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An Aspen Plus Model of Biomass Torrefaction

University Turbine Systems Research (UTSR) Fellowship 2009



Ryan Dudgeon
University of Iowa

Electric Power Research Institute
Charlotte, NC


Introduction
Biomass offers much potential as a renewable fuel for displacing coal in large-
scale power plants. Given that the carbon contained in biomass is taken directly from the
atmosphere, the fuel is largely considered to be carbon-neutral. Biomass also contains
less sulfur, nitrogen, ash, and heavy metals than coal. However, there are currently
several problems with biomass that prohibit it from being used on a larger scale for
power production. It has a much lower heating value compared to coal and suffers from
logistical issues related to transportation, handling, and storage. Because of high
moisture contents and low energy densities, the cost of transportation to the plant is high.
In addition, the fibrous nature of biomass often causes handling problems, requiring more
energy to be spent on grinding the material. Open-air storage can also be a hindrance as
the hydrophilic nature of biomass can cause it to absorb more moisture over time.
Torrefaction has the potential to solve these problems by improving the properties of the
fuel. It produces a higher quality product with increased heating value, increased energy
density, and improved grindability properties.
Torrefaction is a mild pyrolysis process occurring at low temperatures in the
range of 250 300C and in the absence of oxygen. When biomass is torrefied, a portion
of the volatile matter is driven off in the form of light gases and other condensable
organic compounds. The resulting solid material contains virtually no moisture, less
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volatile matter, and an increased fixed carbon content. A typical torrefaction process
may cause 30% of the mass to be lost in the form of volatile species, but a higher
percentage of the energy, typically 80-90%, is retained in the solid product, resulting in
energy densification of the biomass. The end product is often called bio-char or bio-coal.
Torrefied biomass has much improved grindability properties and heating values much
more comparable to coal. In addition, torrefaction results in a solid product that is
hydrophobic in nature, making it easier to store for longer periods without absorbing
significant amounts of moisture.
Three important definitions related to the torrefaction process are the solid yield,
energy yield, and reaction time. The solid yield is expressed on a dry-ash-free basis since
this is the organic, reactive portion of the material. The solid yield is defined on a mass
basis as shown below.
daf
feed
torr
S
m
m
|
|
.
|

\
|
=
.
q
The energy yield is also reported on a dry-ash-free basis and can be based on the lower
heating value (LHV) or higher heating value (HHV). For this work the higher heating
value was used.
daf
feed
torr
S E
HHV
HHV
|
|
.
|

\
|
=
.
q q
The purpose of this project was to develop a model in Aspen Plus for simulating
the torrefaction reactor and other unit operations associated with the torrefaction process.
The purpose of the model was to determine optimal torrefaction and drying conditions for
maximizing product output, product higher heating value (HHV), and process efficiency.
Another key target of the model was determining conditions for autothermal operation to
minimize utility fuel consumption. Another objective of the model was to serve as a
predictive tool that could be compared to pilot-scale torrefaction testing being done with
a local torrefaction company. A final goal of this project was to develop a first draft of
specifications of torrefied biomass pellets based on literature review, existing
specifications of wood chips, and collaboration with the torrefaction company.

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Torrefaction Model Development
Modeling was performed with Aspen Plus [2]. The torrefaction reactor is
modeled based on the experimental data of [3]. They reported mass yields of solid,
liquid, and gaseous products for torrefaction temperatures from 230C to 280C and
reaction times from 1 hr to 3 hr. Data was reported for five biomass feedstocks including
birch, salix, miscanthus, straw chips, and wood chips. For each feedstock, temperature,
and reaction time, the ultimate analysis of the solid torrefied product was reported as well
as the volumetric concentrations of CH
4
, C
2
hydrocarbons, CO, and CO
2
in the
torrefaction gas. For each feedstock, a set of equations were created based on multi-
variable linear regression of the experimental data to predict solid, liquid, and gaseous
yields, solid product composition, and gaseous product composition as a function of
torrefaction temperature and reaction time.
Based on a user-specified torrefaction temperature and reaction time, the
regression equations determine the mass flows to be dedicated to solid, liquid, and
gaseous products based on the respective calculated yields. Regression equations also
define the composition of the solid torrefied product in terms of the ultimate analysis.
The ultimate analysis and solid yield are used to calculate the amounts of carbon,
hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen consumed for the torrefied solid product. Regression
equations also define the composition of the product gas. As was done with the solid
yield, the predicted gaseous composition is used to determine the amounts of carbon,
hydrogen, and oxygen consumed for the torrefaction gases. The remaining amounts of
carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen not used for solid and gaseous products were thus
designated as constituents of the liquid products. These components were reacted in two
RStoich blocks to predict condensable organic species.
The torrefied solid product, being represented by a non-conventional component,
must be given material properties. The model automatically fills the ultimate, proximate,
and sulfur analyses of the torrefied biomass. However, the heating value must be
predicted because Aspen Plus uses it to calculate the enthalpy of the stream. Test
simulations showed that relatively small variations in the heating value for the torrefied
biomass affected the torrefaction process immensely in the heat demand required for
torrefaction. The correlation chosen for the model was taken form [4]. It uses the
4
ultimate analysis to predict the higher heating value (HHV) on a dry ash-free basis as
defined below.
( ) 9 . 587 67 . 13 3 . 301 9 . 134 / + + = O H C lb Btu HHV
daf


