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Fluidized Bed Reactor

Biomass fuels are processed in an atmospheric bubbling fluidized bed reactor.


Because fluidized beds can handle a variety of feedstocks, they are well suited for
this application. The reactor is 46 cm (18 inches) in diameter and measures 2.44 m
(8 feet) tall. The
reactor is split into two sections: a bed section and a freeboard section. Both
sections are
constructed of mild steel. Numerous access ports that allow for temperature and
pressure monitoring, fuel delivery, and ignition penetrate the reaction vessel. The
freeboard section has a view port. Both sections of the reactor are lined with a
one- inch-thick refractory liner that protects the steel and insulates against heat
loss.

The bed is fluidized with either air provided by a regenerative blower or house
steam from the university physical plant. The air flow rate during gasification is
2.85 Nm3 /min (100 scfm) corresponding to a superficial velocity of 0.95 m/s (3.1
ft/s) at a bed temperature of 700 ° C (1300 ° F). Purge air is also supplied at the
head of the injection auger to prevent backflow of process gases. The primary
fluidization gas enters the bottom of the reactor in the plenum and then flows
through a drilled-hole distributor plate. The distributor plate consists of 225 one-
eighth- inch holes spaced at one- inch
intervals. The fluidization media consists of silica sand and limestone. A
nominal bed depth of 60 cm (24 inches) is used. The limestone helps prevent
bed agglomeration and reduce tar emissions.

The bed is heated to normal operating temperatures by natural gas combustion in


the reactor. A pilot light ignites the air/gas mixture in the reactor. After the
reactor is heated to reaction temperatures, solid fuel can be processed. The
particulate-laden exhaust stream exits the reactor through the freeboard and
passes through a series of cyclones. The cyclones are designed to remove 50% of
particles 7.5 m m in diameter or larger. Upon leaving the final cyclone, the
combustible gas is ignited by a spark electrode in a diffusion flare.
Figure 1. Schematic of the Fluidized Bed Gasifier and Switchgrass Feed System.
Data Acquisition and Control System

Several important process variables are monitored and controlled during


gasification trials. An IBM PC compatible computer equipped with a National
Instruments data acquisition system manages the process. LabVIEW software was
used to program the system. Thermocouples monitor the bed temperature, flue gas
temperatures, and other system temperatures. Pressure taps along the side of the
reactor allow the fluidization conditions of the bed to be monitored. Pressure
differential and fluctuations in the fluidized bed can be used as diagnostic tools.
The program also controls variable speed drives hooked to the blower and
metering auger, a steam flow control valve, and the pilot light safety control loop.
In addition to monitoring and control, the system also records data at specified
time intervals.

Gas Analysis System

Producer gas composition is determined by gas chromatography and a Fourier


transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy. Tar, moisture, and particulates are
removed from the flow before the gas passes through these analytical
instruments. Tar and moisture content are determined by extractive sampling
through a cold trap.
Material Preparation and Feeding

The conundrum of switchgrass, as well as many other types of fuel, is feeding the
material into the reactor. The fluidized bed reactor operates with forced-draft air,
which results in a slight positive pressure at the bottom of the bed where the fuel is
injected. The pressure at the injection point is typically 40-50 inches of water
column. Although this pressure is relatively small, it is large enough to induce a
strong backflow of hot gases through the feed system.

Several methods of handling and injection were tried to overcome this problem.
Injection augers operating at different speeds, various types of airlocks, and a plug
at the inlet of the reactor were all tested, but none completely eliminated the
backflow of hot gases. Figure 2 is a schematic of the plug maker feed system.
Initial trials revealed an
insufficiently tight plug to prevent producer gas backflow. Tightening the plug
resulted in high power requirements. Although this method showed promise, this
approach was ultimately abandoned in favor of a standard auger operating with
finely chopped switchgrass.

Figure 2. Schematic of Plug Maker for Switchgrass Injection.

