How to implement a switch from fossil-fuels to renewables is a tricky issue for many industries. For heavy industries, such as oil refineries, or the paper and pulp industry, it is especially urgent to start moving, because investment cycles are so long. At the same time, it is important to get the investment right because you may be forced to replace boilers or facilities in advance, which means major financial costs. Thanks to long-term strategic efforts, researchers at Sweden´s Chalmers University of Technology have now paved the way for radical changes, which could be applied to new installations, as well as be implemented at thousands of existing plants around the globe.
The solution presented involves widespread gasification of biomass. This technology itself is not new. Roughly explained, what is happening is that at high temperatures, biomass is converted into a gas. This gas can then be refined into end-products which are currently manufactured from oil and natural gas. The Chalmers researchers have shown that one possible end-product is biogas that can replace natural gas in existing gas networks.
Previously, the development of gasification technology has been hampered by major problems with tar being released from the biomass, which interferes with the process in several ways. Now, the researchers from Chalmers’ division of Energy Technology have shown that they can improve the quality of the biogas through chemical processes, and the tar can also be managed in completely new ways. This, in combination with a parallel development of heat-exchange materials, provides completely new possibilities for converting district heating boilers to biomass gasifiers.
“What makes this technology so attractive to several industries is that it will be possible to modify existing boilers, which can then supplement heat and power production with the production of fossil-free fuels and chemicals.,” says Martin Seemann, Associate Professor in Energy Technology at Chalmers.
The plants which could be converted to gasification are power and district heating plants, paper and pulp mills, sawmills, oil refineries and petrochemical plants.