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Large-scale production of charcoal for use in coal fired power and co-generation plants

Final Report Summary - POWER-GRADE CHARCOAL (Large-scale production of charcoal for use in coal fired power and co-generation plants)

The overall goal of the POWER-GRADE CHARCOAL project was to develop a process for making charcoal that can be co-fired in coal-fired electric power plants. The carbonisation process should yield charcoal that complies with quality standards set by the electric power sector. The charcoal should also be competitive with alternative biomass feedstock and therefore the current production costs of the charcoal will need to be reduced by some 30 %. The project aimed to develop an innovative process design, optimising the extent of carbonisation, controlling the carbonisation process to achieve higher conversion yields and realising significant economies of scale.

The project was organised into nine work packages (WPs), as follows:
WP 1: Identification of minimum product specifications for charcoal that is suited for co-firing in coal-fired electric power plant.
WP 2: Definition, design, construction, debugging and commissioning of an experimental lab-scale test set-up for charcoal production. Completion of an experimental programme using this lab-scale test rig aimed at deriving optimal process conditions for large-scale wood carbonisation and for numerical model validation.
WP 3: Development of a mathematical model predicting the yield and quality of carbonisation products and by-products. Validation of the mathematical model using data from the lab-scale test rig and the real-scale production plant.
WP 4: Completion of an experimental programme involving in situ measurements at a real-scale charcoal production plant in Parnu, Estonia.
WP 5: Determination of the (economically) optimal method of drying wood feedstock at a real-scale charcoal production plant in Parnu, Estonia.
WP 6: Research into the suitability of various low-costs binders that can be used to produce briquettes from charcoal fines. Determination of the (economically) optimal method for drying briquettes produced from charcoal.
WP 7: Large-scale testing of the co-firing of lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes at a coal-fired power station in Poland.
WP 8: Development of a blueprint (design) and associated cost estimate for a large-scale charcoal production plant with an output capacity of 10 000 tonnes / year.
WP 9: Development of an implementation plan and a bankable business plan for the first of such large-scale charcoal production plants. Completion of a plan for using and disseminating knowledge.

The envisaged overall objective was a 30 % reduction in the costs of producing charcoal that meets the quality criteria of the power sector. The outcome of the project was ultimately a design for a scaled-up 10 000 tonnes / year charcoal production plant that can produce charcoal for the power sector at 20-30 % lower production costs compared to an existing plant with a capacity of 800 tonnes / year capacity. Looking at the specific objectives, it is concluded that most of these were achieved, the only exception concerning the costs of charcoal densification. Field research in Poland suggests that these costs remain well above the target of 30 euro / tonne charcoal. An important finding of the research was that in batch-wise charcoal production as applied by the SME partners it is not possible to control the degree of carbonisation adequately. Decreasing this degree was the second of six main innovations that the projects aimed to achieve, with a view of realising a higher energy yield. A fundamentally different technology would be needed to achieve this intended result.

The POWER-GRADE CHARCOAL project has yielded a design, implementation and business plan for a large-scale charcoal production plant with an output capacity of 10 000 tonnes per year. This result enables the participating SME partners to better serve their traditional market, and offers them two distinct business opportunities. Firstly, charcoal producers ENER and Centropol now have the possibility to scale-up their charcoal production, and can achieve a healthy 14 % internal rate of return. Secondly, the joint venture of SME partners ENER and Greencoal have the possibility to sell scaled-up charcoal production technology. It was found that under current market conditions it is not possible to produce power grade charcoal at an attractive price for the electric power sector. It is not realistic to consider any major sales, other than for research purposes, to this sector in the short-to-medium term. Current market conditions for the SME's traditional barbecue market are much better. In this market, contracts are negotiated annually and charcoal producers have been able to pass on recent cost increases in raw material procurement and charcoal transport to their buyers (e.g. supermarket chains).

As most of the deliverables were of a confidential nature the communication beyond the project consortium of the project's progress, findings, outcome and results has been modest. No project logo has been developed, and the developed project website was straightforward. As the main outcome has only become available close to the end of the project the co-ordinator will continue promoting the project results for some time to come.