Careful attention to feedstock preparation is essential to successful feeding of


fibrous materials. The original approach employed minimal preparation. This
involved shredding the switchgrass bales in a tub grinder. The result was varying
lengths of switchgrass from less than 0.5 cm to as long as 20 cm. Ultimately this
resulted in difficult to feed material that bunched easily and hung up in the system,
especially when processing switchgrass of
high moisture content. A more successful approach processed the switchgrass
with a hammer mill. The hammer mill available for this research is mounted in
a farm-scale portable mixer-grinder. A 2.5 cm (one- inch) screen resulted in
95% of the switchgrass having a length less than 2.5 cm. The resulting bulk
density of the product was 96-128 kg/m3 (6-8 lb/ft3 ).

The switchgrass available for this research was bailed in the late summer of 1996.
At that time the moisture content was ~24%. Hay bales do not store well at such
high moisture content. In many cases the bales had a wet inner core with some of
the grass slightly fermented. Mold was very evident in the bales as they were
being processed. Even
though the bales were covered, long-term outdoor storage resulted in an average
moisture
content of 30-35%. Proximate and ultimate analyses of this switchgrass is given in

The material handling system used in the tests discussed below consists of a
metering hopper, a rotary airlock, an injection screw, and an exhaust fan. Previous
efforts for feeding switchgrass had been total elimination of producer gas
backflow. However, to facilitate switchgrass gasification testing, that constraint
has been abandoned by using an exhaust fan to collect producer gas which flows
back through the system. Figure 3 is a schematic of the metering hopper. The
metering hopper measures 1.82 m (six feet) in length with 0.61 m (two feet) side
walls. Three of the walls are vertical while the fourth wall is slightly angled to
ease loading of the feeder. Two, 22.9 cm (9 inch) diameter counter rotating
screws feed material at a variable rate into a rotary air-lock. The hopper works
reasonably well but requires almost constant supervision to ensure a uniform feed.
Experience suggests that smaller diameter screws would provide better
performance for the hopper.

The airlock is constructed of steel vanes with rubber wiping strips. The injection
auger is stainless steel and currently rotates at 30 rpm. Rotational speeds greater
than 100 rpm are recommended to minimize fuel residence time in the auger.
However, this injection auger is the same auger used in the plug injection system
which required a slower auger speed. To date, a new high-speed drive system has
not been acquired. A new high speed drive
would facilitate fuel injection and minimize fuel reactions in the injection auger.
Because the fuel does begin reacting in the injection auger, an exhaust fan serves
to collect the smoke and other gases which leak back through the system. A large
quantity of make- up air is injected below the airlock to minimize the amount of
producer gas flowing back through the system.

Figure 3. Schematic of live-bottom feed hopper.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Producer gas composition from one of the switchgrass gasification tests is shown in
Table 2. Tar and moisture content data were not taken during this test.
Approximately
550 kg (1200 lb) of switchgrass were prepared for this test. The reactor was
operated with an air injection rate of ~ 3.12 Nm3 /min (110 scfm). Approximately
205 kg/hr (450 lb/hr) of fuel was injected to achieve an equivalence ratio of 0.28.
The high moisture content of the fuel resulted in non-uniform feeding of the
switchgrass into the reactor. Therefore,
slugs of material would be injected in a short time period resulting in a large gas
production. This uneven gasification resulted in varying gas composition and
high char carry over from the bed.

Gas analysis was determined using a gas chromatograph (GC) and a Fourier
transform infrared spectrometer (FTIR). The GC is calibrated for nitrogen,
hydrogen, carbon monoxide, methane, and carbon dioxide while the FTIR is
calibrated for carbon monoxide, methane, carbon dioxide, and ethylene. The
FTIR is able to detect acetylene and ethane but it has not yet been calibrated for
these gases. It is unable to detect nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen because these
gases are optically inactive. The gas is reported on a dry, tar-free basis.
The higher heating value of the producer gas varied between 4.2-5.9 MJ/Nm3
(114-160
Btu/scf) with an average value of 5.2 MJ/Nm3 (141 Btu/scf). The
carbon conversion for this test is estimated to be 85%. This was
determined by doing a rough mass balance on
the system. Approximately 540 kg (1200 lb) of switchgrass was fed which on a
dry basis
is about 380 kg (840 lb assuming 30% moisture). Switchgrass is approximately
47%
carbon (by ultimate analysis) equating to a carbon input to the system of
approximately
180 kg (400 lb).
OVERVIEW
Fluidized bed gasification has been successfully used to convert prepared wastes (i.e.
wood wastes, bark, agricultural wastes, and RDF) into a clean fuel gas that can be used
to fire various types of industrial equipment. Past applications have included
gasification of wastes to provide gas for dryers previously fired on natural gas.
Fluidized bed gasifiers also have applications in the lumber and plywood industries
where they can be used to fire small boilers and direct fired dryers and kilns that are
currently fired on expensive natural gas or oil.
Advantages include:

