28 Nov 2021

Biomass pellets – a carbon-neutral alternative to coal

The European ambitions to limit CO2 emissions have a significant impact on the operation of coal-fired power plants and on the required balancing power to support the grid supplementary to solar and wind energy.

In November 2018, the European ARBAHEAT consortium started a research project to investigate the conversion of the ENGIE Ultra-SuperCritical coal-fired Rotterdam power plant into a biomass-fired heat and power plant. For this project the consortium received over €19 million funding from the European Union. This plant was seen as a perfect candidate for this first demonstration project because of its size and strategic location in the port of Rotterdam.

This four-year demonstration project brought together European expertise from the energy sector, the scientific community and the renewable energy sector.

Retrofitting some modern existing coal-fired power plants with the ARBAHEAT concept could offer a significant contribution to the realisation of decarbonisation targets in Europe by adding sustainable heat and power flexibility.

The innovative technology used to produce the required steam treated biomass has been developed by the Norwegian company Arbaflame AS.

Now, the Arbaflame project is aiming for annual production of 70,000 tonnes of biomass-based combustibles at its facility in Grasmo, near Oslo, Norway. The pellets are made of wood and can be used as a 100% sustainable alternative to coal in power plants to produce carbon-neutral power.

Sulzer Chemtech’s separation equipment will play a key role in Arbaflame’s pellet production process, minimising energy usage. The production processes leading to the pellets also generate condensate containing key chemicals, namely methanol and furfural. The methanol will be used to produce energy to power the plant, thereby enabling circularity, while furfural is expected to be used as a building block for downstream manufacturing processes.

Sulzer Chemtech provided a separation unit that will help Arbaflame recover these materials, maximizing the self-sufficiency of the plant while supporting the use of renewable resources in the energy and manufacturing sectors.

To minimise the environmental footprint of the recovery process, Sulzer Chemtech’s engineers developed a highly efficient system. In particular, the distillation methods are selected to deliver the highest purity chemicals while requiring minimal energy input.

“The modular recovery unit provided by Sulzer Chemtech is the best investment we have made in our facility last year,” said Rune Brusletto, Chief Technology Officer at Arbaflame. “It also came fully equipped and piped, ready to be operated.”