It’s crunch time for Canadian torrefaction technology developers, Airex Energy, as it begins a phased start-up of its commercial demonstration plant in Bécancour, Québec.
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It has taken some time to get to this “moment of truth” point. Airex Energy, a division of engineering company Airex Industries Inc., have a demonstration plant in operation since 2011 at its headquarters in Laval, outside Montreal (see Bioenergy International 2/2013).
In February 2013 the company announced that it had been awarded CA$2.7 million in public financial support through Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) for the construction of a 2-tonne-per-hour biomass torrefaction demonstration plant, which was to be completed by the end of 2013.
The original plan was to build the plant in Laval at our main location but we ran into planning and permitting issues, explained Sylvain Bertrand, CEO of Airex Energy.
Instead, an opportunity arose to relocate the project to an industrial park in Bécancour, an industrial town about 160 km northwest of Montreal on the banks of the St-Lawrence. More specifically, Laprade Industrial Park, a repurposed heavy water plant complex that was built but never operated.
In retrospect, this site turned out more suitable. We’re close to our feedstock sources in an area with abundant forest resources and forest industries and we’re in very close proximity to the St-Lawrence Seaway, said Sylvain Bertrand.
Work began on the site in April 2015 with leasehold adaptations and site preparation and since the end of 2015, the plant has been undergoing phased start-ups and testing of equipment.
The plant has been designed to commercially demonstrate Airex’s proprietary “CarbonFX” cyclonic bed torrefaction technology.
The biomass input used is wood of a pre-determined particle size though, according to Bertrand almost any organic material can be used and passes an integrated two-step drying system.
Designed to run as a continuous process, the torrefaction process is a direct heating technology with a gas loop linked to the burner and hot gas to the bed.
The torrefaction itself takes place in a cyclonic bed reactor with a residence time of a few seconds and temperatures between 290 – 365oC.
The torrefied material is cooled and augured out from the bottom of the reactor to then depending on the product can be pelletized.
The CarbonFX reactor has a capacity of 2 tonnes per hour whereas the pellet press has double that. This means the annual capacity of the plant varies, from 15 000 tonnes if only biocoal pellets are produced to 30 000 tonnes for white pellets, explained Bertrand.
Another critical purpose of the commercial demonstration plant is to showcase product flexibility by producing conventional “white” wood pellets, biocoal pellets, biochar, and biocoke.
This flexibility is key as it reduces investment risk considerably in the chicken and egg situation for torrefied products and technologies. Essentially the investment concept is a white pellet plant with torrefaction capabilities meaning an investor can develop and grow incrementally into biochar, biocoal, or biocoke markets with the same plant, explained Bertrand.