Minnesota’s Natural Resources Research Institute Replacing Coal With Wood

It seems like much of the world is plunging headlong toward renewable energy and away from fossil fuels and the carbon dioxide pollution they create. Ontario has eliminated coal-burning power plants. China is phasing out internal combustion engines for new cars, as are General Motors and Ford. On Wednesday the International Energy Agency reported solar […]

It seems like much of the world is plunging headlong toward renewable energy and away from fossil fuels and the carbon dioxide pollution they create. Ontario has eliminated coal-burning power plants. China is phasing out internal combustion engines for new cars, as are General Motors and Ford. On Wednesday the International Energy Agency reported solar energy was the fastest-growing source of new electric power in 2016, the first year solar surpassed all other new energy sources, even coal.

But Don Fosnacht, associate director of the Natural Resources Research Institute at UMD, says the reality is that it will take years, even decades before the U.S. grudgingly moves to eliminate coal and oil from its energy mix. “Until then, we need a bridge, a transition that has fewer emissions than coal but can still be used in existing technology,” Fosnacht said.

Fosnacht is leading the NRRI’s Renewable Energy Initiative team that’s developing a coal substitute made from roasted wood. On Wednesday they showed off their results at the institute’s Coleraine Research Laboratory, a sprawling 27-acre facility with mining-size buildings and hulking equipment to match.

It’s been a 10-year effort, but the NRRI has gone from the laboratory scale, to pilot-size project to demonstrate size — big enough to produce the quantities needed to test at power plants and other customers who are looking to move away from coal.

It’s called torrefaction, where woody biomass — tree tops, limbs and other parts that aren’t used to make paper or lumber — is slow-roasted in a kiln at 550 degrees, ground to a powder and then pressed into briquettes that look a lot like charcoal for backyard grills.

From the Duluth News Tribune: http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/news/4338543-nrri-roasting-wood-replace-coal

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