EERC, Cummins partner for waste-to-energy

By Lisa Gibson
Posted September 9, 2010, at 2:40 p.m. CST

Over the next year, researchers at the University of North Dakota's Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) will test multiple types of high-moisture feedstocks during a demonstration of the partnership between its gasifier and a Cummins Power Generation Inc. generator.

The design and operation of EERC's proprietary gasification system allow for feedstock with higher moisture content than traditional systems, according to Nikhil Patel, EERC research scientist. In the process, the moisture in the biomass is used to improve the hydrogen content of the resulting syngas, he added. Feedstocks used in the demonstration will include municipal solid waste, wet wood, turkey litter and other opportunistic biomass fuels that are underutilized, according Bruce Folkedahl, EERC senior research manager. "High-moisture biomass is a typically-found fuel," Patel said.

Cummins, based in Minneapolis, Minn., is a worldwide leader in internal combustion engines and stationary power generation, and thus is an ideal partner for this research. "The partnership is beneficial to both entities and will advance the state of the art in both distributed gasification and syngas use in internal combustion engine power generation," Folkedahl said. The Cummins generator normally runs on natural gas, but has been fitted for syngas by EERC researchers.

The demonstration of the technologies together will produce between 20 and 40 kilowatts (kW) of electricity, which will be used to power an electric heater. "The ultimate goal of the project is to implement commercial projects," Patel said. Scale-up of the system will be based on the particular use of the technology and will vary from the current size up to 500 kW or larger. "Some applications may only require 50 kilowatts while others may need more depending on the end use of the electricity and the amount of biomass available for fuel," Folkedahl said.

The EERC hopes the outcome of the project will lead to further development and the demonstration of engine performance when using syngas. It will produce data for environmental permitting and provide strategies to achieve emission levels that meet current and future environmental regulations, which will be critical for successful commercialization of combined heat and power technologies.