West Biofuels and its partners have a strong research and development program coupled with proven commercial success. R&D projects have advanced our technology to become cost competitive in North American markets, building up successful commercial applications in Europe.
Project Partners: University of California, San Diego; Albemarle Corporation, Bioenergy 2020+
This project will develop and validate a pilot-scale mixed alcohol synthesis (MAS) system to convert woody biomass residue to renewable fuel ethanol. The proposed project will utilize a Fast Internally Circulating Fluidized Bed (FICFB) pilot-scale gasifier that has been constructed and is operating at the Woodland Biomass Research Center in Woodland, California, a commercial-scale FICFB gasifier in Güssing, Austria, and a commercially-available MAS catalyst produced by Albemarle. The unique match of highly efficient gasification technology with MAS catalyst and methanol recycling promises to open a pathway to low-carbon renewable fuel ethanol, substituting out-of-state corn ethanol with in-state biomass to ethanol pathways that are over four times less carbon intensive.
This research projects is funded by the California Energy Commission. The research team includes West Biofuels, UC San Diego, Bioenergy 2020+, and Albemarle.
INSER S.P.A., Italy also designed and built the Caluso Circle Draft gasification plant built in 2011. The Caluso plant represents the second generation CircleDraft design. The feedstock and pyrolysis regions of the gasifier filter the tars and particulates in the product syngas.
This is only the second plant of its type and consumes 0.4 tonnes wood chips per hour and has an electrical output of 400 kWe using a CHI genset. This is also a demonstration gasifier system and has tested several feedstock types.
INSER S.P.A., Italy designed, built and has operated the Cherasco Circle Draft gasification plant since 2009. This is the first plant of its type and consumes 0.25 tonnes wood chips per hour and has an electrical output of 250 kWe using a MANN genset. This is a demonstration gasifier system and has tested several feedstock types including wood, straw, rice husks, animal manure and others.
A large share of the agricultural biomass resources, are technically available in California as energy feedstock. Only a small fraction of the available agricultural residues produced in the state is currently used for energy even where sustainability would support it. The use of smaller on-site gasification systems offers benefits by generating synthetic gas for substitution of natural gas in natural-gas devices like boilers, dryers, heaters, engines, etc. This report presents and determines the technical, economical, and environmental feasibilities associated with an on-site CircleDraft® gasifier system. This system is a 2.3 MW (thermal input) atmospheric-pressure gasifier with a fuel consumption rate of 454 kg per hour (~1000lbs/hr). It converts of residue biomass to a renewable natural gas replacement for industrial and agricultural applications. This research project was funded by the California Energy Commission under the Energy Innovations Small Grant Natural Gas Program. The Research Team included West Biofuels, UC San Diego, UC Davis, and INSER S.P.A.
Project Team: INSER S.P.A., UC San Diego, TSS Consultants, Placer County APCD, Holt of California, Caterpillar Inc., Engine Fuel and Emissions Engineering, Soper-Wheeler, Christiana Darlington, Nevada County Fire Safe Council, Yuba County Fire Safe Council This research project is funded by the California Energy Commission. The research team consists of West Biofuels, UC San Diego, and TSS Consultants.
This project will develop a modular system that can be rapidly deployed to communities across California to promote and support fire safe management activities. The project team proposes to develop a pilot-scale modular biomass gasification system integrated with a high-efficiency Caterpillar G3500 series lean-burn engine in order to convert forest residues into renewable grid power to reduce the cost and increase the benefits of forest fuel reduction projects in California’s high fire risk regions.
West Biofuels has constructed the patented CircleDraft© gasification with Italian partner INSER, S.P.A. at their facility in Woodland, CA. The purpose of this project is to identify the appropriate supporting equipment for the pilot-scale thermochemical conversion of wood feedstock to syngas and syngas to electricity. Unlike biomass gasification in the agricultural settings, forest biomass feedstock is more costly to recover and is comprised of tops, limbs, branches, and sub-merchantable timber (as opposed to whole tree removal of orchard wood). To address the changes in feedstock sources and the greater need for efficiency, the project will:
Configure a processing line to prepare feedstock for optimal feedstock uniformity;
Test the CircleDraft© gasification system with forest sourced feedstock to identify optimal feedstock characteristics and operating conditions;
Configure and test state-of-the-art lean-burn engine-generator to characterize performance and efficiency;
Assess cost effective interconnection opportunities of synchronous and inverter-based configurations; and
Identify preferred areas of implementation accounting for grid infrastructure, forest-sourced feedstock availability, and project economics.
