Torref fac inaug 81013Umea Energi CEO Göran Ernstson and municipality representatives Lennart Holmlund and Elvy Söderström launch the process of setting up torrefaction demonstration facilities close to Umeå, in northern Sweden, by showeling some dirt to signal that the start of constructing the plant. Photo by Bio4Energy.

Bio4Energy researchers and industrial partners yesterday showcased the results of intense efforts to create state-of-the art pilot facilities for a biomass pre-treatment technique which has stirred interest internationally for its ability to produce an energy-dense, easy-to-transport form of ”green” coal.

Situated just off the main university campus at Umeå, Sweden, the torrefaction pilot facilities were opened in grand pomp by Göran Ernstson, CEO of Umeå Energi, the local energy utility, and representatives from the two partnering municipalities of Umeå and Örnsköldsvik, in the presence of just under a hundred invited guests.

These latter had just the time to witness the start up of the pilot before being asked to step outside again, this time to see the municipality representatives Elvy Söderström and Lennart Holmlund jointly digging a shovel into a heap of dirt—erected on a small scene for the occasion, next to a stack of torrefied material and a juvenile Norway spruce tree—in a symbolic gesture to signal the launch next year of the first demonstration facility to scale up the "unique" technology being trialed at the pilot, according to lead researcher This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

As reported by Bio4Energy in May, the pilot facilities were designed to trial torrefaction technology based on some ten patents owned by B4E researchers at Umeå University as the small clean-tech firm BioEndev. The Torrefaction Pilot will turn out 150 kilogrammes of torrefied material per hour, while the future demonstration unit, to be located at Holmsund just outside Umeå, is set to churn out two tonnes of "green" coal per hour.

"The demonstration unit will be the first of its kind, based on ten patents; a full production that will be cost efficient", professor Nordin told B4E Communications a day ahead of the inauguration.

The Holmsund unit would "turn out two tonnes per hour, 24 hours per day, seven days a week. That’s 8,000 hours per year and 16,000 tonnes [of torrefied material] per year", according to Nordin. Moreover, the production unit would "make a profit from the start", he said, thanks to sponsorship from the Swedish Energy Agency, Umeå Energi and the "hygiene and forest product" giant SCA, among others.

However, looking further ahead, demonstration units of this kind would have to be "ten times bigger to be fully cost efficient without financial support" from sponsors, he added, estimating that there was a need for 500 such plants to be constructed worldwide.

The pilot facilities, for their part, were an "important research instrument which will allow us to keep improving the design [of the torrefaction technology] and pave the way for the construction of larger [production] units".

For his part, Ernstson of Umeå Energi said, "Nine October is a day to remember for sustainable energy technology;

"The new technology is designed to replace fossilised coal. And it can. 'Green' coal is almost as cheap as white pellets, but cheaper to transport and... easy to grind. I can say only good things about the 'green' coal", he told the crowd of guests, most of whom sipping from Champaign glasses and wearing orange safety helmets.

"This is an important part of [putting in practice] the vision of building a Pilot Park Norrland", said Elvy Söderholm, representing the Municipality of Örnsköldsvik, standing at Ernstson's side.

In a press release sent by Umeå Energi, Clas Engström, CEO of SP Processum, of whom BioEndev is a member company, added that, "Upscaling [of laboratory-scale technology] is a great challenge for the sector and so pilot equipments is an important first step towards full-scale commercial processes".

The day was an important one for the Processum Biorefinery Initiative, celebrating its first ten years in the business with a special event at Umeå.

-- The torrefaction pilot project partners: Illustration, below, by courtesy of Anders Nordin, BioEndev/Bio4Energy/Umeå University.

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