ND inventor reports heightened interest in BIONRG biocoal

By Sue Retka Schill | June 18, 2014

With the newly announced administration goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the U.S. power industry, Norman Miller said his email inbox is full and the phone ringing off the hook. Based in Mapleton, N.D., the entrepreneur calls himself the father of biocoal, explaining he has worked on the product, along with other inventions, for 21 years. He has formed seven companies, he explained. “I wanted to create a manufacturing mall with the same management team running all the companies.” Among those are BIONRG Inc., the biocoal company, Inventus LLC, the research and development arm, and Macro Fab LLC, the machine company building the equipment.

Among his inventions is the Tri-Pack machine that combines coal and biomass with a proprietary additive into a biocoal that can be left as a powder or densified. “We don’t do bricks, because they will bridge,” he added. The favored shaped is a five-eighth inch cube.

Miller has identified and used 31 different sources of biomass. “The feedstock is opportunity biomass,” he said, “anything that makes sense to use.”  Among those are mesquite, miscanthus, peat moss, sawdust, various straws and corn stover, as well as plastics. “We aren’t a big fan of plastic, but we can use them,” he added. While areas in the Midwest have abundant supplies of biomass, he said, as one moves southwest across the U.S., biomass is less plentiful, and thus the approach to combine coal with biomass.

The biocoal is comprised of 72 percent coal, 22 percent biomass, with the rest being a “super sauce,” which Miller describes as all natural and environmentally friendly, making a clean biocoal that reduces emissions to below the new 2030 goals. According to Miller, test burns have shown the average energy content of 10,000 Btu coal is boosted to 16,000 Btu in the BIONRG process.

Miller has come tantalizingly close to seeing his inventions commercialized in an Alabama project, he said, which ended up being stalled due to politics. BIONRG is now in discussions with a large conglomerate, he reported, that if successful, will bring an influx of capital and help commercialize the process. In the meantime, his companies are also developing equipment scaled to manufacture biocoal for farmers to use in grain drying operations.