Roasting Biomass For Energy

by Nicole Stricker, DOE

Biorefineries may soon rely on a process akin to roasting coffee beans to get more energy-dense biomass. The process is called “torrefaction” — heating biomass above 250 degrees C in an oxygen-free environment. A new collaborative study between DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will investigate whether the process can create a more valuable product for the nascent biofuels industry. Initial studies suggest driving moisture and volatile compounds from wood or straw could make biomass more stable, compactable and energy dense. Torrefied biomass has almost no water and actually becomes water resistant, which could improve storage in humid climates. INL researchers are now studying physical characteristics of the dried product, its production cost and how much energy it could generate. Collaborators at PNNL will study whether the torrefaction process improves the quality of the resulting biorefinery product.

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