Reduced cost of boiler or dryer/kiln operation by using wood and or bark


wastes rather than gas or oil.
Reduced cost for additional steaming capacity compared to new wood and
or bark fired boilers.
Reduced dependency on external fuel sources for propane, natural gas and oil.

FLUIDIZED BED TECHNOLOGY

To understand a fluidized bed, refer to figure 1, and imagine a container filled with fine
sand having a porous bottom. If air is forced through the bottom, it seeps through the
sand as shown in figure 1-A. If the airflow is increased a point is reached where the
sand particles separate to let the air through, and bubbles form which mix and churn the
sand. The sand bed takes on a fluid-like character, and the bed is violently mixed and
agitated. This is a fluidized bed.
FLUIDIZED BED GASIFICATION

In fluidized bed gasification, the sand bed is preheated to a temperature of 1000oF.


Solid or liquid waste are injected into the bed, and when they are mixed with the hot
sand, the wastes are quickly decomposed into a combustible gas. The flow of air is
controlled so that only about 25% of the incoming wastes are "burned" in the bed to
raise and maintain the temperature at 1500oF. The remaining material is decomposed
into gas. Once the bed is preheated, no more fossil fuels are needed. The wastes supply
all required heat. The process is shown in figure 2.
The fluidized bed system is made in such a way that the ash particles are carried out of
the bed with the gas stream. This ash is then removed from the gas stream by a special
ash removal system.
The hot cleaned gas is then directed to a special burner that can burn the hot gas while
producing low emissions. Any gravel or stones in the incoming fuel can be removed by
periodically extracting some of the sand from the bottom of the bed while it is operating,
screening to separate stones from the sand, and then reinjecting the sand into the bed.
Because the primary product of the process is a gaseous fuel and not simply heat, the
process is called "fluidized bed gasification".
BENEFITS OF FLUIDIZED BED GASIFICATION
The fluidized bed gasification process offers several substantial benefits compared
to simple burning processes, and other forms of gasification.

Highly Efficient
The overall thermal efficiency of fluid bed gasifiers is typically in the range of
75% to over 90%, depending on the ash and moisture content of the fuel.

Tolerates Many Feedstock


Unlike some burners (such as suspension burners) or old style fixed bed gasifiers, the
fluid bed gasifiers can operate satisfactorily with highly variable feed materials ranging
from coal, shredded wood and bark to sawdust fines, or lump wood with particle sizes
of less than 1 1/2 - 2 inches. In contrast, other types of gasifiers or burners require
either dry pellets, nuggets of clean wood, or uniformly dry sanderdust. Thus the
various types of fuels generally available around lumber mills can be used in fluid bed
gasifiers with good results.

Highly Reliable
The fluid bed gasifier does not have moving grates or other moving parts in the high
temperature regions of the bed. Where there are moving parts, heavy duty industrial
components proven in lumber and pulp mill operations are used. Reliability is thus
high.

Compact
The size of energy conversion systems is generally dictated by their air flow. Because
fluid bed gasifiers use comparatively small amounts of air, the equipment is
comparatively small and compact. This permits systems to be completely shop
fabricated and assembled on skids thereby reducing purchase price and installed costs.

Flexible Operations
Because the process produces a fuel gas rather than just quantities of heat, it can be
easily applied to a variety of industrial processes including boilers, dry kilns, veneer
dryers, or several pieces of equipment at once.

