Pilot Plant Reliability Metrics for Grinding and Fast Pyrolysis of Woody Residues

Daniel Carpenter, Katherine Gaston, Vicki Thompson, Neal Yancey

Research output: NRELPresentation


The reliability of biomass size reduction, feeding, and conversion processes remains a critical technical hurdle and important cost driver for biomass conversion systems. While Biorefinery projects have typically focused on scaling up conversion technologies that maximize yield of desired products, e.g. fuels and chemicals, solids handling and reactor feeding systems are often considered secondarily. These are frequently scaled down or adapted from other industries, without a full appreciation of how biomass heterogeneity and variability impact process reliability. Here we present the effects of feedstock variability on relative throughput, mass loss, plant uptime, operator intervention, product yield, and product quality for grinding and fast pyrolysis operations at the pilot scale. Loblolly pine residues were sourced and collected using commercial harvesting techniques. Grinding and pyrolysis experiments were performed at INL's Biomass Feedstock National User Facility and NREL's Thermal and Catalytic Process Development Unit, respectively. Preprocessing throughput using a hammer mill varied between 31-48% of nameplate capacity (5 tons/hr), and fast pyrolysis throughput varied between 57-72% of nameplate capacity (20 kg/hr) for an overall system throughput of 18-35% of nameplate capacity across biomass preprocessing and conversion to pyrolysis oil. Pyrolysis oil yields varied between 46-53% (feedstock carbon to oil, dry basis). Grinder overloads in the size reduction step were more prevalent for lower ash and higher moisture materials. During fast pyrolysis operations, downtime was caused by bridging in the feed and char removal systems and plugging in the condensation system, and significant variation in the type and frequency of operator intervention was observed between feedstocks. Cohesion of solids (feedstock and char) leading to system plugging appeared less problematic for higher ash feedstocks, and differences in condenser plugging behavior between high and low ash feedstocks indicates the composition and physical nature of the deposited material is important for process reliability and is feedstock dependent.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages26
StatePublished - 2019

Publication series

NamePresented at the tcbiomassplus2019, 7-9 October 2019, Rosemont, Illinois

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-5100-75328


  • biomass conversion systems
  • chemicals
  • feedstock variability
  • fuels
  • reactor feeding systems
  • solids handling


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