USING BIOMASS FOR BOILERS – The Way Forward
(Research for this section of boilers guide was done by Uchit Nair of SRM University,Chennai)
The following page is a guide and selection tool that enables you to pick the optimal biomass, processing method and boiler to help ease the process. We have split the task into three stages: first to understand the characteristics to look for in a given biomass, second to pick the right processing method for the ease of transportation and storage and third to pick the appropriate combustion system and pollution control equipment.
To set up a biomass combustion plant it is vital to understand the fuel that you are working with, hence the first step is picking the right biomass fuel. The parameters to be considered before are:
Availability and Distance of provider: The primary selection criterion for the biomass has to be the availability and distance of the supplier from the plant. The biomass fuel has to be available and in close proximity to the biomass combustion plant to be set up to reduce transportation costs.
An analysis of the properties of biomass results in a datasheet like the one below. In order to understand the data and make conclusions about the quality of the biomass we have provided a few pointers:
|Calorific Value||It is defined as the energy contained in a fuel,
determined by measuring the heat produced by the
complete combustion of a specified quantity
|Moisture||Moisture content in the biomass
reduces the calorific value and efficiency, increases
weight during transportation and causes storage problems.
The moisture in biomass fuels is usually high hence
it has to be dried and made dense till the moisture
content is around 7-8% which is ideal for
transportation, storage and combustion.
|Volatile Matter||Volatile matter is the substances given off as gas
or vapour apart from moisture during combustion.
|Fixed Carbon||Fixed carbon is the solid combustible residue that
remains after a fuel is heated and the volatile matter is
|Ash||Ash is the incombustible solid mineral matter in a fuel.
The percentage of ash produced by the combustion of the fuel
is an indication of waste and loss in efficiency and also causes
slagging and fouling on boiler surfaces.
|Carbon||An increasing Carbon percentage results
in an increase in calorific value of the fuel.
|Nitrogen & Sulphur||Nitrogen and Sulphur in the fuel leads
to higher production of noxious gases like
NOX and SOX.
|Chlorine||Chlorine is a major factor in ash formation
and corrosion. It facilitates the movement of inorganic
compounds in particular potassium. Potassium chloride
is one of most stable high temperature, gas-phase, alkali
containing species, hence is the prime cause for corrosion
|Elemental Composition of Ash|
|Silica||High percentages of silica in the ash react
with alkaline substances to lower the ash fusion temperature
which causes slagging and fouling on boiler surfaces.
Silica is also known to form crystalline silica at furnace
temperatures which could cause breathing hazards as seen
while using rice husk.
|Na2O & K2O||Alkaline oxides in ash cause slagging and fouling on boiler
surfaces resulting in increased maintenance costs.
|CaO & MgO||These components increase the ash fusion
temperature and hence reduce slagging and fouling.
Slagging and Fouling indices
|Slagging : Base-Acid Ratio||(Fe2O3+CaO+MgO+Na2O+K2O)/ (SiO2+TiO2+Al2O3)||< 0.4 or > 0.7||0.4 to 0.7|
|Fouling : Alkaline Metal Content||(Na2O+K2O+0.659)x ash/100||< 0.3||0.3 to 0.45||> 0.45|
For example, given the option between the following fuels we arrive at our best option using the parameters above
|Parameters||Rice Husk||Switch grass||Sugarcane Bagasse|
|Proximate Analysis (% Dry Fuel)|
|Ultimate Analysis (%)|
|Elemental Composition of Ash (%)|
|Slagging & Fouling Indices|
|Base – Acid Ratio||0.08||0.32||0.34|
Biomass needs to be made dense to provide ease of mechanical handling and feeding, uniform combustion in boilers, reduced cost of transportation and ease of storage. The types of dense biomass to choose from are pellets, briquettes or loose biomass that has been dried before being fed into the boiler. They can be picked based on the following parameters:
|Unit Density & Bulk Density||A high unit density and bulk density reduces transportation costs and increases ease of storage.||High|
|Energy Density||A higher energy density decreases transportation and storage costs.||High|
|Dimension||The dimensions of the dense biomass has an effect on the ease of transport and storage as well as the combustion performance based on the system being used||Based on combustion system used|
|Moisture Content||Moisture present in the biomass can increase weight, decrease efficiency and hence affect transportation and storage costs||Low|
|Combustion Performance||The combustion of more dense, uniform biomass is more efficient.||High|
|Ash Content||The ash content produced can be different based on the densification methods due to adulteration and addition of inorganic binders used in each method.||Low|
|Fuel Feeding System||Fuel can be fed into the boiler either through fully automated systems or semi-automated systems||Based on user|
Pellets: Pellets are very dense, cylindrical with a diameter of 6-8mm and a length of about 38mm. They are produced through an extrusion process using a piston press.
