Report Projects Upswing in Torrefied Biomass Use

Many of you will be interested in a new report by consulting firm Hawkins Wright that predicts global demand for torrefied biomass to exceed 70 million metric tons per year by 2020.
By Lisa Gibson | February 10, 2012

Judging by the number of questions I get about torrefaction viability and markets, many of you will be interested in a new report by consulting firm Hawkins Wright that predicts global demand for torrefied biomass to exceed 70 million metric tons per year by 2020.

The report claims torrefied biomass is on the brink of becoming a viable feedstock for utility-scale electricity generators, potentially replacing coal, as well as some types of wood pellets. Favorable renewable energy policies in Europe, North America and Asia would drive that demand, it continues. Hawkins Wright also reports that significant volumes of torrefied biomass are expected to reach the market in the coming months, with commercial-scale production plants operating by 2013. To order the full article, click here.

I’m still a bit skeptical that the sector will take off that soon, but it certainly has a following and generates interest. Portland General Electric in Oregon is considering torrefied arundo pellets or briquettes as a potential new feedstock for its Boardman coal-fired power plant, scheduled to stop using coal in 2020. No test burns have been conducted yet, but PGE managers say they are confident torrefied biomass is the right choice.

U.K. firm Rotowave Ltd. has developed a torrefaction technology that uses a series of simultaneous electromagnetic frequencies in combination with a ceramic drum to maximize heat transfer throughout every biomass particle in the unit. Thermogen Industries has big plans for the system, using an idled paper mill in Millinocket, Maine, to process up to 600,000 tons of woody biomass per year. The torrefied product will then be shipped to Europe. The company will be the first to scale up the Rotowave technology and expects to begin producing torrefied biomass by the end of the year.

It certainly is exciting to think about the possibilities, but I won’t speculate about the impact a robust torrefied biomass market would have on the wood pellet market. That sector is on a steady growth path, too, and ready to fulfill growing biomass demand in Europe and Asia. Ideally, the two sectors would complement each other and avoid competing for markets. But that might be wishful thinking.

3 Responses

  1. Bruce B.



    It would be interesting to see a discussion of the progress firms like Topell and Thermya are making with the first commercial plants built. Starting from the ground up with a new technology appears to involve a bit more trial and error than this article implies. While the potential demand may be there, it would appear there is a lot more doubt about success on the part of the target utility company users than implied or recognized in this article.

  2. Scott Jamieson



    I agree with your skepticism Lisa, both on how soon the market will launch and the ability of pellets and torrefied wood to complement each other. They will compete head on for the same industrial market.

  3. Rolland



    Every minute a new sucker is born Hawkins Wright know how to use any opportunity to make money for Hawkins Wright, with as usual a report with no guaranties that the conclusions are correct, hey it is only around $5,000 A subscription to ‘The Supply Chain Economics of Biomass Torrefaction’ costs £3,500 (or the equivalent in euro or US dollars). Subscribers to Hawkins Wright’s Forest Energy Monitor report or to its 2010 multi-client report on UK Investments in Biomass Power – qualify for a discounted price of £3,200.

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