Figure 1: Aspen Plus model of torrefaction reactor.

Simulation Procedure and Process Description
The following torrefaction study considers a plant with a dryer, directly-heated
torrefaction reactor, combustor, and heat exchanger. For the woody biomass (wood chips
and salix), the moisture content of the raw material is assumed to be a typically high
value of 35%. For miscanthus, the wet feed was assumed to have a high moisture content
of 50%. If required, a portion of the raw biomass is diverted to the combustor without
being dried, and the rest enters the dryer. The dryer is maintained at a temperature high
enough to guarantee the drying medium does not become saturated, but low enough that
mild volatilization of the biomass is minimal. A dryer temperature of 105C was
therefore used. The wet biomass was dried to 15% moisture, a value used as a base case
scenario the effects of moisture on the torrefaction process are discussed later.
Combustion of the wet biomass and torrefaction gases was achieved using 150% of the
theoretical amount of air required for complete combustion. This value was chosen to
ensure that the flame temperature was kept below about 2500F. Ash was separated from
the combustion products before the flue gas was directed to the heat exchanger. The
majority of the torrefaction gases were circulated back to the torrefaction reactor for
direct heat exchange. These gases were heated to 50C above the torrefaction
5
temperature and the exact amount recirculated to the reactor was controlled to meet the
heat demand of the torrefier. After passing through the heat exchanger, the flue gas was
directed back to the dryer to serve as the drying medium. Finally, the amount of raw
biomass diverted to the combustor was varied to meet autothermal conditions of the
entire process. The process diagram is depicted in Figure 2.


Figure 2: Process diagram of directly-heated torrefaction simulations.


The biomass fuels considered in this study were miscanthus, wood chips, and
salix. Their ultimate analyses and heating values were taken from [3] and [5]. It is
unclear specifically what woody biomass the wood chips are composed of, but it is
assumed to be a hardwood mix. These fuel properties are listed in Table 2.

Table 2: Fuel properties

Miscanthus Salix Wood
chips
C (wt. % daf) 43.5 47.5 48.5
H (wt. % daf) 6.49 6.4 6.6
N (wt. % daf) 0.9 0.63 0.05
O (wt. % daf) 49.11 45.5 44.9
Ash (wt. % daf) 0.3 4.6 0.3
HHV (Btu/lb daf) 7910 8370 8560


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Results and Discussion
Because torrefaction is likely to be most cost effective using reaction times as low
as possible, the following results will focus on torrefaction at a reaction time of 1 hr.
Figure 12 shows the solid yields of the three biomass fuels. Wood chips displays
the highest solid yields ranging from 89.0% to 90.0%, and salix falls between wood chips
and miscanthus. The solid yields of all three fuels decrease with increasing temperature,
although those of miscanthus decrease at the steepest rate of the three.
Reaction Time = 1 hr
60
65
70
75
80
85
90
95
100
220 230 240 250 260 270 280 290
Temperature (C)
S
o
l
i
d

Y
i
e
l
d

(
d
a
f
)
Miscanthus
Wood Chips
Salix

Figure 3: Solid yields of three biomass fuels at 1 hr reaction time.