This research project is funded by the California Energy Commission. The research team consists of West Biofuels, UC San Diego, and TSS Consultants.
Göteborg Energi, an energy utility, is building the Gothenburg gasification plants (GoBiGas) in two stages based on the same design as the Güssing gasification plant and a SNG methanation plant, to convert the product syngas into synthetic methane, designed by the Swiss company CTU. The plants are 4 and 16 times scaled-up versions of the Gussing plant. The bioSNG will be used for vehicle fuel, industrial processes and cogeneration for heat and power.
The first stage plant is 32 MW thermal capacity (which produces ~20 MWgas) is operational. The second stage plant will be 140 MW thermal capacity (producing 80 MWgas) is scheduled to be built between 2015-2017 and put into service in 2018. Together they will then produce 1TWh of bioSNG. The plants will use forest biomass feedstock.
Güssing Renewable Energy operates the original fluidized bed biomass gasification plant that produces a high quality syngas used in cogenerating both heat and power, and demonstrated production of synthetic natural gas (SNG) as well as liquid fuels. The plant was the first of the Fast Internally Circulating Fluidized Bed ("FICFB") systems built and began as a demonstration project in 2001 that increased production each year, gradually reaching commercial levels of operation in 2005 (see Figure 15). Since then it has been operating at commercial demonstration scale of 8 MW thermal input (48 dry tons per day) producing 2 MW net electricity and 4.6 MW net process heat.
Power is generated using a GE Jenbacher cogeneration engine which has over 80,000 hours of operations history through 2015. The GE Jenbacher engine was upgraded after 55,000 hours of power generation, at the end of 2010.
A methanation system was added to the Güssing plant in 2009. This allows the syngas to be converted into synthetic natural gas, which is then compressed and used for vehicle fuelling and has been tested with micro fuel cells as a means for distributed energy delivery.
West Biofuels and Hat Creek Construction & Materials have partnered to develop a 3MW gasification facility, consistent with SB 1122’s BioMAT program to convert biomass residue from sustainable forest management into renewable electricity. The facility, located outside of Burney, California, will utilize approximately 22,000 bone dry ton of wood residue annually, diverting feedstock away from open pile burning.
The facility will be collocated with Hat Creek Construction & Materials and is scheduled for operation in 2018.
Oberwart Energi built the Oberwart gasification plant in 2007. The plant is based on the FICFB design with 8.5 MW thermal capacity and produces a total electrical output of 2.78 MWe net as well as 5.0 MW net thermal. It is a slightly enlarged replica of the Gussing gasification plant.
It uses two gas cogeneration engines to produce 2.37 MW electricity, however, in addition to the cogeneration engines, with boosting systems producing an additional 0.4 MWe. The plant provides heat for a 5.2 km district heating system and consumes approximately 52 tonnes per day or 17,000 tonnes of forest biomass feedstock annually.
Each year, California’s almond industry produces approximately 1,000,000 bone-dry tons of recoverable woody biomass residues such as almond shells and orchard removals and prunings. To address this under-utilized resource, the Research Team successfully designed and constructed a pilot-scale biomass combined heat and power system in Woodland, California that can be commercially deployed in the agricultural processing sector. The pilot-scale system is capable of processing up to six tons of biomass into 250 kilowatts of electricity and 625 kilowatts of heat for industrial use and demonstrated 65 percent cold gas efficiency (not including the embedded energy due to the temperature of the gas). The pilot-scale facility, using a fast internally circulating fluidized bed gasifier, successfully demonstrated that a synthetic bed material could produce a catalytic tar reduction similar to that of natural sand bed material (the primary heat transfer mechanism within the gasification system) while eliminating the transfer of chromium to the ash byproduct. Catalytic tar reduction is important for high-quality gas production and the elimination of chromium allows the ash byproduct to become a valuable soil amendment. Also, the research team was able to substantially reduce emissions from the pilot-scale system by 75 to 95 percent by using activated carbon for gas filtration and selective catalytic reduction for engine emission control. Using computer modeling, they determined that commercial-scale facilities would cost less than $4,000 per kilowatt to build and would operate with 28 percent electrical efficiency and 80 percent combined heat and power efficiency. Based on the modeled parameters, a commercial-scale facility would be economically viable with a power contract of $124 per megawatt-hour with available grants and tax credits, or $165 per megawatt-hour without them. The team estimates that commercial-scale biomass combined heat and power system can reduce global warming potential by up to 70 percent when compared to California’s current electricity portfolio. This project was funded by the California Energy Commission. The Research Team included West Biofules, UC San Diego, Colorado State University, UC Davis, Vienna Technical University, Gussing Renewable Energy, GmbH, and Consultectra, GmbH
Thermal conversion of biomass to syngas and upgrading by methanation to RNG for pipeline injection would have a significant impact on the state's renewables portfolio, with a potential to replace 10 to 20% of our current fossil natural gas usage. This technology approach has been demonstrated in Europe, but the cost has been prohibitive for producing an economical natural gas replacement, particularly given relatively low natural gas prices in California.
