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NYSERDA Funds ESF Effort to Boost Energy Value of Wood Chips

Researchers study effectiveness of using flue gas to dry chips

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A research team at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) has received a $150,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to study the use of flue gas - essentially a waste material - to dry wood chips to improve their efficiency as a heat source.

The funding will support the fabrication of a system that can test the effectiveness of flue gas in drying chips and model its potential success as an energy-saving way of making wood chips more effective at producing heat.

"Woods chips, when they come out of the woods, are 40 percent to 50 percent water; there's almost as much water as wood," said Dr. Thomas A. Amidon, the principal investigator on the project. "And, if you burn them like that, a lot of heat is used up just boiling the water."

Wood chips that have been treated with an ESF-developed water-extraction process dry easier and stay dry better but their initial water content is higher, at 50 percent to 65 percent, making flue gas drying even more important.

Drying wood chips increases their thermal properties, improves combustion efficiency, reduces emissions, and makes the chips easier to store and transport.

Amidon said the flue-gas technique could benefit small businesses and schools in rural areas, such as the Adirondacks, where NYSERDA has already helped fund wood-burning facilities.

The ESF team will now set out to prove the technique works and model its efficiency. Amidon is working with machinist Bob Kelly who is constructing a unit designed by Sergiy Lavrykov, a research associate in ESF's Department of Paper and Bioprocess Engineering.

"Bob Kelly will fabricate Sergei's design to create heat to simulate flue gas," Amidon said. "To be scientifically accurate, we have to be able to reproduce it, so it will be controlled. Once Sergei models it, we'll know how it works using a natural-gas burner or wood-chip burner or an oil-fired burner. They're all different. We can model them all and tell you if this process would work for you, how long it would take, and how many tons per day you could work with."

The testing is expected to begin this spring in Walters Hall on the ESF campus.

The funding to ESF was included in $3 million that was awarded across the state to 18 research institutions, technology developers and biomass-fuel businesses to encourage the growth of high-efficiency, low-emission wood-fired heating equipment.

These projects support the governor's Renewable Heat NY program, which looks to encourage the expansion of the high-performance biomass heating market and raise consumer awareness, support the development of advanced technology heating products, develop local sustainable heating markets and encourage the use of this renewable fuel.

The funding is awarded through NYSERDA's Energy and Environmental Performance of Biomass-fired Heating Equipment program, which encourages the entry of high-efficiency biomass technologies into the marketplace. Projects will also evaluate real-world conditions of biomass-fired heating systems, expand the bulk wood-pellet delivery market and assess the health risks of wood smoke in rural valley communities.