The HHV of the three torrefied biomass fuels are shown in Figure 4. Most
noticeable is the relatively horizontal line representing salix, which increases only 40
Btu/lb from 230C to 280C. This is caused by a rather flat increase in the carbon
content over this temperature range. The hydrogen and oxygen contents display similar
unresponsiveness to temperature change. These ultimate analysis results were compared
to the experimental data upon which the model is based, and the model was found to
mimic the data almost exactly. Considering salix undergoes typical mass loss, it is
possible that approximately equal amounts (on a weight basis) of carbon, hydrogen, and
oxygen are driven off in the torrefaction gases, leaving the torrefied biomass with a
composition similar to the raw material.
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Reaction Time = 1 hr
8600
8800
9000
9200
9400
9600
220 230 240 250 260 270 280 290
Temperature (C)
T
o
r
r
i
f
i
e
d

B
i
o
m
a
s
s

H
H
V

(
B
t
u
/
l
b

d
a
f
)
Miscanthus
Wood Chips
Salix

Figure 4: HHV of the three torrefied biomass fuels at 1 hr reaction time.
Raw biomass HHV (Btu/lb daf): Miscanthus = 7910
Wood chips = 8560
Salix = 8370

Figure 14 presents the energy yields for the three biomass fuels. Wood chips
displays the highest yield, ranging from 100.1% at 230C to 97.9% at 280C. It is
important to note that the energy yield can be greater than 100% as it is based on HHV
and not enthalpy; energy is still conserved in the process. The results conclude that
almost all the HHV of the biomass is retained in the solid product. Miscanthus displays
the lowest energy yield, dropping to as low as 77.9% at 280C, and salix follows the
same trend as miscanthus except its energy yields are consistently about 5% higher.

8
Reaction Time = 1 hr
75
80
85
90
95
100
105
220 230 240 250 260 270 280 290
Temperature (C)
E
n
e
r
g
y

Y
i
e
l
d
Miscanthus
Wood Chips
Salix

Figure 5: Energy yields of the three biomass fuels at 1 hr reaction time.

Figure 15 shows the amounts of raw biomass that must be combusted as utility
fuel to maintain the process autothermal. Similar to miscanthus, salix displays a
temperature at which no portion of the wet feed must be burned for utility heat, and this
occurs at 275C. Over the range plotted, wood chips requires at least 6% of the wet feed
to be diverted to combustion. This is a result of the very high solid and energy yields
obtained by the fuel. Because wood chips has a high solid yield and almost all the HHV
is retained in the solid product, there is little HHV potential contained in the torrefaction
gases, and additional fuel is required to supply the heat needed for drying and
torrefaction. It is interesting to note that wood chips and salix each require about 10%
fuel diversion at 230C. The values for salix are able to decrease to 0 because the energy
yield of salix decreases more sharply with increasing temperature, whereas the energy
yield of wood chips is only slightly affected by temperature.

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Reaction Time = 1 hr
0
2
4
6
8
10
12
220 230 240 250 260 270 280 290
Temperature (C)
M
a
s
s

P
e
r
c
e
n
t
a
g
e

o
f

B
i
o
m
a
s
s

R
e
q
u
i
r
e
d

f
o
r

C
o
m
b
u
s
t
i
o
n

a
s

U
t
i
l
i
t
y

F
u
e
l
Miscanthus
Wood Chips
Salix

Figure 6: Raw feedstock required for combustion to attain autothermal conditions for the
three biomass fuels at 1 hr reaction time.

From Figures 3 6, a few disadvantages are inherent with operating at higher
temperatures. The solid and energy yields decrease with increasing temperature, and in
the case of miscanthus and salix, they decrease rather sharply. The process yields also
decrease with increasing temperature as well as the process efficiency in the case of
miscanthus and salix. However, operating at higher temperature presents advantages
which probably outweigh these drawbacks. Higher temperatures provide the opportunity
to decrease the percentage of raw biomass that must be combusted as utility fuel, and in
the case of miscanthus and salix this percentage can be reduced to zero. The torrefied
biomass HHV continues to increase with higher temperature. Specifying a minimum
torrefied biomass HHV of 9000 Btu/lb would require a minimum operating temperature
of about 250C for miscanthus and 245C for wood chips. The HHV of salix remains
above 9000 Btu/lb at all temperatures. At these cutoff temperatures the process
efficiency is about 84% for miscanthus and 91% for wood chips, and the process yields
are about 79% and 86%, respectively. If the temperature is increased to 280C, the
process efficiency of miscanthus decreases from 84% to 78%, and the process yield
decreases from 79% to 71%. These results suggest that it may be more beneficial to
torrefy miscanthus at mid-temperatures around 250C. On the other hand, operating at
10
280C causes the process efficiency of wood chips to increase from 91% to 92%, and the
process yield decreases only slightly from 86% to 83%. This suggests that it is worth
taking a 3% decline in process yield to gain increased HHV and overall efficiency. Not
only are increased heating values necessary for co-firing with coal, but they will also help
lower transportation costs to the plant. Operating at higher torrefaction temperature also
has the advantage of tar handling. Because temperature gradients should be expected
within the torrefaction reactor, condensation of the organic species can cause major
maintenance problems. It is easier to avoid condensation of the organic tars by operating
at higher temperature. In the case of salix, increased temperature does not attain
significant increases in HHV. If the temperature for salix is increased from 250C to
280C, the process yield decreases from 83% to 78% and the process efficiency decreases
from 88% to 83%. These numbers suggest that it may be beneficial to operate at 280C
to provide better tar handling, or perhaps an operating temperature between 250C and
280C could be used to regain lost percentage points in process efficiency and process
yield.

