Presented to 18

th
European Biomass Conference and Exhibition, Lyon, 3-7 Mai 2010
COMBUSTION EVALUATION OF TORREFIED WOOD PELLETS ON A 50 KW
TH
BOILER

J.-B. Michel
1,4
,C. Mahmed
1
, J. Ropp
1
, J. Richard
2
, M. Sattler
3
, M. Schmid
3

1
School of Business and Engineering Vaud, University of Applied Sciences Western Switzerland, 1401 Yverdon-les-Bains,
Switzerland
2
HEPIA, University of Applied Sciences Western Switzerland, 1201 Geneva, Switzerland
3
Centre of Appropriate Technology and Social Ecology, Laboratories for Sustainable Energy Systems, Langenbruck,
Switzerland
4
Corresponding author Ph: +41265577594, Fax:+41265577579,
e-mail: jean-bernard.michel@heig-vd.ch


ABSTRACT: Torrefied wood pellets are produced from torrefied chips by thermo-chemical pre-treatment of biomass at
200-320°C in the absence of oxygen during about 15-30 minutes. Overall, the torrefaction process efficiency has been
reported to be 90-95% % as compared to 84% for pelletisation. Torrefaction improves the biomass: 30% higher calorific
value and 50% higher energy density resulting in much lower handling and transport costs. The fuel becomes
hydrophobic making long term outdoor storage possible. The purpose of this project was to compare the combustion and
emission characteristics of torrefied vs. normal wood pellets.
With no modification to the feeding and the burner parameters, the ignition and combustion characteristics of
torrefied pellets are found very similar to those of normal pellets. Particulate emissions per energy output were found
very close and directly related to the ash content in the feedstock. Using the Taguchi approach, it was possible to
establish a model of the boiler performance as a function of the input parameters. Further testing confirmed the validity
of the model showing optimum performance with a defined value of primary and secondary air flow rates which
minimized particulate emissions for both the normal pellets and the torrefied pellets.
Keywords: biomass, torrefaction, combustion, boiler.


1 INTRODUCTION

Torrefied wood pellets are an attractive fuel for co-
combustion in coal-fired power stations [ 1 ]. Except for
start-up, the process is autothermal (it generates its own
energy due to mild pyrolysis reactions) and the energy of
the off-gases, which represent about 10% of the input
energy, is recovered. Overall, the process efficiency has
been reported to be 90-95% % as compared to 84% for
pelletisation in one given set of operating conditions)
[ 2 ].
The purpose of this R&D project is to compare the
combustion and emission characteristics of torrefied
wood pellets with those of normal wood pellets.
Although there are a large number of publications
regarding the torrefaction process itself, this is the first
comprehensive study on the combustion properties for
domestic heating applications and on a complete life
cycle analysis including the combustion part. The results
are also relevant for cogeneration applications.


2 BIOMASS TORREFACTION REVIEW

Torrefied wood was used during the early years of
steel production as a reducing agent in blast-furnaces and
was afterwards replaced by charcoal and coke [ 3 ].
The process is rather simple and involves anaerobic
heating of dried biomass chips as shown in Figure 1.
Several reactor types are used depending on the
proprietary process. The ECN BO
2
process uses a vertical
moving bed countercurrent with recirculated flue-gas.
The temperature is about 240°C with a residence time
of sabout 20 minutes. Topell use a cyclone type swirling
flow (entrained flow) and temperatures up to 350 °C with
a much lower residence time (about 90 seconds) and fast
quenching of the torrefied chips. Airless technology
(Airless web-site) use a rotary drum reactor, a technology
that has evolved from the ceramic drying technology. The
drying and torrefaction technology operates by creating
superheated steam generated solely from the moisture
contained in the biomass.
The work of Prins [ 4 ] demonstrated that the mass
yield during torrefaction is typically contains 70% while
the energy yield is about 90% of the original energy
content. No moisture is left following torrefaction but the
torrefied biomass may uptake 6% of moisture from the
ambient air.
In 1985, Pechiney built a 10’000 t/y production plant,
to use torrefied wood instead of charcoal in electric
furnaces (5 Peguret, 1986).


