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MOBILE FLIP Report Summary

Project ID: 637020
Funded under: H2020-EU.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MOBILE FLIP (Mobile and Flexible Industrial Processing of Biomass)

Reporting period: 2015-01-01 to 2016-06-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

The overall objective of the project is to develop mobile and flexible units for conversion of various types of solid lignocellulosic biomass residues into enriched fractions, chemicals, energy carriers, materials and fertilizers. The mobile unit is flexible in terms of raw materials; it can utilize various lignocellulosic side streams and wastes from forestry, agriculture as well as solid residues from food industry. These streams are typically seasonal and generated in remote locations, thus mobility of the unit is important to exploit the presently underutilized potential of these streams. The lignocellulosic residues and are generally voluminous and therefore the key aim is to reduce the intrinsic water content of the residues and render the residues into a condensed form (enriched fractions, energy carriers…) and thus reduce the transportation costs. Currently several technologies are exploited for biomass pre-treatment. These methods are however large volume operations and not targeted for mobile and flexible use.

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

The feasibility of several business lines was evaluated with respect to market demand of the products, logistics and raw material availability and to create and update the business plans. This requires a synthesis of a large amount of data pertaining to raw material supplies, to logistics, and to costs specific for each process and country or region. From inventories of potential raw materials in the three main groups Forestry, Agriculture and Dedicated crops, priorities were made. Costs for transports and other aspects of logistics were analysed and fed into calculations of investment needs and possible revenues, assuming different scenarios. A study of relevant laws, regulations and standards is added as a further tool for steering of these scenarios, since such factors can both constitute severe obstacles in individual cases and offer particular opportunities. The business cases include consideration of various models for process ownership.

The suitability between biomass feedstock/process lines/products was evaluated, aiming at optimizing process operating conditions. The work consisted of two parts: one dedicated to biomass selection, procurement and characterization, and another one dedicated to conversion of theses biomasses by process tests and modelling at lab scale, bench and pilot scale and products quality tests.

Biomasses were selected based on availability in Europe and diversity in terms of species and climate. Classification was made according to moisture content, as first assessment of feedstock suitability with process lines: “wet” biomasses, namely grape pomace, corn stover, corn leaves, coffee cake, brewery and greenhouse residues, are suitable only with hydrothermal processes, whereas the “dry” biomasses, namely Scots pine bark and forest residue, beech chips, poplar, willow, reed canary grass, wheat straw, sunflower shells, grape seed cake and corn cob. Preconditioning and characterization of the raw materials was carried out. Large differences were detected in terms of composition and contents of ash and minor elements such as chlorine.

Work on pelletizing of torrefied materials by SPC and SLU has led to the development of an innovative device based on die cooling. Chimar has tested particle boards production both from raw biomasses and pellets. Its feasibility was proven, but the final quality of the products was still lower than using untreated wood raw material.

Regarding hydrothermal carbonization, VTT lab-scale tests showed the major influence of biomass on the yield of solid residue, also called biochar. An increase of its carbon content and heating value could always be observed, which is favorable for energy use. Surface area was always low, which is an important parameter for agronomic or electrochemical applications. Based on these results, brewery residues, coffee cake, willow and Scots pine bark were selected as the most suitable feedstock for tests in VTT’s bench scale unit.

Sugar production from a variety of different biomass raw materials was studied by hot water pretreatment tests by Biogold in a bench scale unit. The raw materials were found to behave quite differently in terms of pH changes and release of biomass components to the water phase. Pretreatment efficiency was evaluated by VTT using an enzymatic saccharification test. The hydrolysis degree increased due to the pretreatment for all biomass types, but there were significant differences in this respect between the raw materials, several agricultural residues showing best suitability for saccharification process.

Regarding torrefaction, CEA lab-scale tests showed major differences of solid mass loss evolution versus time and temperature among biomass samples. This may have a major impact on process operating conditions chosen by ETIA to ensure economic viability of industrial units. Whatever biomass, volatiles were found to be mostly made up of condensable species and gases of CO2 and to a minor extent of CO. This latter fact is not favorable for gas recovery by combustion.
Regarding slow pyrolysis line, VTT bench-scale tests gave information on mass yields of solid biochar, liquid and gas. Biomass influence could be clearly observed, which tends to show that optimization could be performed on Raussi’s industrial unit depending on the final product preferred.

The pre-experiments on biochar use as soil improving materials provided promising results by Luke. However, 3D-imaging of the biochars from different raw materials and process lines (slow pyrolysis, hydrothermal carbonization) highlighted huge difference in biochar quality. In general, these results emphasize the importance of end-product characterization as well as the need for detailed studies on the important properties for each specific end-use purpose.

This preliminary evaluation of the process lines showed that most biomasses are widely applicable despite their compositional diversity. The optimal raw material clearly depends on process and products targeted. Moreover, the significant differences observed according to biomass types highlight the importance of optimizing process conditions versus raw material. Efforts are now going to be put on products quality evaluation to get final results on suitability feedstock/process/products and to define optimal operating conditions to be used in the demonstration units.

A substantial amount of effort has been devoted to design and construction of four mobile process lines: hydrothermal pre-treatment (BioGold, VTT), torrefaction (ETIA, CEA), slow pyrolysis (RAUSSI, VTT) and pelletizing (SLU, SPC).