Low Emissions
Operation with wood/bark fuels results in very low emissions, including low NOx,
carbon monoxide, and particulate emissions. No "tail end" exhaust cleanup devices are
required
EPI fluidized bed gasifiers convert biomass waste products into a combustible gas that
can be fired in a boiler, kiln or other energy load. EPI produced the first wood fired
fluidized bed gasifier power plant in the US and we continue to provide innovative
gasifier solutions to unique industry applications. We are currently introducing the
gasifier approach as an add-on to utility coal fired power plants to provide a means to
convert a portion of the fuel supply to clean, renewable biomass fuel.
Background
In a fluidized bed gasifier, the bed material
can either be sand or char, or some
combination. The fluidizing medium is
usually air; however, oxygen and/or steam are
also used. The fuel is fed into the system
either above-bed or directly into the bed,
depending upon the size and density of the
fuel and how it is affected by the bed
velocities. During normal operation, the bed
media is maintained at a temperature between
1000EF and 1800EF. When a fuel particle is
introduced into this environment, its drying
and pyrolyzing reactions proceed rapidly,
driving off all gaseous portions of the fuel at
relatively low temperatures. The remaining char is oxidized within the bed to provide the
heat source for the drying and de-volatilizing reactions to continue. In those systems
using inert bed material, the wood particles are subjected to an intense abrasion action
from fluidized sand. This etching action tends to remove any surface deposits (ash, char,
etc.) from the particle and expose a clean reaction surface to the surrounding gases. As a
result, the residence time of a particle in this system is on the order of only a few minutes,
as opposed to hours in other types of gasifiers.
The large thermal capacity of inert bed material plus the intense mixing associated with
the fluid bed enable this system to handle a much greater quantity and, normally, a much
lower quality of fuel. Experience with EPI's fluidized bed gasifier has indicated the
ability to utilize fuels with up to 55 percent moisture and high ash contents, in excess of
25 percent. Because the operating temperatures are lower in a fluid bed than other
gasifiers the potential for slagging and ash fusion at high temperatures is reduced, thereby
increasing the ability to utilize high slagging fuels.
Energy densities in a fluid bed gasifier are dependent on the fuel characteristics and have
been reported as high as four million BTU/hour/ft.2 Normally, the dryer the fuel the
higher the energy density and the better the quality of low Btu gas produced. The reasons
for this fuel dependence will be better understood from the discussion of the gasification
process within the fluidized bed.
Gasification Principle
In principle, gasification is the thermal decomposition of organic matter in an oxygen
deficient atmosphere producing a gas composition containing combustible gases, liquids
and tars, charcoal, and air, or inert fluidizing gases. Typically, the term "gasification"
refers to the production of gaseous components, whereas pyrolysis, or pyrolization, is
used to describe the production of liquid residues and charcoal. The latter, normally,
occurs in the total absence of oxygen, while most gasification reactions take place in an
oxygen-starved environment.
In a gasifier, the wood particle is exposed to high temperatures generated from the partial
oxidation of the carbon, primarily. As the particle is heated, the moisture is driven off.
This could range from below 10 percent to over 50 percent of the incoming fuel weight.
Further heating of the particle begins to drive off the volatile gases. For wood, this
volatile content could be as much as 75 to 80 percent of the total dry weight. Discharge of
these volatiles will generate a wide spectrum of hydrocarbons ranging from CO and
methane to long-chain hydrocarbons comprising tars, creosotes and heavy oils. After
about 900EF, the wood particle is reduced to ash and char. In most of the early
gasification processes, this was the desired by-product. In gas generation, however, the
char provides the necessary energy to effect the heating and drying previously cited.
Typically, the char is contacted with air or oxygen and steam to generate CO and CO2
and heat.
The quality of gas generated in a system is influenced by fuel characteristics, gasifier
configuration, and the amount of air, oxygen or steam introduced. The output and quality
of the gas produced is determined by the equilibrium established when the heat of
oxidation (combustion) balances the heat of vaporization and volatilization plus the
sensible heat (temperature rise) of the exhaust gases. The quality of the outlet gas
(BTU/ft.3) is determined by the amount of volatile gases (H2, CO, CH4, C2, etc.) in the flue