Figure 1 - Simplified process description

This new type of fuel is very promising because it
alleviates a lot of the disadvantages of normal biomass
pellets:
• The volumetric energy density is 50% higher than
with normal pellets resulting in the same reduction of
handling and transport cost per energy output.
• Grinding energy is reduced by 90% and overall, the
process efficiency has been reported to be 90-94%
as compared to 84% for pelletisation )
Drying to about
20% moisture
Anaerobic heating
between 240-320°C
Autothermal process
Flue gas recycling
and postcombustion
Raw biomass chips
Torrefied
Biomass
pellets
Mass yield ~70%
Energy yield ~90%
10% left is partly recovered
LCV increase by ~ 20%


grinding
pelletisation
Presented to 18
th
European Biomass Conference and Exhibition, Lyon, 3-7 Mai 2010
[ 2 ]. See Figure 2.
• Torrefied biomass is hydrophobic and therefore not
subject to swelling and degradation allowing outdoor
storage and in the long term.
• Its greater calorific value should be beneficial for
combustion.

Figure 2 - Process efficiency comparison. Normal pellets
(top), torrefied pellets (bottom) after Uslu et al. (2008)

Several large scale production plants are planned or
in construction in Europe and elsewhere, for the co-
combustion of torrefied wood in coal-fired power
stations:
• Energy Center of the Netherlands, BO2 process :
large demonstration plant foreseen (6 Kiel, J et al., 2008)
• Atmosclear (Switzerland) large projects planned from
130 to 270 kt/y [ 7 ]
• Integro Earth Fuels, Wyssmont process, USA, 84 kt/y
Roxborrow, NC [ 8 ]
• Topell, NL , Polow Torbed reactor technology,
planned 60 ktons/y in Arnhem (NL) together with RWE
[ 9]
• 4Energy Invest (B), 38 kt/y in Ambleve (B) and
Stramproy [ 10 ]
• Essent trading (RWE) and Stramproy : 90 kt/y in
Steenwijk (NL) [ 11 ]
However, there was so far no project directly targeted
to domestic heating and cogeneration.

3 COST ANALYSES
Several economic comparisons have shown the
benefits of using of torrefied pellets instead of normal
pellets. The table below provides a comparison of the
cost of pellets for power generation with biomass from
Canada and from South-Africa shipped to Europe.
Hamelink [ 12 ] reported that feedstock costs
contribute around 20–65% of the total delivery cost
whereas pre-treatment and transport contribute 20–25%
and 25–40%, respectively, depending on the location of
the biomass resources.
According to Uslu )
[ 2 ] TOP pellets can be delivered at costs as low as 3.3
€/GJ (73.5 €/ton) with a biomass cost of 10 €/ton as
compared to 3.9 €/GJ (66.3 €/ton) for normal pellets.
This is mainly due to higher energy density compared to
conventional pellets, which lowers both the road and sea
transport costs. This is also in agreement with the work of
Peng [ 13 ] for pellets processed in South-Africa with the
ECN process and transported to Europe. The comparison
with pellets produced in Vancouver and processed in
Europe after Herold [ 14 ] is presented in Table I.
Similarly Kiel [ 15 ] reported delivery costs for
sawdust pellets supplied to North-West Europe: 4.7 €/GJ
for torrefied and 5.9€/GJ for normal pellets which
confirms the economic advantage of torrefied pellets.

Table I: Pellet costs from various sources
Cost item
Source 2
[ 14 ]
Vancouver
 Europe
Source 1 [ 13]
S-Africa  Europe
Sawdust case
Production
capacity
(ktons/y)
40 80 56
Product Pellets Pellets
Torrefied
pellets
(ECN)
Costs in €/ton product
Raw
material
23.6 11 15
Production 70 41 45
Transport 62.6 54 42
Margin 23.9

Total
(€/ton )
180.1 106 102
(€/GJ) 11.2 6.61 4.99

4. BIOMASS PREPARATION AND COMPOSITION
About 1 ton of torrefied pellets have been prepared
for our tests by ECN on their 100 kg/h pilot facility,
using poplar as the feedstock.

