French torrefaction firm targets North America

By Anna Austin
Posted April 20, 2010, at 3:24 p.m. CST

French engineering company Thermya is working to commercialize and introduce a fast continuous torrefaction technology to the North American marketplace, after more than a decade of perfecting the technology in the EU.

Development of the TORSPYD began in 1994 by Jean-Sèbastien Hery in collaboration with the University of Leven, Belgium, resulting in a treated wood recycler prototype in 1995. After Thermya was created in 2002, the company acquired patents to the initial technology and continued work to further develop the process. In 2006, the TORSPYD process was completed and the first pilot unit was built in 2007.

Two years later, Thermya signed a first license agreement in 2009 with the Spanish company IDEMA, Group Lantec. Thermya spokesman Jean-Christophe Labastugue said the license gives the company the right to construct and/or sell torrefaction plants based on the TORSPYD technology, but not exclusivity.

Thermya describes its process as a soft thermal treatment of biomass (240 degrees Celsius or 464 degrees Fahrenheit) based on the continuous circulation of two air flows moving in opposite directions. As a result of the hot neutral gases, the biomass is dehydrated and then depolymerized in the reactor to eventually produce biocoal.

According to Thermya, the TORSPYD biocoal product retains 90 percent of its initial biomass mass and contains a moisture level of 1 percent. Properties and energy content vary, depending on the properties of the initial raw biomass, but the company says wood-derived biocoal has a calorific value of 20,000 to 21,000 kilojoules per kilogram.

The size of a typical unit depends on the required production capacity and what type of biomass will be utilized. Units developed by Thermya range from 100 to 5,000 kilograms per hour, which are designed to operate on the basis of 8,000 production hours annually.

Labastugue said the first commercial TORSPYD torrefaction plant is currently under construction in Northwest Spain, and should be operating at the end of 2010.

Now, the company is looking to secure commercial and industrial long-term partnerships in North America.