gas stream. Considering the system equilibrium, it can easily be seen how the moisture
content of the fuel can impact the gas quality. With the heat released by the char a fixed
quantity (assuming a constant air flow), the more moisture in the fuel, the more heat
consumed by evaporation. Less energy remains to for volatilization and sensible heat, so
the fuel rate must be decreased. Consequently, less volatiles are produced and the
combustible gas quality and quantity is reduced. As the system output increases, the
operating temperature is reduced. This is explained by the fact that, again for a fixed heat
(of oxidation) release due to the constant air flow, the more fuel fed into the system,
either wet or dry, the more energy is required for both volatilization and evaporation, and
the less energy available to raise system temperatures via sensible heat increases. In
effect, the latent heat fraction increases at the expense of the sensible heat. The result of
this is that as more volatilization occurs, the combustible content of the outlet gas is
increased and the overall heat content is improved. Thus, the highest gas quality occurs at
the lowest temperatures; however, when the temperatures drop too low, the char
oxidation reaction is suppressed and the overall heat release diminishes. Essentially, the
"lights" go out! Optimum gas yields are obtained at operating temperatures around
1100EF to 1200EF. Higher gas heat contents (BTU/ft.3) can be obtained at lower system
temperatures; however, the overall yield of fuel-to-gas is reduced by the unburned char
fraction.
With this basic understanding of fluidization and gasification processes, it is possible to
better understand the combined processes within a fluidized bed gasification system. The
first design consideration is fluidizing velocity to the bed. This is determined by the size
of the bed media used and establishes the air flow into the system. Upper air flowrates are
limited by the entrainment velocities of the bed particles. Lower flowrates are determined
by the minimum fluidizing velocities at which acceptable mixing occurs. These boundary
conditions typically limit the fluidizing air flow to a 2-to-1 operating range.
With a given fuel quality (moisture content and heat value), the output of the gasifier can
be modulated to a 3-to-1 turndown ratio. At maximum output both the fuel feedrate and
the air flowrate are at maximum. The gasifier operates around 1100EF to 1200EF. As
fuel is reduced, the output is reduced and the system temperature increases (constant air
flow). To compensate, air flow is reduced, thereby reducing total energy release from the
oxidation of the carbon, dropping the temperatures back to the 1200EF range. This
ratcheting effect can continue until the air flow has been reduced to the minimum
velocities. Further turndown beyond that point allows for reduction in the fuel feed only
with a corresponding increase in operating temperatures once again. Theoretically, this
temperature could increase to the adiabatic flame temperature of the fuel, often as high as
3000EF. Other operating constraints become limiting, such as ash slagging temperatures
below 2000EF, materials of construction, i.e., ducting, dampers, below 1800 EF, etc.
Additional output modulation can be achieved by regulating the moisture content of the
fuel. The wetter the fuel, the greater the fraction of available system heat required for
evaporation. Thus, for a constant air flowrate, wetter fuel results in a lower energy output
of the same sized unit. For comparison, the typical output of a gasifier on ten percent
moisture fuel would approach 2.5 M BTU/hour per unit area of bed. With 45 percent
moisture fuel, the output would be 1.3 M BTU/hour, or roughly half of the dryer fuel
capacity. The outlet gas quality drops from over 175 BTU/ft.3 to around 100 BTU/ft.3. By
adjusting the moisture of the inlet fuel, the output of the unit can be controlled from a
dry-fuel maximum of 2.5 M Btu/hr/ft2 to a wet fuel minimum of only .45 M BTU/hr.-ft.2
thereby creating an operating range of almost six to one.
With air-supplied systems, the outlet gas heat content is on the order of 100 to 200 BTU
per standard cubic foot and is typically called low-Btu gas, or LBG. It is comprised of
hydrogen, methane, carbon monoxide and dioxide, and nitrogen. With the high dilution
from the nitrogen introduced with the air, the optimum LBG quality is only around 200-
250 Btu/scf. In some instances, use of another medium to replace some of the fluidizing
air could increase gas quality and expand the operating window. Steam, for instance,
would provide added potential to support methane production from carbon dioxide
( water-gas shift reaction) and would be more readily removed from the output gases by
cooling and condensing, thereby increasing the potential gas heat value. In some
instances, the increased fuel gas quality will justify the use of steam in the process. In
