© (Photo TC Media - Sébastien Lacroix) Sylvain Bertrand, CEO of Airex Energy.
BÉCANCOUR. A few weeks ago, Airex Energy began the start-up phase of a first unit in its biocoal plant in Bécancour.
Thanks to an investment of $6.5 million, a whole system of silos, a grinder, drying units and conveyors leading to a high tech reactor has been installed in a former heavy water pool in the LaPrade industrial park.
Until early spring, a team of five will be conducting tests to solve various mechanical and sequential problems, a standard procedure for any new factory and that includes several technical challenges.
Once the equipment is well tested, the production unit will be ready to produce two tonnes an hour. Biocoal pellets, biochar and torrefied wood flour that have promising applications will be produced from biomass.
Currently, the primary material used by Airex Energy comes essentially from sawmill residues or recycled wood shavings, but other sources of supply are possible.
The company has also conducted tests to work with compost that has no commercial value, for example from municipalities’ residual matter.
Agricultural residue from the production of corn, sugar cane or palm oil could also be used as primary material. “We’re able to use any organic matter in the process,” he emphasizes.
Airex also plans to produce activated coal that can be used to filter impurities, for example in the treatment of municipal waters or mining effluent. However, this would require additional equipment that is not installed at Bécancour.
An Emerging Product
“The goal is to produce 15,000 tonnes of biocoal per year, which would require a supply of up to 40,000 tonnes of biomass per year depending on the level of humidity,” points out the CEO, Sylvain Bertrand, who would like to move to other phases of expansion on the LaPrade park site.
As it is an emerging product, since there was almost no industrial production up until now, the challenge will be to commercialize. “It’s the chicken and the egg. Industries don’t develop products for which there’s no supply,” adds the CEO.
“Just to test biocoal, a coal-fired power plant in the United States needed 8,000 tonnes. That’s half our annual production,” he continues. “We will never manage to replace all coal because there won’t be enough biomass in the world. The goal is to replace 3 to 5%.”
Various partners from the industry and the academic world are in fact very interested in the work at Bécancour. Some ten research and development projects are underway for a total of $2.4 million.
A Unique Technology
The Bécancour plant is the only one of its type in Canada, while there are three or four others in the world.
However, the CarbonFX technology developed by Airex Energy is unique, which could prove to be a strong advantage for the company.
Thanks to a patented innovation, the company is able to considerably reduce the time needed for the critical phase of the process—the torrefaction—thanks to the design of its reactor.
By injecting gases into the reactor, the particles only spend three seconds in the reactor, 600 times shorter than the competition, whose rotating oven process requires thirty minutes for torrefaction.
Airex’s equipment is also much smaller, does not require a biomass boiler to produce heat, and includes an integrated pre-drying system.
Its selling price thus gives it an advantage over competitors when it comes time to market the technology, a niche the company plans on developing to continue its growth.
What is it for?
Fuel to replace coal in coal-fired power plants and thus reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or to produce energy for cement plants.
To increase soil fertility or restore contaminated soils.
For plastic composites, in the automobile industry, while biocoke can be used to replace coke in some metallurgical processes.
Source : Sébastien Lacroix, Le Courrier Sud. «Du biocharbon à partir de biomasse», TC Media, Le Courrier Sud, Section: Actualités > Économie - Publié le 11 frévrier 2016