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  • Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SteamBio (Flexible Superheated Steam Torrefaction and Grinding of Indigenous Biomass from Remote Rural Sources to Produce Stable Densified Feedstocks for Chemical and Energy Applications)

SteamBio Report Summary

Project ID: 636865
Funded under: H2020-EU.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SteamBio (Flexible Superheated Steam Torrefaction and Grinding of Indigenous Biomass from Remote Rural Sources to Produce Stable Densified Feedstocks for Chemical and Energy Applications)

Reporting period: 2015-02-01 to 2016-07-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

"The objective of SteamBio is to demonstrate a mobile processing concept that will enable efficient pre-treatment of agro-forestry residues for use as flexible feedstocks in chemical and process industries. These ligno-cellulosic materials originated from rural locations will be upgraded and densified into uniform sizes at source, allowing cost-effective transportation to existing industrial sites. The core enabling technology is superheated steam processing (SHS). SHS has been implemented in diverse drying applications at industrial scales, due to its superior heat transfer properties. At pilot scales, SHS has been proven to torrefy biomass at temperatures up to 300°C with minimal ligno-cellulose breakdown. Unlike conventional torrefaction techniques, which use flue gases as heating medium, it does not contaminate the torrefied biomass and volatile fractions, allowing economic recovery of chemicals. Moreover, it is also readily scalable for continuous operation. In SteamBio, a transportable demonstrator unit will be operated at five different rural locations where it will be used to torrefy tonnage quantities of six different agro-forestry residues at a throughput of 500 kg/h. The demonstrator unit will be operated at these rural locations throughout the last twelve months of the project to allow for seasonal fluctuations in the composition of the materials being valorised. The torrefied biomass fractions (solid and liberated volatiles) will then be validated as green building blocks in commercially relevant chemical production and in bioenergy use. Life cycle experts will validate that SteamBio will have positive environmental impacts. A robust business strategy will be developed to enable the results to cross the "valley of death" post-project and to ensure widespread market replication. Project delivery will be achieved by an interdisciplinary team consisting of 11 partners from research and from the entire industrial and commercial supply chain from fields through to factories."

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

SteamBio is a collaboration of eleven partners from industry and academia with a common purpose; to create a viable business based on superheated steam torrefaction of forestry and agricultural residues. It will demonstrate economic viability in different rural locations recovery of usable biocarbon from indigenous forestry and farming residues in tonnage quantities. In SteamBio this torrefied biocarbon will be demonstrated as a coal replacement for an industrial lime kiln and as a carbon source in pilot scale biorefineries. Recovered condensate from the superheated steam process has already been shown to contain commercially relevant quantities of biochemicals, additional to the torrefied biocarbon mass that can be used as a biofuel and in biochemicals.

SteamBio has already selected six different reference-materials that are abundant and available from European forestry and farming operations. A demonstration unit with a throughput of 500kg/hour is currently under design and construction and will be deployed at different rural locations by January 2017.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

Bio-carbonisation not de-carbonisation: There is much talk nowadays about “decarbonising” the economy, would it be more appropriate for us to use a greener form of carbon instead?
Carbon has helped to shape the world we live in today, in fuels and in chemicals. In the modern world it is primarily supplied from unsustainable fossil sources; coal mines, oil wells and gas fields, creating environmental impacts in both extraction and use. With the majority of fossil carbon now imported into Europe there are assorted concerns relating to security of supply. To create a more secure and sustainable future we need to use carbon from nature: “biocarbon”; using it to create biodegradable bioplastics, other biochemicals and for renewable energy generation that is available when required. However, it is important that biocarbon is sustainable with functionalities, availability and costs comparable to the fossil carbon it displaces.

Whilst biocarbon is an abundant natural resource, it is not always available in the appropriate condition or location. The infrastructure associated with fossil carbon has been developed over a number of years, based around centralised refineries. The biorefineries of the future cannot ignore these existing infrastructures. For biocarbon to become established it must be able to be stabilised, stored, transported and used with cost and functional equivalence to fossil carbon. This needs to be achieved without expensive plant upgrades.
How big is the market? The global chemical industry is worth about $3 trillion, of which biochemical production amounts to approximately $100 billion, a relatively small but growing proportion. Currently these biochemicals are mainly “1st generation”, which means that they compete with available food supplies, either directly by using corn starch or sugar or indirectly through land use. This is not sustainable long term and has led to research and investment into “2nd and 3rd generation sources. The bioenergy market is more developed and is expanding. Since 2008 EU wood pellet use for energy generation has increased from 2.5 million tons of oil equivalence (Mtoe) and is projected to be 20 to 32 Mtoe or approximately 50 to 80 million metric tons, by 2020 (source European Biomass Association). As the demand for bioenergy has grown, issues have arisen which will also impact on 2nd generation biochemicals.
• Existing forestry resources in Europe are insufficient to meet market demand, resulting in significant imports from North America and other regions with competition for supplies emerging from East Asia and elsewhere. Concerns have been expressed on imported supplies; of ecological stresses where grown, on the environmental impact of shipments around the globe and competition from other users.
• There are abundant biomass resources across Europe that are not currently being used to meet this supply gap. For instance, it had been estimated that there are potentially 100 Mtoe of agricultural residues alone. However, these residues are not in a form that can be readily collated and is usable by a large scale bioeconomy. There is a need to be able to cost-effectively collate and present this material in a form that can be used.

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