Table II: Composition of raw and torrefied chips (ECN
data)
Parameter Unit
Raw
poplar
chips
Torrefied
Poplar
Chips
Length/width/height Mm 40/30/10 40/30/15
Water % (m/m)om 9,23 4,8
Ash % (m/m)om 0,51 0,56
Calorific value, upper MJ/kg dm 18,7 19,8
Sulfur % (m/m)om Nm Nm
Nitrogen % (m/m)om < 0,1 < 0,1
Arsenic mg/kg dm < 2,5 <2,5
Lead mg/kg dm < 5,7 < 5,7
Cadmium mg/kg dm < 4 < 4
Chromium mg/kg dm < 3,2 < 3,2
Copper mg/kg dm < 2,4 < 2,4
Zinc mg/kg dm 20 20
Elementary analysis
Carbon mg/kg dm 47 51
Hydrogen mg/kg dm 6.2 6.2

Normal pellets were supplied by a local producer and
two types were used:
Drying Grinding
= 90 –
= 84 %
Raw chips
57% moisture
Energy content
100 (LCV base)
Energy
1
2
Pelletisation
Torrefaction Grinding Pelletisation
Drying
Presented to 18
th
European Biomass Conference and Exhibition, Lyon, 3-7 Mai 2010
Type C1: a mixture of resinous and leafy trees.
Type C2: poplar, in order to get a more representative
comparison with BO
2
pellets made from poplar.
The compositions of the raw and torrefied chips
(ECN data) are given in Table II. The analysis of C1
pellets and ECN pellets was also carried out by a
laboratory in Germany according to DIN standards.
Results are given in Table III.
We can observe some discrepancy between the
measurements of BO
2
material (chips and pellets),
especially for the ash and chromium content. According
to ECN, since the chips are not 100% homogeneous, it is
very difficult to get representative samples. Differences
in composition can therefore be explained by the
inhomogeneous character of the biomass. The ash content
of C2 pellets was found to be 3.2%, i.e. three times
higher than the other feed-stocks.

Table III: Composition of C1 Swiss pellets and torrefied
ECN pellets
Parameter Unit
Raw
pellets C1
(best
pellets)
Torrefied
pellets
Length Mm 19,5 18,5
Diameter Mm 6,0 6,7
Gross density kg/dm
3
om 1,18 1,13
Water content % (m/m)om 7,4 / 8,2 5,6 / 5,9
Volatiles % (m/m)om 17,3 21,8
Ash content % (m/m)om 0,97 1,14
Calorific value,
upper MJ/kg dm 18,91 19,82
Abrasion
(lingo tester) % (m/m)om 2,3 2,8
Sulfur content % (m/m)om 0,014 0,011
Nitrogen content % (m/m)om <0,3 < 0,3
Chlorine content % (m/m)om 0,018 0,016
Arsenic mg/kg dm <0,5 < 0,5
Lead mg/kg dm < 1 1,2
Cadmium mg/kg dm < 0,5 < 0,5
Chromium mg/kg dm 3,7 8,1
Copper mg/kg dm 1,9 3,0
Mercury mg/kg dm <0,05 < 0,05
Zinc mg/kg dm 14 29
Extractable
Organic Halogens mg/kg dm <1 < 1
Elementary analysis
Carbon % (m/m)dm 49,8 53
Hydrogen % (m/m)dm 6,2 6
Nitrogen % (m/m)dm <0,3 <0.3
Oxygen % (m/m)dm 43,1 39.7

The elementary analysis confirms the increase of
carbon content, decrease of oxygen content and the
resulting increase of gross calorific value (GCV).
However the increase of GCV is rather low compared to
what one would normally expect (6% instead of 20-30%).
This is due to a rather mild degree of torrefaction
(temperatures and weaker residence times).
Except for the ash content, the C1 pellets and BO
2

respect the DINplus standard. One must notice here that
the nitrogen is however not measured with sufficient
precision (according to DIN standard) so that one fuels
can be compared with respect to their NO
x
emissions.
In fact, NO
x
emissions were found to differ
drastically with the three types of biomass, indicating a
possible decrease of volatile nitrogen content during
torrefaction.
Futher characterization of the pellets was done with
microscopic imaging. Light micrographs of C1 and BO
2

pellets are shown on Figure 3 and Figure 4 showing the
complex structure of raw pellets with fibers and
inclusions of about 500 mm. On the other hand, the fibers
of torrefied pellets are no longer visible but one can
observe regions of incomplete torrefaction (clear brown
regions highlighted with a red contour). This
heterogeneity is typical of convective thermal treatment.
Parallel strikes shown on are the result of thread cutting
to obtain a plane surface. Strikes are more visible on the
torrefied pellets due to their higher hardness. The
torrefied grain structure is finer and more homogeneous
as a result of the destruction of hemicellulose fibers.