most instances, an air blown system can be simpler and more efficient to use.
Application
In general, it is probably acceptable to say that gasification systems could be used in
nearly every application in which natural gas, oil, or pulverized coal are currently being
used. Low BTU gases can be used to fire cement or lime kilns, rotary dryers, wood
veneer dryers or dry kilns, air heaters, steam boilers, and turbine or diesel generator sets.
Possibly, the simplest application for a fluidized bed gasifier is to fire or co-fire an
existing steam boiler. This presents the most likely opportunity where the steam demand
is located adjacent to a fuel source. In food processing, wood processing, textiles, paper,
and numerous other industries, a boiler system is already in operation which could be
retrofitted to LBG produced from fuels generated by the plant wastes or from external
supply. In the utility industry, numerous pulverized coal (PC) fired power boilers
represent serious opportunities for co-firing with alternate fuels via gasification.
In a PC boiler, the coal burners release the combustion energy in the form of intense
flame zones directly in the furnace. The design of the furnace utilizes the concentrated
heat release to generate most of the steam production within the water-wall surfaces of
the furnace. Much the same holds true for oil and gas fired boilers, also. Once out of the
furnace, the high temperature exhaust gases continue to generate steam and superheat
through the remaining boiler sections. In considering the replacement of the coal by an
alternate fuel, the production capacity and steam superheat conditions of the boiler, both
critical elements for the optimum plant performance, are intimately determined by the
burner heat release rates and temperature profile. To maintain output conditions, any
replacement of coal capacity must be accomplished by a suitable fuel which will burn in
suspension within the furnace and at the burner levels established by the coal. In some
instances, this can be accomplished by introducing some portion of the alternate fuel
directly into the coal feed system, ahead of the pulverizers, and displace some of the coal
feed directly into the burner unit. While this concept represents the simplest, lowest cost
approach to this type of retrofit, it is restricted by the ability of the existing coal handling
and pulverizer units to handle very high fractions of alternate fuels. For 5-10 percent co-
firing rates, and possibly up to 20 percent in some specific instances, this approach is
possible and is currently in operation. It does have limitations to the fuel characteristics,
their wear potential or plugging impact on the pulverizers, and the effective quality of the
fuel, per pound and per cubic foot, as compared to the coal. In addition, it may require
modifications to some parts of the coal firing system which pre-empt the reversal of
operation back to 100 percent coal firing, if the need or desire should arise.
A fluidized bed gasification system approach to a boiler retrofit has the specific
advantages of maintaining total independence of the coal handling and processing
equipment from the storage system all the way into the boiler furnace, or the burners. Not
only does this maintain complete capacity for 100 percent coal firing as a future option, it
also provides additional reliability and redundancy to the overall firing system by
providing a totally independent system of fuel delivery into the furnace. In addition, the
fluid bed gasifier can use a variety of fuels having a range in size up to four inches,
moisture contents as high as fifty percent and high in ash content. Having the gasification
step prior to delivering the fuel into the boiler, most of the fuel variations are eliminated,
and the boiler sees a constant and fairly uniform energy supply as LBG.
In order to better understand the potential impact on the boiler when displacing a portion
of the coal with LBG from an alternate fuel source, a comparison of the two fuels is
helpful. From the accompanying table, it can be seen that the energy value for the coal is
double that of the wood, Btu per pound; however, by the time the fuel (or fuel generated
LBG) is converted to combustion by-products at 20 percent excess air, the wood fuel at
25 percent moisture, represents a higher value energy (note: adiabatic, or theoretical
temperature) than does the coal. This is due to the fact that the wood requires less
combustion air than the coal per equivalent energy unit because of the increased amount
of oxygen already present within the wood. As a result, the combustion gases produced
per unit of energy are actually lower for wood than coal, and the output of energy per unit
is greater. It should be noted that this does not hold true for the wood at moisture levels
around 45 percent. At these higher moisture levels, the wood energy value is below that
of coal and a negative impact on the boiler would be possible.