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Turning Sawmill Waste into Energy
August 29, 2015   
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More than a quarter of all timber processed by sawmills ends up as waste. Engineers from the Institute of Special Techniques and Technologies in Warsaw are preparing a mobile installation that can process this waste into biomass in order to produce liquid fuels and energy for heating.

The invention will make it possible to convert biomass into synthesis gas, a fuel gas mixture consisting primarily of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, and ultimately into methanol.

The engineers have been working on their invention since the fall of 2013, with completion scheduled by the end of this year. The mobile installation is intended for sawmills interested in generating 50-100 kW of heating power and creating their own local energy centers. This will make sawmills, which often have problems concerning power sources, independent of big electricity providers, says the institute’s Roman Okniński, who manages the project.

The installation consists of five 20-alloy (highly corrosion-resistant) modules that can easily be transported and configured into a single system. The system makes it possible to process biomass into electricity and heat and to obtain methanol.

The installation relies on the process of pyrolysis, or thermal decomposition of biomass. During this process, a mixture of hydrocarbons is obtained.

As the next step, the researchers plan to upgrade their invention for the needs of industry. They also want to make sure the installation is cost-effective and a good investment for small businesses. High transport costs are one of the main problems in biomass waste management.

Timber waste is difficult to transport over long distances and involves considerable transport costs, says Okniński. That means the mobile installation should be used in a sawmill for several months before it is moved to another site, he adds.

With the new installation, sawmills with 10-15 employees and requiring about 50 kW of power to operate will be able to become independent in terms of energy use, the researchers say. Sawmills need heat for drying timber, and they need electricity to power all the equipment they use.

The Institute of Special Techniques and Technologies is working together with the Industrial Chemistry Research Institute in Warsaw, which is responsible for the chemical part of the project, and the Warsaw-based Tele and Radio Research Institute, which oversees energy and automation. The National Center for Research and Development has allocated more than zl.8.3 million for the project under the European Union’s Innovative Economy Operational Programme. The total cost of the project is more than zl.13.6 million, with the Institute of Special Techniques and Technologies providing the remaining zl.5.3 million.

After upgrading the installation, the engineers plan to sell it to sawmills together with biomass processing technology.
Karolina Olszewska
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