Are you mayhaps interested in a gizmo to measure biofuel energy content?
Well, that’s not really how we posed the question to the European Union (EU), but it’s pretty close. In 2015 the Horizon 2020 European development program approved a research grant of €1.6M to Mantex to see if we could find a way to continuously analyze organic matter and measure its energy content.
The EU’s motivation is to solve one of the largest hurdles for an efficient biofuel market; the fact that buyers and sellers are not really aware of what they’re trading. This sounds strange, but to find out the energy content of a biofuel is a pretty time-consuming and cumbersome process, and in practice, almost everyone relies on rough approximations and previous experience.
There’s also the challenge of operating a modern biofuel boiler efficiently. Different fuels have completely different incineration properties, and the process of mixing energy and moisture levels for optimum performance has become an art in itself.
As the EU increases its dependence on biofuels, this sad state of affairs simply won’t do. The market badly needs a way to quickly and accurately analyze and classify biofuel, and it should be used by both fuel producers and power plant operators.
A worthy challenge
The EU wanted something that, when placed over a conveyor belt, could continuously analyze the organic material flowing by, and report its energy content (heat value) with a high degree of precision. We had already used X-rays in our Flow Scanner product to successfully measure the moisture level in flowing wood chips, so why not see if we could scan for energy content?
The project was to be broken down into three distinct phases:
- Development of a fully functional prototype. This machine would serve as a technology development platform for both parts and the advanced X-ray analysis algorithms we use.
- Install a demonstrator at a customer site. This demonstrator is a functioning scanner, analyzing all the biofuel flowing on a conveyor belt at a large biofuel power plant.
- Make it work 100 %. Or as the EU likes to say: “Demonstrate a high precision level of all key parameters and categorization and identification in real time”.
Research. More research. And a cool product.
In order to do this, we first needed a machine that could measure the exact amounts of carbon and oxygen that is present in wood chips or some other type of biofuel. From this information, we felt that we could calculate an accurate energy value. If you’re interested in the details, there’s a pretty good in-depth scientific article on our website.
After about a year in the lab, we had finally developed a method which could analyze a sample of wooden organic matter and accurately report its energy content. The demand for this type of technology turned out to be sufficient for a new product – the BioFuel Analyzer – and we are currently in the final stages of moving that product into volume production. This machine scans 3-liter samples, say from a delivery truck, and calculates the energy content.
Phase 1 soon completed
Scanning a continuous flow of organic matter for its energy content turned out to be somewhat trickier. But we are happy to report that we are well on the way of solving these problems as well and that we are soon to complete phase 1 of our Horizon 2020 project – a fully functional prototype.
We’re hopeful that the next two phases of the project will follow quite quickly, now that we have the basic technology in place. It’s an important pilot project for the market and there are several major features that we hope will help the whole biofuel industry:
- Automatic fuel classification. In order to turn all the various types of biofuel into more standardized commodities, European countries have started looking into fuel classifications systems.
- Ash and moisture content. These are important parameters for biofuel power plant operators and help them with both fuel mixing and incineration efficiency.
- Particle size. We also hope to implement an automatic measurement of particle size, as this has a big impact on the incineration process.
If you’d like to know more on how to quickly measure the quality and physical properties of a biofuel, please don’t hesitate to contact Karl Wejke, Sales Manager Bioenergy, at firstname.lastname@example.org or +46 72-857 32 48.