A four-year €4m ($4.5m) EU research project has been launched to design a small-scale cogeneration engine using biomass to produce heat and electricity – a move that the project developers believe could unlock mainstream renewables in the heating and cooling sector.
Called SmartCHP, the project was launched in Brussels by ten partners including European industrial companies, universities and innovation experts, and is being coordinated by Dutch energy company BTG Biomass Technology Group.
BTG chief technology officer Bert van de Beld said that currently “the vast majority of cogeneration plants use natural gas and fossil fuels as their primary source. The SmartCHP system will provide a small-scale solution for hospitals, universities, municipal buildings and countless industrial users that would like to use an efficient alternative to fossil sources.”
He said that the solution had a market potential of €4bn and an estimated 85-95 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuels, and added that installing SmartCHP in Europe could “bring new jobs, more renewables and mitigate climate change”.
The project has received €4m funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and its partners are OWI Oel-Waerme-Institut, Abato Motoren, Exergia Energy and Environmental Consultants, Capax Environmental Services, Greenovate! Europe, Technical University of Eindhoven, Tehag Germany, Denmark Technical University, Dowel Management, under the coordination of BTG Biomass Technology Group.
The technology utilizes fast pyrolysis bio-oil from woody and non-woody biomass in a converted diesel engine, which has been chosen for its high electrical efficiency, which BTG says is more than 40 per cent.
Fast pyrolysis transforms solid biomass into a liquid in just a few seconds. First, biomass is rapidly heated to around 500°C in the absence of air. An oily smoke is created, which is then condensed into a liquid bio-oil. After years of development the process is now applied on an industrial scale, converting large quantities of lignocellulosic (non-food) biomass into a dark-brown bio-oil.
The converted diesel engine will be designed to have high flexibility so that it can easily operate with different loads and produce more electricity or more heat as demand changes.
van de Beld said this will be made possible due to the integration of a boiler and the use of bio-oil rather than solid biomass. He said that as the SmartCHP system is hybrid, it can also be integrated with variable renewables, such as wind and solar. When the electricity provided by wind and sun is unavailable, the engine starts working on biomass, securing the supply of renewables.
Fast pyrolysis has the advantage of being able to transform difficult-to-handle biomass of different nature – such as verge grass, bark and husks – into a clean and uniform bio-oil, which is easy to store and use for bioenergy.
BTG said that one of the main challenges of the project is that pyrolysis bio-oil is more corrosive and thick than diesel, contains more water and is therefore more difficult to ignite. The SmartCHP partners will work on modifications to the engine and the ignition system of the bio-oil to overcome this issue.
The ultimate goal is to build a demonstration