Symposium success for Energy 2050 student

Jonathan Morris, Energy 2050 EngD student, was awarded departmental first prize for his presentation at the recent Engineering Research Symposium and went on to represent MEC in the Faculty Competition.

Jonathan’s background is in Chemical Engineering having studied at the University of Nottingham, followed by a year working as a technical writer for an engineering consultancy firm, before deciding to start an Engineering Doctorate.

Under the supervision of Energy 2050’s Dr Bill Nimmo, Jonathan’s Doctorate is sponsored by Sembcorp Utilities UK, which owns the 2000 acre Wilton International site in Teesside, Middlesbrough, where they supply electricity, steam and water treatment services to industrial clients on site. One of their assets is the Wilton 10 Biomass Power Station, which uses the same combustion technology (fluidized bed combustion) that the EngD project is focused on.

He also spends one week per month in Teesside with Sembcorp’s Performance Engineering team, helping out with a mixture of different engineering projects. For example, creating heat and mass balances for combustion within the Wilton 10 boiler, or looking at steam turbine performance at different operational conditions.

Here he explains a little more about his research that inspired his winning presentation.

“I’m looking at ash related issues during fluidized bed combustion of biomass. A fluidized bed is whereby air is passed through a bed of particles, e.g. sand, from below. Once the air flow reaches the minimum fluidization velocity, the bed of particles will become suspended by the air and behave like a fluid. Whilst the bed is being fluidized, it is also heated to the point where it is hot enough to burn a fuel, in my case, biomass. Once the biomass is burning, the start-up bed heating can be turned off and the fuel will continue to burn.

“Biomass fuels – such as wood or agricultural wastes. – can be highly variable in quality, which fluidized beds are better equipped to handle. However, biomass ashes will start to form melts at high temperatures. In a fluidized bed boiler, the ashes will form deposits boiler metalwork, and within the fluidized bed itself will cause bed material to stick together into lumps called agglomerates. With enough agglomerates present in the bed, the bed will defluidize, as the air flow can no longer suspend it. At this point, you would have to stop the combustion process in order to replace the bed material, and then start back up again. My research focuses on this issue of agglomeration, specifically the effects of different fuels, bed materials, and additives, as well as determining the mechanisms that drive it. I primarily use a pilot scale fluidized bed combustor at the PACT facility in Beighton, Sheffield, to do this work.

“There are several power stations in the UK using fluidized bed boilers with biomass fuels in the UK at present, with more to open in the near future. Ash-related issues such as agglomeration cause numerous reliability and maintenance problems for operators.

“Furthermore, operators often use fuels with lower ash contents, such as fresh wood chips, to minimise ash related challenges. Mitigating or overcoming these challenges would allow for increased use of alternate fuels such as waste wood or agricultural wastes.”

Jonathan claims he was drawn to an EngD programme because of the industrial involvement in each project. “I was more excited by the idea of working on a project that already has interest from industrial partners, and may have a real impact on their business. As my EngD project is part of the Centre for Doctoral Training in Carbon Capture, Storage and Cleaner Fossil Energy, I’m part of a wider cohort across other universities that are carrying out energy projects with industry. We also undertake a dedicated programme of modules to broaden our understanding of the energy sector, which was also a plus for choosing the EngD.”

He also credits the University of Sheffield’s reputation and the expertise of his supervisor, Dr Bill Nimmo as being major influences on his decision to study here.

Dr Nimmo said of Jonathan’s win “I am really pleased for Jonathan. He is a worthy winner of the MEC prize and a strong champion for the Department and Energy 2050. He loves his research and I am sure that would have been obvious in his presentations. Well done!”