New technology developed in the United Kingdom could convert biomass fuel into a coal-like product, thus creating next-generation fuel that could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide stable energy for the masses.
A coalition of public and private-industry entities – ranging from the University of Nottingham to the Energy Research Accelerator and CPL Industries – is currently developing the technology to create biocoal through a process known as hydrothermal carbonization (HTC).
HTC basically takes biomass with a high moisture content and converts it into solid fuel through high pressure and moderate temperature application. The biocoal that results from the process is structurally and functionally similar to natural coal, except that the process to create it takes mere hours rather than thousands of years.
The biocoal can then be used as a feed source in biomass power plants as a way to generate more sustainable electricity to those in the United Kingdom and wherever else the technology spreads.
Currently, the coalition is building an HTC facility that will be the first of its kind in the United Kingdom and will be operated by CPL Industries, a private manufacturer of solid fuels that is a leader in the biomass market. The facility is expected to begin production in summer 2018.
The potential for transforming the biomass industry – and, at some level, the fossil fuel industry as a whole – is considerable. For starters, such a process would make better use of organic, non-coal and non-natural gas fuel sources that are more readily available and less expensive to cultivate. Additionally, biocoal can be substituted for true coal in a way that is the least disruptive to existing coal-fired power plants, with perhaps minimal modifications.
The lower emissions of biocoal compared to true coal would also be a benefit not just for the environment, but for energy producers who have to worry about strict regulations.
While the HTC facility being developed is planned as a way to help replace home heating fuel sources, the application could extend far beyond home heating and encompass mass electrical generation on a wide scale.
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