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Torrefaction Trailblazer

By Anna Simet | November 30, 2012

 

For the last couple of years, I’ve kept in contact with the folks at HM3 Energy Inc., an Oregon-based torrefaction company. Not just with a communications or media relations manager, but with founder and President Hiroshi Morihara himself, who is always happy to chat with me and share information about the company’s latest milestones or upcoming tests.

During the four and a half years I’ve been writing for Biomass Magazine, I’ve seen a huge amount of small U.S. torrefaction companies pop up with big plans, but eventually, most disappear without a blip, and I understand that’s mostly due to finance challenges. That hasn’t been the case with HM3, and that’s encouraging. (I will note that this is different than in Europe, which is farther along in the torrefaction arena.)

The last time I spoke with Morihara, back in August, he told me the company was gearing up to densify torrefied biomass with a 50,000 ton-per-year densification machine at its demonstration-scale facility in Troutdale, Ore. The aim was to produce hydrophobic briquettes that can withstand one hour immersion in water, and eventually 24-hour water immersion, when all adjustments are made to the pre-densification conditioning (they already accomplished this with sample briquettes at the HM3 pilot plant).

In an update I just received today, I learned the company was able to consistently produce sturdy, water-resistant briquettes, and that the 24-hour soak tests of the briquettes were successful: they proved to be hard and water resistant, just like coal.

Now, it’s onward to score financing for the company’s first commercial-scale plant. Morihara told me that engineering for a 40,000-ton plant planned for Prineville, Ore., is underway. “The plant is designed to double in capacity once it is running well,” Morihara tells me.

Although HM3 still has a ways to go before reaching the company’s ultimate goal of multiple commercial-scale plants, they’ve come a long way. “I am very proud of the accomplishments we’ve made with only seven talented engineers and chemists,” says Morihara. “Some of them were with me in the ‘80’s when we invented an inexpensive process to produce the world’s purest silicon for the semiconductor industry when we worked for Union Carbide. The original plant we build in Moses Lake, Washington, went through a $1.7 billion expansion a couple of years ago.”  

Financing for the Prineville plant is the next task at hand. “We will need $14 million initially, and additional $6 million to double the capacity,” Morihara says.  “Hopefully with this breakthrough accomplishment [achieving water resistant briquettes], we find project financing before too long.”

Wishing you good luck, Horishi, and I look forward to following HM3 for what I hope is a long time to come.