Figure 3: Micrographs of C1 pellets


Figure 4: Micrographs of BO
2
pellets

Confocal microscopy was then used for a more in
depth analysis of the pellet structure. For recall, it is an
optical microscope arrangement with the property to
carry out images with a very low depth of field
(approximately 400 nm in this case).
By positioning the focal plan at various depths in the
Presented to 18
th
European Biomass Conference and Exhibition, Lyon, 3-7 Mai 2010
sample, one can reconstruct a three-dimensional
representation of the object.
The images obtained are shown on Figure 5. It is here
confirmed that torrefied pellets are more homogeneous
with a more regular assembly of wood fibers. This
explains the higher density of torrefied pellets.

Figure 5 – Confocal Microscopic images of the samples,
left: C1 pellets, right: BO2 pellets

4. COMBUSTION TESTS
4.1 Test set-up
Combustion tests were carried-out on a 50 kW pellet
boiler of the company Hoval shown schematically in
Figure 3.



Figure 6: Schematic of the 50 kW Hoval Biolyt® boiler

A forced draught burner is used on this boiler (and
not a grid or a drum), allowing a rather accurate control
of primary and secondary combustion. A scanning
mobility particle sizer (SMPS) was applied to determine
the size distribution and the total number concentrations
of particles in the range from 0.01-0.400 µm. Exhaust gas
is taken with a probe, which is also fed with particle free
air. The resulting dilution factor is adjusted by the flow
rate of the diluting air and the total flow. To prevent
condensation of water onto the particle surface, the
dilution factor is chosen high enough, to achieve a dew
point below ambient temperature [ 16 ].
The design of experiment method from Taguchi was
used to reduce the number of tests to a minimum while
exploring the complete space of variables. In this case we
defined 4 variables with a 9*4 test matrix (Table IV).


Figure 7: photograph of the sampling system

Table IV: Taguchi test matrix (L9)
Test

Pellets
Type
Secondary
air
Setting
Primary air
setting
Screw
setting
1 C1 35% 35% 30%
2 C1 45% 40% 50%
3 C1 60% 45% 65%
4 T 35% 40% 65%
5 T 45% 45% 30%
6 T 60% 35% 50%
7 T 35% 45% 50%
8 T 45% 35% 65%
9 T 60% 40% 30%
N.B. full load with C1 pellets, 50kW is obtained with a
screw setting of 65%
Gas sampling was done with three measurements per
minutes during an average 16 minutes period (48 samples
per measurement). Total particulate matter emissions
(PME) were sampled using a disk filter following the EN
13284-1 standards. TPE samples were extracted
isocinetically from the flue gas duct by a 90° offset
stainless steel probe. The main filter and backup filter
were heated at 120°C during PME sampling. Particulate
sampling was done on a 16 minutes period. The
measurements were repeated three times for each test.
This first series of experiments demonstrated that a
secondary air level of 55% and a primary air level of 45%
(of the fan range) were optimum in terms of combustion
efficiency and emissions. These levels were fixed in a
latter series of experiments with a variation of the load
and of the excess air. Particle size distribution of the fly
ash was measured for both C2 and BO2 pellets.

4.2 Combustion test results
At first, the combustion behavior of the torrefied
pellets was found very similar to that of the normal
pellets:
• The warm-up period was slightly reduced
• The mass flow of the torrefied pellets had to be
reduced by about 10% to achieve the same energy input
• The optimum settings of primary & secondary air
flows in terms of emissions were identical (55% / 45%).
A model of the flue gas and particulate emissions as a
function of the three input variables (load, primary and
secondary air settings) was established so that results
could be interpolated and plotted for the same settings.
The model was found very accurate as shown in Figure 8.
Presented to 18
th
European Biomass Conference and Exhibition, Lyon, 3-7 Mai 2010


Figure 8: Comparison of measured data and calculated
model data.

