Feedstock and Process Variables Influencing Biomass Densification

by Shaw, Mark Douglas

Abstract (Summary)
Densification of biomass is often necessary to combat the negative storage and handling characteristics of these low bulk density materials. A consistent, high-quality densified product is strongly desired, but not always delivered. Within the context of pelleting and briquetting, binding agents are commonly added to comminuted biomass feedstocks to improve the quality of the resulting pellets or briquettes. Many feedstocks naturally possess such binding agents; however, they may not be abundant enough or available in a form or state to significantly contribute to product binding. Also, process parameters (pressure and temperature) and material variables (particle size and moisture content) can be adjusted to improve the quality of the final densified product.

Densification of ground biomass materials is still not a science, as much work is still required to fully understand how the chemical composition and physical properties, along with the process variables, impact product quality. Generating densification and compression data, along with physical and mechanical properties of a variety of biomass materials will allow for a deeper understanding of the densification process. This in turn will result in the design of more efficient densification equipment, thus improving the feasibility of using biomass for chemical and energy production.

Experiments were carried out wherein process (pressure and temperature) and material (particle size and moisture content) variables were studied for their effect on the densification process (compression and relaxation characteristics) and the physical quality of the resulting products (pellets). Two feedstocks were selected for the investigation; namely, poplar wood and wheat straw, two prominent Canadian biomass resources. Steam explosion pretreatment was also investigated as a potential method of improving the densification characteristics and binding capacity of the two biomass feedstocks.

Compression/densification and relaxation testing was conducted in a closed-end cylindrical die at loads of 1000, 2000, 3000, and 4000 N (31.6, 63.2, 94.7, and 126.3 MPa) and die temperatures of 70 and 100°C. The raw poplar and wheat straw were first ground through a hammer mill fitted with 0.8 and 3.2 mm screens, while the particle size of the pretreated poplar and wheat straw was not adjusted. The four feedstocks (2 raw and 2 pretreated) were also conditioned to moisture contents of 9 and 15% wb prior to densification.

Previously developed empirical compression models fitted to the data elucidated that along with particle rearrangement and deformation, additional compression mechanisms were present during compression. Also, the compressibility and asymptotic modulus of the biomass grinds were increased by increasing the die temperature and decreasing product moisture content. While particle size did not have a significant effect on the compressibility, reducing it increased the resultant asymptotic modulus value. Steam explosion pretreatment served to decrease the compressibility and asymptotic modulus of the grinds.

In terms of physical quality of the resulting product, increasing the applied load naturally increased the initial density of the pellets (immediately after removal from the die). Increasing the die temperature served to increase the initial pellet density, decrease the dimensional (diametral and longitudinal) expansion (after 14 days), and increase the tensile strength of the pellets. Decreasing the raw feedstock particle size allowed for the increase in initial pellet density, decrease in diametral expansion (no effect on longitudinal expansion), and increase in tensile strength of the pellets. Decreasing the moisture content of the feedstocks allowed for higher initial pellet densities, but also an increased dimensional expansion. The pretreated feedstocks generally had higher initial pellet densities than the raw grinds. Also, the pretreated feedstocks shrank in diameter and length, and had higher tensile strengths than the raw feedstocks. The high performance of the pretreated poplar and wheat straw (as compared to their raw counterparts) was attributed to the disruption of the lignocellulosic structure, and removal/hydrolysis of hemicellulose, during the steam pretreatment process which was verified by chemical and Fourier transform infrared analysis. As a result, a higher relative amount of lignin was present. Also, the removal/hydrolysis of hemicellulose would indicate that this lignin was more readily available for binding, thus producing superior pellets.

Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Panigrahi, Satya; Karunakaran, Chithra; Burton. Richard; Baik, Oon-Doo; Tabil, Jr.. Lope

School:University of Saskatchewan

School Location:Canada - Saskatchewan

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:steam explosion wheat straw compression relaxation biomass poplar briquette pellet


Date of Publication:03/17/2008

© 2009 All Rights Reserved.