Professor Snape and partners create magic with first Hydrothermal Carbonization plant in UK

January 21, 2018 |

Without Professor Snape in Harry Potter, there would be no Harry Potter. Without Professor Snape at University of Nottingham, perhaps there would be no Hydrothermal Carbonization in the UK? The University of Nottingham’s Professor Snape isn’t working alone and has partners that are helping magic happen in the biomass and biofuel world.

In the United Kingdom, The University of Nottingham, the Energy Research Accelerator, and CPL Industries are working together to develop a new £4m (about $5.5 million) facility to use the hot new technology Hydrothermal Carbonization to convert biomass into next-generation fuels.

The Technology

The technology being used to develop the biocoal in the CPL, ERA, University of Nottingham partnership project is known as Hydrothermal Carbonization (HTC). This converts high-moisture biomass into solid fuels using moderate temperatures and high pressures. The HTC process effectively mimics the long-term natural process of coal formation, with the process taking a matter of hours rather than millennia, according to University of Nottingham’s press release.

Although developed over a century ago, Hydrothermal Carbonization/Liquefaction technology has seen a surge in ventures in the past 10 or so years, though still small compared to the other thermochemical processes, such as torrefaction and pyrolysis. Hydrothermal liquefaction is included in the mandate of IEA Bioenergy Task 34 and is also heavily promoted by Battelle who along with other partners is planning larger scale demonstrations. Extensions of the technology to processes operating at supercritical and near subcritical conditions are also being evaluated by a number of groups; one of these companies, Licella, announced a demonstration project with Canfor, as reported in the Digest in July 2016.

The Facility

The installation of this new facility will be located at CPL’s production site in Immingham, North Lincolnshire, and is scheduled to begin production in mid-2018.

The intention for the HTC facility is to investigate suitable replacements for fossil fuels in its home heating products, with possible future developments being the replacement of coking coals in industrial applications such as foundries and smelters.

The Partners

The University of Nottingham is partnering with the Energy Research Accelerator (ERA) and CPL Industries on the commercial scale facility, which will be capable of converting biomass into next-generation solid fuels with coal-like properties.

The new facility is being supported by the Energy Research Accelerator (ERA) – an Innovate UK funded initiative involving the Midlands Innovation consortium of universities, together with the British Geological Survey and industrial partners, who are working together to support research and innovation in energy. The HTC facility in Immingham is one of a number of demonstrator projects and facilities that the ERA is investing in across the Midlands, in order to increase innovation in energy generation, storage, distribution and use.

Once completed, the HTC facility will be operated by CPL Industries, a manufacturer and distributor of solid fuels which already has products on the market containing biomass materials.

CPL is working with Professor Colin Snape at the University of Nottingham, who is Director of the Centre in Efficient Power from Fossil Energy and Carbon Capture Technologies.

Professor Snape said in the press release, “Developing this new HTC facility is very exciting as this is the first such plant in the UK. We will be able to look at how we can convert waste streams into value-added fuel products that have many domestic and industrial applications. Also, by using the biocoal that has been made from biowaste, we are producing a carbon-neutral fuel and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Gordon Waddington, Chief Executive of the Energy Research Accelerator (ERA), which is funding the development, said, “This facility is a great example of what ERA is aiming to do – demonstrating cutting-edge innovation, with industrial partners who can advise on the commercial application of the products. By tapping into the experience of CPL and the expertise of Professor Colin Snape and his team at the University of Nottingham, I am confident that we will be able to demonstrate that producing biocoal using this technique, has significant commercial potential.”

Bottom Line

While it may take some magic to get Hydrothermal Carbonization to commercialization and profitability, it is great to see it moving forward and on the right path, thanks to partnership projects like the CPL, ERA, University of Nottingham facility that should be up and running later this year. We anticipate hearing more “first ever’s” coming from HTC technology in the future as well.

Tim Minnett, CEO of CPL, told Heating, Ventilating and Plumbing, “The technology has the potential to revolutionise the treatment of high-moisture organic waste streams, producing value-added products that displace fossil fuels and promoting the circular economy. CPL and the rest of the project partners stand ready to engage with local authorities and waste managers to source suitable waste material, conduct trials and develop the wider commercial and environmental benefits.”

So while these partners work their magic, we await with abated breath to see it unfold, much like we did while reading or watching Harry Potter.

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