An instrument that can help biorefinery industry and bioenergy utilities detect and remove or neutralise elements that scupper the process or pollute the environment directly as the biomass is fed into the conversion or combustion process. It sounds like every industrial operator's dream, does it not?
For operators in northern Sweden it could come true within a few years, thanks to funding just granted to Bio4Energy researchers for the purchase of a new instrument drawing on neutron technology for the rapid and advanced online characterisation of woody materials, biomass ash and organic waste.
"The instrument allows for a considerable advancement when it comes to technology since the neutrons have a depth of penetration of tens of centimetres into the test material, which opens up the possibility rapidly to characterise large volumes of heterogeneous material", the researchers from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) say in their application to the funding provider, the Kempe Foundations.
"This means that the technology can be placed on a conveyor belt which makes it a true online technique with a large potential to realise the necessary characterisation needed for process control in resource-efficient and flexible biorefineries of the future", they go on.
"What this allows us to do is to know and handle [the inorganic content of] the input material in all kinds of bio material processes in real time. Previously this has been difficult and time consuming. The new instrument will allow us for instance to [identify and] remove contaminants or try to neutralise them directly in the combustion process.
"There are many areas of use, such as in biorefineries and for contaminated soils. Also we will be able to analyse very large volumes of materials. These could be soil, sand, gravel, biomass ash and waste.
"For sure this technology will be a help to industry in their existing processes. There are many possible applications", Larsson said.
"We must be able to test and handle large volumes of materials to get to where we want with our large biorefineries. The new instrument gives us the possibility to be in the forefront of developing the technology for specific applications", according to Thyrel who wrote the funding application;
"In fact, we will not only be able to analyse the inorganic content, but also the organic content of the target materials. We will be able to analyse [chemical elements representing] all of the periodic table, from carbon to heavier elements".
Bio4Energy Wood Pre-processing: Mikael Thyrel, Sylvia Larsson, Torbjörn Lestander and Shaojun Xiong; all SLU
Bio4Energy Thermochemical Conversion Technologies: Rainer Backman, Umeå University