Energy | Ecotrope

Grant Funds Bio-Brick That Could Replace Coal

Ecotrope | Aug. 2, 2012 6:45 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:30 p.m.

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An Oregon-based company has a way to turn forest biomass into a brick that can be burned like coal – but without as many air pollutants – at coal-fired power plants.

An Oregon-based company has a way to turn forest biomass into a brick that can be burned like coal – but without as many air pollutants – at coal-fired power plants.

Oregon-based start-up HM3 Energy and Oregon State University researchers just got an $86,000 grant to launch new technology that turns forest waste into a cleaner-burning alternative to coal.

The company uses torrefaction technology – basically a specialized biomass dryer – to turns biomass into dense, energy-rich briquettes that can be burned at coal-fired power plants with fewer emissions.

The grant is part of a $1 million in commercialization grants from Oregon Built Environment & Sustainable Technologies, and it will go toward testing out different wood types and designing a dryer that will create the briquettes.

Michael Milota, a professor in OSU’s Department of Wood Science and Engineering, will do emissions testing on dried ponderosa pine, western juniper, Douglas fir and red alder.

His tests will help HM3 Energy design a commercial dryer to create the super-dense wood bricks, aka “torrified biomass.”

An increasing number of utilities – including Portland General Electric – are exploring torrified biomass as an alternative to coal because it burns at high temperatures without releasing toxic air pollutants such as mercury, sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxides.

It’s also more efficient than burning raw wood pellets, and it could be used by coal-fired power plants that are already connected to the power grid.

HM3 Energy is planning to build a small commercial plant in Prineville to produce enough biomass bricks to supply regional utilities with material they can test out at their coal-fired power plants.

If it works out, the company has plans to built 10 to 20 plants that would use wood waste to produce enough fuel to replace all the coal at PGE’s Boardman plant.

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