New project launched to remove impurities from biomass to make bioenergy cheaper and more efficient

Academics from the University of Sheffield’s Energy 2050 institute are working with industry partners on a new project to show how the removal of impurities and contaminated material from sustainable biomass could make bioenergy cheaper and more efficient, consequently delivering better greenhouse gas savings.

The £2.2m project launched by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) will be led by national biomass specialists Forest Fuels working with Uniper Technologies.

A prototype plant will be built to pre-treat biomass feedstocks to remove impurities. The cleaned feedstocks will then be blended and combustion tested at the University of Sheffield’s PACT facilities (Pilot Scale Advanced Capture Technology Centre). Researchers at the University’s Energy 2050 institute will investigate the efficiency and environmental impact of this novel approach and anaylse the results.

Biomass fuels, including waste wood, arboricultural and forestry residues, and purpose-grown biomass feedstocks such as miscanthus, often contains undesirable contaminants, picked up for example during harvesting, transport or storage. The idea behind the project is that this pre-treatment process will reduce such concentrations and therefore deliver downstream operational benefits and value.

The ETI project will use various feedstocks including waste wood, energy crops and other waste to test the process.

If successful, this process could lead to lower environmental and operating costs for power producers leading to a lower cost of low carbon energy.

Professor Mohamed Pourkashanian, Head of Energy 2050 at the University of Sheffield said: “Biomass plants are growing in popularity across the UK and worldwide so it is important to continue to improve the technology available and work towards more effective, environmentally friendly and cheaper bioenergy.

We are pleased that our specialist pilot-scale facilities at PACT in Sheffield will be used as part of this important and timely project.”

Geraint Evans, ETI Bioenergy Programme Manager said: “A lot of waste wood currently ends up in landfill sites or is used in incinerators. This project will take waste wood, wash it and blend it to remove impurities to make it as clean as possible in the lowest cost way.

“By removing such impurities this will lead to improvements in the efficiency of biomass boilers and the feedstocks used within them. We want to show that improving the quality of biomass feedstocks in this way is a viable way of increasing the amount of sustainable sources of bioenergy, obtaining more energy from them and delivering improved greenhouse gas savings.

“The intention is that once the process has been proven and tested it could then be used on other bioenergy crops and scaled up to treat larger amounts of material creating even greater efficiencies.”