Briquettes: They are similar to pellets but not as densely packed and much bigger in size with a diameter greater than 25mm.
|Bulk Density (kg/m3)||550 – 700||~ 350||60 – 80|
|Energy Density (GJ/m3)||9.8 – 14||~ 6||<<6|
|Dimensions (mm)||6-8(dia)x38 mm||32 (dia) x 25 (thick)||N/A|
|Combustion Performance||Very Good||Moderate||Poor|
|Transportation Cost||~ 7-8x lesser than loose biomass||~ 4x lesser than loose biomass||Most Expensive|
|Procurement Cost||~ 10x more than that of loose biomass||~5x more than that of loose biomass||Cheapest|
|Moisture Content||7-8%||7-8%||> 8%|
|Fuel Feeding System||They can be used in a completely automated or a semi-automated system||They can only be used in a semi-automated system||They can only be used in a semi-automated system|
Once the right biomass fuels have been narrowed down and the densification process has been selected we must then move to the third stage of selection that identifies the appropriate combustion system, condenser to be used as well as the pollution control equipment to be used.
Biomass Combustion Systems:
Biomass thermal conversion uses combustion of the fuel to provide heat, power generation or both. There are primarily three types of combustion systems:
Fixed Bed Combustion
- Grate Furnace
- Under Feed Stoker
Fluidised Bed Combustion (FBC)
- Bubbling FBC
- Circulating FBC
Fixed Bed Combustion:
Grate Furnace: The combustion of the biomass occurs on a grate with a primary air flow underneath the bed and the combustible gases produced are burnt with a secondary air flow. These systems place the fuel on a grate and the ash produced is disposed off automatically. It has a few types such as fixed grate, moving grate, travelling grate and vibrating grate.
Under feed Stoker is limited to capacities up to 6MW and can only be used for biomass with very
low ash content and small particle sizes, hence grate furnaces are preferred.
Suspension Combustion is not efficient as it requires a lot of air to prevent slag formation in the
combustion chamber. Hence this system is not preferred.
Fluidised Bed Combustion: In this system a bed of silica, sand and dolomite is suspended and behaves like a fluid by the air that is blown through a perforated bottom plate. This fluidised bed is then heated to the ignition temperature of the fuel and combustion of the fuel occurs. This system is highly efficient as heat transfer is much faster and better due to fluidisation. There are two types:
Bubbling FBC: This system fluidises the bed through a perforated distributor plate and the heattransfer tubes are placed in the bed as well as in the convection zone before the flue duct.
Circulating FBC: This system fluidises the bed by utilising a higher air velocity and collects the solids expelled from combustion using solid separators and sends the solids back to the fluidised bed
|Parameters||Grate Furnace||Bubbling FBC||Circulating FBC|
|Capital Cost||Capital cost is low for plants > 20MWth||Capital cost is high. Useful if plant capacity > 20MWth||Capital cost is high. Useful if plant capacity > 30MWth|
|Emissions||High NOX and SOX||Low NOX and SOX||Low NOX and SOX|
|Fuel Size||Any fuel size can be used. (Pellets/Briquettes/Loose)||Pellets are preferred but crushed briquettes can also be used.||Pellets are preferred but crushed briquettes can also be used.|
|Fuel Type||High Alkali fuel can be used||High Alkali fuel cannot be used due to bed agglomeration||High Alkali fuel cannot be used due to bed agglomeration|
|Fuel Flexibility||Special design changes have to made to incorporate fuel mixtures||It can handle fuel variations||It can handle fuel variations|
|Efficiency||Excess Oxygen (7-8%) reduces efficiency||Low excess Oxygen (3-4%) gives high efficiency||Low excess Oxygen (1-2%) gives higher efficiency|
|Maintenance||High maintenance costs due to higher slagging, fouling tendencies||Low maintenance costs||Lower maintenance costs as corrosion tendencies are reduced from BFBC|
Pollution Control Equipment:
The combustion of biomass produces a large amount of particulate matter that can penetrate deep into our lungs. This particulate matter needs to be collected and disposed off safely to reduce air pollution. The pollution control equipment to be used are of the following types:
Cyclone separator: Particulate-laden combustion gas is forced to change direction; and gets separated from the gas stream due to inertia of the particles. They have a low capital cost, low maintenance but are not very efficient in collecting fine sized particulate.
Baghouse Filter: This device utilizes fabric filter tubes or a cartridge to capture fly ash and other particulates from the combustion gases. They have high collection efficiency and can withstand most flue gas flow rates but they get damaged at high temperatures, cannot handle corrosive gases and cannot filter moist gas streams.
Wet scrubber: High-energy liquid spray is used to remove particulate and gaseous pollutants from the combustion flue gases. They can withstand high temperatures and high particle loading as well as explosive gases but are prone to corrosion and the scrubbing liquid can pollute water.
Electrostatic precipitator: This is used to remove very fine particulates by inducing a negative charge to the particles and collecting them on a positively charged or grounded plate and are very efficient (usually more than 99%). They have a very high efficiency and can handle any flow rate of flue gas but they are expensive to install and have high operational costs due to the amount of electricity required.