Company develops local heating technology with biochar byproduct

By Lisa Gibson | May 09, 2012

Washington-based Whitfield Biochar LLC is developing a biomass thermal technology that can use multiple feedstocks to produce syngas, as well as a biochar product for soil fertility improvement. It also is designed to be scalable and meet local thermal demand.

The process can use almost all types of waste streams, but the company prefers to use rice hulls, chicken litter, grass pellets or dried sewage sludge, according to Jock Gill, marketing and communications representative for Whitfield Biochar. Wood pellets can also be used.

“We are able to deliver predictable, repeatable, and consistent results as we are able to control the reactor temperature to within 1 percent of the set point, typically 500 degrees C, as well as the residence time of the material in the reactor,” Gill said. The system is a continuous flow pyrolysis unit, dubbed the Whitfield Continuous Feed Biochar Reactor.

The company is in the late development stages, he added, and plans to install its first beta units in the fourth quarter of this year. Bill said the company expects to install the unit at locations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California.

“Test sites will be using the thermal energy co-product to displace fossil fuels and the biochar co-product for soil regeneration, as well as nutrient and storm water management and remediation,” Gill said. "We also expect a test of highway storm water management of heavy metal run-offs.”

In at least one case, the system will deliver heat to its users at or below the cost of natural gas, he added.