Densification conference panel has torrefaction emphasis

By Lisa Gibson
Posted September 24, 2010, at 11:21 a.m. CST

Torrefaction is the hot topic and reoccurring theme for the biomass densification panel at the Southeast Biomass Conference & Trade Show Nov. 2-4 in Atlanta, with three of four speakers focusing on it in their presentations.

Densification Strategies to Increase the Viability of Biomass as a Power Feedstock will explore densification, transportation and pretreatments among other pertinent topics to the biomass arena in the Southeast U.S. As most biomass harvesters and developers know, densification can alleviate issues related to high transportation costs and low energy density.

In his presentation titled Torrefaction: Producing a Coal Replacement for Electric Generation and Industrial Heat and Power, Joseph James, president of South Carolina-based Agri-Tech Producers LLC, will discuss how the torrefaction of wood and plant biomass creates a renewable solid fuel with increased energy and physical density. Untreated wood has a Btu value of about 4,500, James cited, while torrefied wood can range from 10,000 to 12,000 Btu.

"The Southeast has an abundance of woody biomass and the potential to grow meaningful amounts of plant biomass," he said. "Although there is growing interest in torrefied fuels in the U.S., the EU market for renewables is mature and growing, so the Southeast is well-positioned to export torrefied fuels to the EU." James said he expects his audience to get excited about the new and growing markets for torrefied fuels and to learn how they might prepare for that market.

A presentation by fellow panelist Thomas McGowan, president and founder of engineering consulting firm TMTS Associates Inc., will address sizing, drying, torrefaction and densification of engineered biomass fuels, including information about the equipment used in each step, along with associated costs. Like James, McGowan will expound on the export potential of torrefied biomass. "Engineered fuels have potential for export to Europe and for fueling U.S. utility power plants, and will allow easier coburning or 100 percent biomass firing of existing equipment," he said.

Panelist Sudhagar Mani, assistant professor at the University of Georgia, will discuss his own research during his presentation, Integrating Torrefaction Pretreatment with Gasification of Forest Biomass. He will focus on a study about the impact of biomass torrefaction on syngas yield and tar compositions during gasification and will include information about his conclusion that torrefied biomass demonstrates superior fuel quality and generates tar free or low-tar syngas.

The panel focus will switch from from torrefaction to briquettes during a presentation by Ravi Malhotra, chief technical officer for Colorado-based Clean Coal Briquette Inc. Malhotra will speak about his company's biomass briquette, composed of two-thirds woody biomass and a proprietary binder consisting of unutilized coal such as fines, trails and ash. The briquettes can be used at coal-fired power stations and would count toward renewable portfolio standards, help reduce carbon emissions and require no new permitting, as long as the plant is permitted to burn both coal and biomass.

This educational panel promises to delve into Southeast-specific densification opportunities, as well as spur interest in emerging markets. To register for the Southeast Biomass Conference & Trade Show, visit