As a result of this interpolation, the comparison of the
flue-gas emissions of torrefied (T = BO
2
) and classical
(C1) pellets is given in Figure 9 where data are plotted as
a function of the load and for NO
x
as a function of
secondary air as well.
Particulate emissions are about 30% higher and this is
due to the lower ash content of C1 pellets. However, one
should normally expect similar fly ash emissions for the
same load input as with the original poplar from ECN
(not tested) since the ash content, expressed per MJ
(LCV) should not be increased by torrefaction. On the
contrary, it should be decreased with an increase of LCV.
One can also see that torrefied pellets can produce
significantly less NO than classical C1 pellets.

Figure 9: Compared flue-gas emissions of C1 and T
(BO2) pellets

However one cannot draw a definite conclusion from
this except to state that fuel nitrogen content was
certainly much lower in the BO
2
pellets than in the C1
pellets. One could expect lower NOx emissions
depending on the amount of fuel nitrogen that has been
released during torrefaction.
Similarly to previous, the comparison of the flue-gas
emissions of torrefied (T) and poplar C2 pellets is given
in Figure 10 where, in that case, both interpolated model
data and measured data are represented. One can see the
good agreement between the two sets of measurements
and the reproducible burner operation (O2 = f(P)). As
expected, C2 pellets produce three to four times more fly
ash emissions than C1 pellets at high load conditions, due
to their three times higher ash content.
Also, torrefied pellets can potentially produce less
CO than classical pellets making it possible to reduce the
excess air, thereby increasing the thermal efficiency.


Figure 10: Compared flue-gas emissions of C2 and T
(BO
2
) pellets

4.3 Particle size measurements
SMPS data were collected for both C2 and BO
2

pellets. Overall results are shown in Table V.

Table V: SMPS data for BO
2
and C2 pellets
Typ
e
P
in

kW
Conc.
mg/Nm
³
13% O
2

Number/
cm³
Moda
l
size
nm
Av.
size
nm
Std.
dev.
nm
T
46,
6
60 4,36E+08 57,8
60,
0
1,5
4
T
47,
7
55 3,89E+08 59,3
59,
8
1,5
6
T
26,
1
87 3,20E+08 57,3
60,
5
1,5
8
T
26,
1
84 3,15E+08 52,8
58,
8
1,5
8
T
54,
8
58 4,07E+08 55,8
57,
0
1,5
2
T
55,
5
59 4,36E+08 58,8
56,
8
1,5
4
C2
48,
3
97 3,59E+08 67,0
66,
0
1,5
7
C2
48,
5
100 3,56E+08 61,8
67,
0
1,5
6
C2
21,
1
208 3,17E+08 63,5
67,
5
1,5
4
C2
22,
9
208 3,22E+08 59,8
66,
5
1,5
5
C2
42,
3
138 3,36E+08 66,3
69,
0
1,5
6






Presented to 18
th
European Biomass Conference and Exhibition, Lyon, 3-7 Mai 2010
C2
53,
3
140 3,72E+08 67,5
70,
5
1,5
6

One can see that, although the total particulate
emissions from C2 pellets are much higher than those of
BO2 pellets, their sizes are finer and there number larger
than those of BO2 pellets.
This is also illustrated in Figure 11: there are more
finer particulates coming from the torrefied pellets,
contributing to an overall greater number of particulates.

Figure 11: comparison of the size distribution of C2
pellets (white) and BO
2
pellets (red) for an input power
of 48 kW

5. LIFE CYCLE IMPACT ASSESSMENT

The comparison of the overall environmental impacts
of the two biomass fuels was performed using the Impact
2002+ life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) method [ 17 ]
This method was developed by O. Joliet and his team
and it considers 14 mid-point categories of impact and
four damage categories (human health, ecosystem
quality, climate change, resources) as shown in Figure
12.

Figure 12: Overall scheme of the IMPACT 2002+
framework. By courtesy of Prof. O. Jolliet,
Environmental Health Sciences Associate Director,
University of Michigan Risk Science Center

The functional unit was the MJ of heat produced by the
boiler. Results are summarized in the following table
showing an overall gain of 50% mainly due to the
improvement of the overall process efficiency.

