Assessing Biomass Feasibility

Currently Prevalent Biomass Combustion Technology


By far the most common means of converting biomass to usable heat energy is through straightforward combustion, and this accounts for around 90% of all energy attained from biomass. There are a number of different technologies available that can be used for biomass combustion and the main ones can be categorised under two headings: Fixed bed combustion systems and fluidised bed combustion systems.

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Fixed Bed Combustion

There are two prominent types of fixed bed combustion: underfeed stokers and grate firings. With these methods of combustion air is primarily supplied through the grate from below, and initial combustion of solid fuel takes place on the grate and some gasification occurs. This allows for secondary combustion in another chamber above the first where secondary air is added.

Underfeed Stokers
Generally only suitable for small-scale systems, underfeed stokers are a relatively cheap and safe option for biomass combustion. They have the advantage of being easier to control than other technologies, since load changes can be achieved quickly and with relative simplicity due to the fuel feed method. Fuel is fed into the furnace from below by a screw conveyor and then forced upwards onto the grate where combustion process begins. Underfeed stokers are limited in terms of fuel type to low ash content fuels such as wood chips. Due to ash removal problems it is not feasible to burn ash rich biomass as this can affect the air flow into the chamber and cause combustion conditions to become unstable.

Grate Firings
There are several different types of grate firing, with both fixed and moving grates commonplace. They have the distinct advantage over underfeed stokers in that they can accommodate fuels with high moisture and ash content as well as with varying fuel sizes. It is very important that fuel is spread evenly over the grate surface in order to ensure that air is distributed uniformly throughout the fuel and thus combustion is kept homogenous and stable. There are a number of different types of grate firing including fixed grates, moving grates, rotating grates and travelling grates.

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Fluidised Bed Combustion Systems

Fluidised bed furnaces operate in quite a different manner from fixed bed furnaces and have a number of advantages associated with them. There are two main types of fluidised bed furnace, Bubbling Fluidised Bed (BFB) and Circulating Fluidised Bed (CFB).

Bubbling Fluidised Bed (BFB) Furnaces
The fundamental principle of a BFB furnace is that the fuel is dropped down a chute from above into the combustion chamber where a bed, usually of silica sand, sits on top of a nozzle distributor plate, through which air is fed into the chamber with a velocity of between 1 and 2.5m/s. The bed normally has a temperature of between 800 and 900°C and the sand accounts for about 98% of the mixture, with the fuel then making up a small fraction of the fuel and bed material.

BFB’s have two main advantages in terms of fuel size and type over more traditional fixed bed systems. Firstly they can cope with fuel of varying particle size and moisture content with little problem, and secondly they can burn mixtures of different fuel types such as wood and straw. BFB’s are only a practical option with larger plants with a nominal boiler capacity greater than 10 MWth.

Circulating Fluidised Bed (CFB) Furnaces
If the air velocity is increased to 5-10m/s then a CFB system can be achieved, where the sand is carried upwards by the flue gases and a more thorough mixing of the bed material and fuel takes place. The sand is then separated from the gas in a hot cyclone or U beam separator at the top of the furnace and fed back into the combustion chamber where the whole process begins again.

CFB’s deliver very stable combustion conditions but it comes at a cost. Due to their larger size compared to other combustion methods the cost is relatively high and there are problems involved with fuel size, which must be very small, and the difficulties involved in running them at partial load. All of this means that they are really only feasible for plants with a boiler capacity of over about 30MWth.

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(1) Everett et al. Review of advances in combustion technology and biomass cofiring. Energy and Environmental Research Centre, University of North Dakota. USA (2001)

(2) Peter McKendry. Energy production from biomass (part 2): conversion technologies. Applied Environmental Research Centre. Colchester, UK (2002)

(3) Ayhan Demirbas. Potential applications of renewable energy sources, biomass combustion problems in boiler systems and combustion related environmental issues. Selcuk University, Konya, Turkey (2005)

(4) Ingwald Obernberger. Decentralized biomass combustion: State of the art and future development. Institute of Chemical Engineering, Technical University of Graz, Austria (1997)

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