Biogold’s hydrothermal method is based on use of pressurized water. Preliminary design of a continuous, horizontal, plug flow mobile reactor consolidating biomass preprocessing and hydrothermal pretreatment and fermentation has been carried out. The hydrothermal treatment is conducted in horizontal cylindrical pressure reactor system with external saturated water vapour at 180-200°C. The “mobile” reactor will be integrated with a biomass feeding/presoaking system and a pellet powered steam generator with a system for recycling of process steam condensate.

The RAUSSI slow pyrolysis process is based on treatment of biomass at elevated temperature, typically 400°C. The mobile pyrolysis device, designed and constructed by RAUSSI can produce 100-200 kg material per hour. The target product is biochar, accompanied by liquid and gas products. The process allows recovery of different fractions of liquid products and recirculation of gases to provide process heat. RAUSSI has filed a patent application on their continuous retort process.

SLU and SPC have designed and assembled the first version of a pilot scale mobile pelletizing unit. The process is based on the configuration of SPC’s small-scale industrial unit, and an in-container model is assembled from commercial small-scale pelletizer system components. It will be a small complete biomass pellet plant consisting of pellet mill machine, electric cabinet, screw feeder, storage bin, material mixing, cyclone separator and hammer mill. The capacity of the plant will be up to 150 kg/hour. The mobil unit was transported to SLU facilities for reconstruction and further development.

The initial design of torrefaction unit has just begun by ETIA. The torrefaction unit will have a capacity of 100-150kg/h of wet biomass and is composed of 3 separate steps: drying, torrefaction and cooling step. The process is carried out at a temperature between 250 and 300°C. The heat for drying and torrefaction is provided by percolation with hot gases coming from the combustion of syngas. The biomass is introduced into the units by screw conveyers. The torrefaction unit will be containerized (in probably 2 containers) in order to be easily transportable.

For the LCA studies, definision of the technologies and related product system boundaries was carried out in order to guarantee a coherent basis for the sustainability analysis. The indicative definitions were done in collaboration with project partners. The product systems were subdivided into a set of unit processes, with identified material and energy inputs/outputs. Further evaluation, iteration and focusing of the case studies is seen important as the project continues. In order to define the roles of LCA and social LCA, a workshop was arranged. The agreed roles include: support scale-up, guide technical R&D and direct future activities. The economic assessment was started with initial evaluations and the social assessment by carrying out pre-studies on the potential implications, existing methods, social values and potential stakeholders related to mobile refineries.

Project results have been actively disseminated. ”Traditional” dissemination channels include a dedicated website ( and newsletters, factsheets or similar. Two major tools have been used for dissemination: professional social networks (ResearchGate and LinkedIn) and Demonstration Technical Meetings (DTM) composed of demonstration activities, field visits and open seminars. The first very successful DTM took place in Umeå (Sweden) on 14th −16th June 2016 with 65 participants. An Exploitation Committee, composed of the industrial partners, has been established to identify results that should be protected by patents or other ways before being published. Summer School on “Characterization, pretreatment and fractionation of forestry, agricultural and waste biomasses using ‘routine’ methods and advanced state-of-the-art techniques for bioenergy, biomaterials and biomolecules applications” was organized in conjunction with the 6th WasteEng Conference in Albi (France) between 19th and 21th May 2016.

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)

The targets for development beyond the state of the art were set in the beginning of the project. So far, the following targets have been reached:

• Mobile, small-scale systems have been developed for at site treatment of spatially scattered raw material sources for compaction of the heterogeneous materials into homogeneous dedicated feedstock streams.

• Two technologies, hydrothermal treatment for saccharification and hydrothermal carbonisation, have been developed for the utilization of wet organic raw material on site. The processes induce considerable loss of biomass volume and mass reduction, thus requiring less ultimate storage and disposal space. Background knowledge on the suitability of various biomass types on these process lines has been gained.

• Torrefaction has been tested and optimized for several biomass types. Progress has been made in developing technology to couple torrefaction and pelletization.

• Continuously operated mobile slow pyrolysis charcoal retort has been planned and constructed. The mobile unit can utilize the scattered forestry and agricultural raw materials on site. The continuous operation increases energy efficiency and productivity essentially compared to state of the art batch reactors and minimizes the need for external heating energy supply.

• A salient feature of the work in this project, and above all in WP1, is the dedication to optimize the utilisation of the targeted biomass as far as possible, to a score of potential parallel end products. One of the driving forces for this approach is the analyses of business cases, where the full potentiality for prosperous entrepreneurship and long-term economic viability is realized only when the waste fractions are minimized. The business analysis work is now taking shape, and the emerging first results show promise of giving a first-of-its-kind basis for investments.

For the social impacts, a first, very general overview of some of the concerned stakeholders and social impacts in connection to mobile biorefineries has been carried out. Social impacts as well as their related indicators will be further developed in connection to specific contexts, which means that more detailed information will be provided after collection and analysis of primary and secondary data. The following impacts are categorised in accordance with the UNEP/SETAC stakeholder categories. Examples of potential social impacts include: 1) Workers/employees: Workers’ safety issues relating to manual labor and end-product chemicals, new formal educational opportunities and development of new skills. 2) Local community: different types of jobs might be generated, potential increased self-sufficiency, potential increased traffic, education initiatives arising on community level. 3) Society: increased employment opportunities. 4) Consumers: increased convenience and economic self-reliance for home owners as a result of new energy sources. 5) Value chain actors: Entrepreneurs and farmers could potentially be positively impacted by mobile biorefineries by them getting to own their technologies, new kind of businesses could be generated

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