Oregon company opens torrefied briquette demo plant

By Anna Simet | October 18, 2016

An Oregon company that has been working toward commercialization of a torrefied biomass briquetting technology for several years has successfully completed a demonstration-scale plant in Troutdale, Oregon. And, the company announced, it is licensing its technology to a Japanese utility that intends to site a commercial-scale facility in the U.S.

Attended by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, who has supported the company’s work over the past few years, HM3 held a grand opening and tour of the plant on Oct. 18.  HM3 said it has demonstrated the process to potential customers, but this was the first time the company opened the plant to energy policy makers, forestry managers and others in the timber industry.

HM3 is targeting power plants as its main customer, to use the briquettes as a cleaner, drop-in replacement for coal. In one instance, HM3 tested a 50-50 coal/torrefied material blend in Western Research Institute’s small pulverized coal combustion facility, and the material performed just as coal, according to HM3, with the exception that a feed rate of about 20 percent less was needed to maintain the same furnace temperature as with coal.

As far as emissions go, according to HM3, burning its briquettes instead of coal eliminates mercury and sulfur emissions, and cuts nitrous oxide by 30 percent. And, the briquettes have a 30 percent higher energy value than raw wood pellets and are comparable to western (subbituminous) coal.

CEO Hiroshi Morihara told Biomass Magazine the company being licensed with its patented TorrB technology is New Energy Development in Tokyo. “NED has been building biomass power plants in Japan, they just finished a 15-MW biomass power plant, and currently have five 50-plus MW of biomass power plants in various stages of plant design,” Morihara said. “NED is taking advantage of [Japan’s] feed-in tariff.”

Once the first plant in Oregon is built and running by early 2018, Morihara said, NED plans to build more. “This is very good for Oregon, because we will only use forest slash as our feedstock, so we will help minimize forest fires and will employ rural people,” he said.

Earlier plans were included building a commercial-scale facility in Prineville, Oregon, but the facility did not end up qualifying for EB-5 program, which would have helped finance the plant, Morihara said.

The $4 million demonstration plant in Troutdale was constructed using commercial grade equipment, according to HM3, and can be easily scaled up for construction of commercial-sized plants in rural Oregon or anywhere a sustainable biomass supply is available.  

Initial seed money for the demonstration plant came from an international consortium of five companies led by New Energy Development Co., which has invested almost $2 million in HM3 Energy. Previous funding came from smaller stock sales and grants. “Our technology was so novel, it scared away most private investment,” Morihara said. “We couldn’t have done it without the help of all our supporters, including investors and funders such as Oregon BEST, the USDA-SBIR program, the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, and Business Oregon."

HM3 plans to continue to demonstrate its technology using numerous feedstocks, including wood from different tree species, urban wood waste from tree prunings, and agricultural residues from crops such as corn, sugar cane and coconuts.

“We are open for business and ready to demonstrate our technology on whatever biomass a customer wants to bring us,” Morihara said.