This project focuses on key technical constraints driving the high cost of the current RNG process. Using an existing biomass gasification process (and working facility at the Woodland Biomass Research Center) that produces high-quality syngas, the effort is to demonstrate the steps for reduced cost RNG production. Because the syngas needs to be very clean before the methanation step, the objective is to focus on cost reduction and technical performance of the gas cleanup after biomass gasification. The project also investigates methanation in a fluidized-bed reactor, which would allow a larger amount of certain contaminants and allows for superior thermal management of the exothermic methanation reactions. The innovations proposed in these two areas would bring down the overall cost for commercial methanation, enabling our vast biomass resource to be utilized to generate RNG. The technical and economical performance of the system will be analyzed in order to support a commercial demonstration project capable of producing 60 MW of RNG for pipeline distribution and renewable power production in a high efficiency gas power-plant facility. This research project is funded by the California Energy Commission. The research team consists of West Biofuels, UC San Diego, and TSS Consultants.
This project is funded by the California Energy Commission. The research team consists of UC San Diego, UC Davis, West Biofuels, Sacramento Municipal Utility District.
The Villach gasification plant was built in the town of Villach, Austria in 2009. The plant is based on the FICFB design with 15 MW thermal capacity and produces 3.9 MWe and 6.7 MWth heat. It uses two 20 cylinder gas cogeneration engines to produce electricity that serves 16,000 homes and commenced operation in 2010. The heat is transferred to a 6.5 km district heating system that services 15,000 homes. The plant consumes approximately 100 tonnes per day or 33,000 tonnes of forest biomass annually. The fossil CO2 reductions are estimated to be 25,600 tonnes per year.
The Ulm gasification plant was built in the District of Senden, Ulm, Germany in 2011. The plant is based on the FICFB design with 15 MW thermal capacity and has an electrical output of 3.6 MWe net plus an additional 1.0 MWe from a boosting system for a total of 4.6 MWe. The plant delivers 6.2 MW net thermal to a local district heating system. It is slightly more than a 1.9x scaled up version of the Güssing gasification plant. Ulm gasification provides heat to a district heating system and consumes approximately 88 tonnes per day or 29,000 tonnes of forest biomass annually. The plant commenced operations in 2012 and is shown in Figure 20. Ulm's gasifier is a test system, so not all the syngas yield is used for electrical generation. The net electrical generation efficiency is thus lower than other plants.
West Biofuels has designed, built, and operates the third CircleDraft gasifier. West Biofuels began construction in the summer of 2014 and is in the process of modifying the design to better fit the needs associated with traditional feedstock in North America (primarily ground wood material). This installation is an 11 dry tonne per day Circle Draft system. It is running tests under contract to the California Energy Commission, with the dominant feedstocks being forest wastes, as part of California's policy to improve forest health and reduce GHG emissions associated with forest management activities.
A 6 tonne per day FICFB gasifier demonstration plant commenced operating in 2014 at Woodland California. Co-funded by the California Energy Commission, the system was specified in partnership between West Biofuels, Güssing and partner universities, who will share in using the system for further research.
The system implements changes to the original advanced gasifier design and is now a fully commercial design with improved refractory insulation; heat exchangers; internal recycling systems for bed material, tars and contaminated scrubber fluid; super heated steam generator; and a new custom designed control system. In addition, the new design uses a manufactured bed material with improved heat transfer characteristics and longer life expectancy.
The demonstration plant allows different feedstock options to be tested, thus providing early confirmation of feedstock suitability, product gas stability. West Biofuels is currently undergoing research on wood biomass residue to ethanol and to pipeline quality methane using syngas from this gasifier.