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EU project to develop biomass-powered cogeneration engine

© Chinh Le Duc
© Chinh Le Duc

A new research project led by the European Union (EU) has been launched to design a new small-scale cogeneration engine powered by biomass, which will produce heat and electricity.

Known as SmartCHP, the project is a collaboration between ten partners, including European industrial companies, universities and innovation experts. It will be coordinated by BTG Biomass Technology Group.

“Currently, the vast majority of cogeneration plants use natural gas and fossil fuels as their primary source,” said Bert van de Beld, chief technology officer at BTG. “The SmartCHP system will provide a small-scale solution for hospitals, universities, municipal buildings and countless industrial users that would like to use an efficient alternative to fossil sources.

“With a market potential of €4 billion, and an estimated 85% to 95% less greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuels, the installation of the SmartCHP technology in Europe can bring new jobs, more renewables and mitigate climate change.”

The project partners plan to use fast pyrolysis bio-oil from woody and non-woody biomass in a converted diesel engine, which has been selected for a high electrical efficiency of over 40%.

Fast pyrolysis has the advantage of being able to convert different biomass into clean and uniform bio-oil, which is easy to store and use for bioenergy.

With high flexibility, the engine will be able to operate with different loads and produce more electricity or heat, as demand changes. This is possible due to the integration of a boiler, as well as the use of bio-oil instead of solid biomass.

The SmartCHP system will be hybrid, enabling it to be integrated with other renewables including wind and solar.

A key challenge to be addressed by the project is that pyrolysis bio-oil is thicker and more corrosive than diesel, contains more water and is therefore more difficult to ignite.

The project partners will work on modifying the engine and its ignition system to address this problem. At the end of the project, they plan to build a demonstration cogeneration unit able to run continuously for up to 500 hours in realistic conditions.

© Chinh Le Duc