Lower Reaction Times
The benefit of achieving larger production output initiated investigation into
whether the model was capable of accurately modeling lower reaction times. The
torrefaction models for salix and wood chips were compared to experimental results
reported by [1] and [6] using reaction times less than 60 min, and it was determined that
the model could reasonably be extrapolated to these reaction times.
Figure 18 plots the HHV of the torrefied material for the three biomass fuels at
280C. Lowering the reaction time to less than 1 hr has no significant effect on the HHV.
As the reaction time is decreased from 60 min to 10 min, the HHV decreases by 0.5%,
0.5%, and 0% respectively for miscanthus, wood chips, and salix. The results suggest
that reaction time has little influence on the torrefaction process and the reaction is
mostly completed by merely heating the biomass to the final torrefaction temperature.
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Temperature = 280C
8500
8600
8700
8800
8900
9000
9100
9200
9300
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70
Reaction Time (min)
H
H
V

(
B
t
u
/
l
b

d
a
f
)
Miscanthus
Wood Chips
Salix

Figure 9: HHV of the three biomass fuels at 280C.
Raw biomass HHV (Btu/lb daf): Miscanthus = 7910
Wood chips = 8560
Salix = 8370

Figure 19 displays the process efficiency for the three biomass fuels. Much like
the HHV, the process efficiencies are benefited, yet relatively unaffected, by the reaction
time over the range plotted. Decreasing the reaction time from 60 min to 10 min results
in an increase in process efficiency of 1 percentage point for each of the three fuels.
Temperature = 280C
50
55
60
65
70
75
80
85
90
95
100
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70
Reaction Time (min)
P
r
o
c
e
s
s

E
f
f
i
c
i
e
n
c
y
Miscanthus
Wood Chips
Salix

Figure 10: Process efficiency of the three biomass fuels at 280C.


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Recommendations for Future Work
There are many areas of this project which merit further study. The most
significant way in which these results can be expanded upon is verification of the Aspen
Plus model results with the upcoming experimental testing. Additional validation,
refinement, and improvement of the model can then be achieved.
One major source of uncertainty in the current model was the prediction of the
HHV of the torrefied biomass. The model used a correlation developed in the literature
based on the ultimate analysis and meant to apply to general biomass samples. It is
recommended that a new correlation be created from the torrefied biomass samples
resulting from the Integro testing. This correlation should be based on the carbon,
hydrogen, and oxygen content of the ultimate analysis and should be based on a dry-ash-
free basis. The correlation should also be developed using as many samples as possible.
In addition, the model could be made more accurate with reactor and heat
exchanger sizing, which means a particular size plant should be chosen based on desired
torrefied biomass production capacity. Finally, additional model simulation could be
performed on the biomass feedstocks pertinent to the experimental torrefaction testing.

References
[1] Bergman, P.C.A., Boersma, A.R., Zwart, R.W.R., Kiel, J.H.A. (2005). Torrefaction
for biomass co-firing in existing coal-fired power stations. Energy Research
Centre of the Netherlands, ECN-C-05-013.

[2] Aspen Plus V7.0. (2008).

[3] Zanzi, R., Tito Ferro, D., Torres, A., Beaton Soler, P., Bjornbom, E. (2004).
Biomass torrefaction.

[4] Sheng, C. and Azevedo, J.L.T. (2005). Estimating the higher heating value of
biomass fuels from basic analysis data. Biomass and Bioenergy, 28, 5, 499-507.

[5] Phyllis, database for biomass and waste. Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands.
www.ecn.nl/phyllis/

[6] Bergman, P.C.A., Boersma, A.R., Kiel, J.H.A., Prins, M.J., Ptasinski, K.J., Janssen,
F.J.J.G. (2005). Torrefaction for entrained-flow gasification of biomass. Energy
Research Centre of the Netherlands, ECN-C-05-067.