Pilot-Scale CFP Commissioning: Creative Problem Solving and Lessons Learned

Katherine Gaston, David Robichaud

Research output: NRELPresentation


We have commissioned a pilot-scale, ex-situ catalytic fast pyrolysis (CFP) reactor system in the Thermal and Catalytic Process Development Unit (TCPDU) at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The FCC-style CFP system, including a riser and continuous regeneration, was added to the existing half-ton-per-day biomass fast pyrolysis unit and was designed to run a zeolite-type catalyst. The system is unique due to its scale and catalyst flow control scheme. As the design of this system was informed by early data from a bench-scale reactor, several technical scale-up challenges had to be overcome. Additionally, physical constraints and the complexities of biomass vapors required and inspired creative solutions. This talk will discuss the specific challenges we found and addressed, including an oxygen deficiency in the regenerator and plugging in the exit streams. We explored several options for increasing oxygen availability and selected a cyclone-catalyst return design on the exit line so we could increase air flow through the regenerator. We found that hot gas filtration is essential in any exit streams containing water vapor and trace amounts of catalyst; any combination of catalyst and condensate quickly makes mud that plugs equipment and severely limits run time. Duplicate filters are also required to extend run time. Most of the equipment and solutions were designed and installed by our team of engineers and technicians, working closely together in an iterative process to design, install, operate, then redesign. Collaborations with other national laboratories with computational fluid dynamics expertise helped inform designs and identify creative solutions to these scale-up challenges. Ultimately, data from the reactor system will be used to validate a comprehensive kinetic model of CFP that can be used to better design and inform new systems at various scales.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages25
StatePublished - 2019

Publication series

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

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-5100-75187


  • biomass
  • circulating fluidized bed
  • ex-situ catalytic fast pyrolysis
  • fast pyrolysis
  • vapor-phase upgrading
  • zeolite


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