a drop-in replacement for coal. “The modification of a pulverized coal plant to pulverized wood pellets (white) is actually very minor,” he said. “Is it technically feasible to convert? It is. And it’s been proven….Can black pellets provide cheaper fuel and work better? I think the answer is a qualified yes.”

Strauss’s presentation was based off of a recently released FutureMetrics paper, which he said did not quantify hydrophobicity and approved grindability, additional potential benefits, but said those issues would likely be worked through in a future piece of work.

Before I wrap up this blog, I should mention a full recording of this webinar will be available right here early next week. If you want copies of the presentations or have questions specific to webinar content, you’ll need to contact each speaker directly. 

If you attended the webinar, what did you walk away with?