5 CONCLUSIONS
From this study, it becomes clear that torrefaction is an
interesting solution if one considers to use pellets for
power and heat production: this can lead to more value
for the effort invested in terms of resources (primary
energy, finance, costs) and a reduced environmental
impact. Also, torrefaction makes it possible to use
alternate form of woody biomass residues.
However, despite the projects announced for large
plants, no plant operation data has been made available
yet. Further experimental work at pilot size will be
needed to better characterize and optimize the whole
process operating with a variety of biomass residues.

6. REFERENCES

[ 1 ] Maciejewska A. et al. Co-firing of biomass with
coal: constraints and role of biomass pre-treatment.
European commission report, DG JRC, Institute for
Energy, EUR 22461 EN (2006)
[ 2 ] Uslu A., Faaij A.P.C., Bergman P.C.A. Pre-
treatment technologies, and their effect on
international bioenergy supply chain logistics.
Techno-economic evaluation of torrefaction, fast
pyrolysis and pelletisation. Energy, Volume 33,
Issue 8, August 2008, Pag 1206
[ 3 ] Annales des Mines, Troisième Série, Tome XII.
Recueil de mémoires sur l’exploitation des mines et
sur les sciences et les arts qui s’y rapportent, chez
Cardillan-Goery éditeur libraire. Paris (1857).
Available at http://books.google.com
[ 4 ] Prins M.J.. Thermodynamic analysis of biomass
gasification and torrefaction. Ph.D. Eindhoven
Technical University, (2005) The Netherlands.
[ 5 ] Peguret A. Le bois torréfié: coûts et position par
rapport aux autres combustibles. Rapport AFME
85-91-1001, (1986) N° INIST 10128404
[ 6 ] Kiel, J et al.BO2-technology for biomass upgrading
into solid fuel − pilot-scale testing and market
implementation. 16th European Biomass
Conference & Exhibition. (2008), Valencia, Spain
[ 7 ] Atmosclear web site: www.atmosclear.com
(accessed 22.03.10)
[ 8 ] Integro Earth Fuels web site:
www.integrofuels.com (accessed 22.03.10)
[ 9 ] Maaskant, E. Topell on torrefaction. IEA
Bioenergy Task 32, “New Biomass Co-firing
Concepts”. Hamburg, (2009)
[ 10 ] 4Energy Invest web site: www.4energyinvest.com
(accessed 22.03.10)
[ 11 ] Essent trading web site: www.essent.eu (accessed
22.03.10)
[ 12 ] Hamelinck CN, Suurs RAA, Faaij APC. Techno-
economic analysis of international bio-energy trade
chains. Biomass Bioenergy. 2005;29(2) pag. 114
[ 13 ] Peng J, et al. Study of Torrefaction for the
Production of High Quality Wood Pellets. CSBE
50
th
Annual Conference. North Vancouver, B.C.,
Canada (2008).
Presented to 18
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European Biomass Conference and Exhibition, Lyon, 3-7 Mai 2010
[ 14 ] Herold, I. Biomass and Waste to Energy: Trends in
Investment in the EU. Biomass Industry Day.
Hamburg (2009).
[ 15 ] Kiel, J. Torrefaction for biomass upgrading into
commodity fuels, IEA Bioenergy Task 32
workshop, “Fuel storage, handling and preparation
and system analysis for biomass combustion
technologies”, Berlin (2007).
[ 16 ] Wieser U. and Gaegauf C.K., 2000. Nanoparticle
emissions of wood combustion processes.1
st
World
Conference and Exhibition on Biomass for Energy
and Industry, June 2000. Available at
www.oekozentrum.ch/files/nanoparticles.pdf
(accessed 22.03.10)
[ 17] Jolliet O, Margni M., Charles R., Humbert S. ,
Payet J. , Rebitzer G. and Rosenbaum R. IMPACT
2002+: A new life cycle impact assessment
methodology, The International Journal of Life
Cycle Assessment, Vol. 8, N° 6 / Nov. 2003, Pages
324-330

7. ACKNOWLEGEMENTS

The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support
from the University of Applied Sciences Western
Switzerland, the provision of torrefied pellets from
Energy Center of the Netherlands and the supply of the
50 kW Biolyt boiler from Hoval.

8. LOGO SPACE