Skip to content

SERC Completes Instrumentation of RFT Torrefier

November 12, 2013

SERC Fall Newsletter update

From the Fall 2013 Newsletter

Marc Marshall  (SERC)

In September, Greg Chapman and I made our second trip to Renewable Fuel Technologies (RFT) to continue work on measuring the energy and mass balances of RFT’s pilot-scale torrefier. The one-ton-per-day torrefier produces a charcoal-like product called bio-coal from wood waste by heating biomass to 300°C in the absence of air. The bio-coal can then be co-fired in a power plant with standard fuels such as coal or wood chips to generate renewable electricity. SERC’s measurements of the device will aid in designing the torrefier for mobile, stand-alone operation and optimizing the technology for commercial use in converting timber waste into very low carbon renewable energy. This work is funded by the California Energy Commission.


SERC and RFT team up on CEC funded Research Grant

July 15, 2013

Source: SERC Energy News volume 8 number 2 

A $95,000 California Energy Commission (CEC) grant enables SERC, in partnership with Renewable Fuel Technologies (RFT) of San Mateo, to continue experiments aimed at converting slash from logging and fuel reduction efforts into energy dense bio-coal. RFT has developed a pilot-scale, one ton per day torrefier which produces bio-coal from timber waste by heating biomass to 300°C in the absence of air. Bio-coal can be co-fired in a power plant with standard fuels such as coal or wood chips to generate renewable electricity.

This new project involves measuring the energy and mass balances in RFT’s pilot-scale unit.

USDA and RFT establish Cooperative Research and Development Agreement

February 18, 2012

Scientists Study Conversion of Raw Materials into Biocoal

By Marcia Wood

February 6, 2012

Link to USDA ARS original posting: Click Here

When grapes are crushed to make wine, or olives pressed to make olive oil, tons of natural leftovers—grape skins and broken olive pits, for instance—remain for the wineries and olive mills to deal with. Today, these leftovers are typically sold for compost or as an ingredient for livestock feed.

But chemist Bor-Sen Chiou and colleagues at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif., along with coinvestigators at Renewable Fuel Technologies in San Mateo, Calif., envision converting these natural byproducts into pellets of biocoal, a fuel.

Other raw materials targeted as possible biocoal candidates include the peels that accumulate when tomatoes are turned into catsup, juice or tomato paste, and the mountains of shells and hulls created when walnuts and almonds are processed.

Biocoal from agricultural residues, as well as leftovers from logging of forests, for example, has the potential to become an economical, sustainable, environmentally friendly energy source that might prove suitable for fueling coal-fired energy plants, according to Chiou.

Under the terms of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, Chiou and collaborators at the San Mateo firm plan to determine the cost-effectiveness and energy values of biocoal produced in a mobile processing unit that the company is developing. In a process known as torrefaction (from the French word for “roasting”), crop leftovers placed inside the portable unit would be heated to 500 to 572 degrees Fahrenheit in the absence of oxygen. The light, dry, torrified material would then be ground and pressed into water-repellent pellets that are easy to ship and store.

Neither torrefaction nor biocoal is new, but the agricultural and forestry uses that the scientists are investigating have not yet been widely commercialized in the United States, according to Chiou.

ARS is the chief intramural scientific research agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Chiou’s biocoal studies are one example of ARS research nationwide that supports the USDA priority of developing new sources of bioenergy.

Torrefaction continues at SERC; and a visit with CSU Chancellor

October 3, 2011

Torrefaction Continues at SERC Andrea Alstone  SERC Energy News (Fall 2011 Vol 6, #3)

SERC is continuing its work with Renewable Fuel Technologies (RFT) on torrefaction. Torrefaction is the process of heating biomass to 250 – 300 degrees Celsius in the absence of oxygen.

The resulting product, referred to by RFT as “BioCoal,” has a higher energy density and is easier to pelletize than raw biomass. It is also hydrophobic, meaning it does not absorb water. These properties make BioCoal easier and less costly to store and transport compared to raw biomass. BioCoal can be used as a feedstock for liquid biofuels or co-fired in a coal power plant, thus replacing fossil fuels with a renewable energy source.

SERC and RFT are just completing a project for Mendel Biotechnology, Inc. that produced more than 50 pounds of torrefied Miscanthus grass. Miscanthus is a perennial grass that is getting a lot of attention as an energy crop. The fast growing grass can achieve high biomass yields and can be grown on marginal lands currently not under cultivation. Mendel has developed a hybrid that is more easily propagated than current public varieties, and they are working to create hybrids that are custom tailored for different climates and growing regions.

A Visit with CSU Chancellor Reed

While up at the Schatz Energy Research Center working on the Mendel project, CEO Mark Wechsler had an opportunity to discuss Torrefaction and RFT’s prototype BioCoal Processer, with HSU President Rollin Richmond and California CSU Chancellor Charles Reed, while Chancellor Reed was visiting Humboldt State University.

President Rollin Richmond, SERC Research Engineer Kyle Palmer, Chancellor Charles Reed, and Renewable Fuel Technologies (RFT) CEO Mark Wechsler discussing SERC and RFT’s torrefaction research partnership. Photo credit Kellie Jo Brown.

Foreground: RFT CEO Mark Wechsler and CSU Chancellor Charles Reed – Photo Credit Kelly Jo Brown

New Partnership Explores Biomass as a Clean Fuel Source

June 13, 2011

Humboldt State University, Renewable Fuel Technologies, and Schatz Lab collaboration shows promise for forest renewal, clean energy

Monday, June 13, 2011:  Humboldt, CA and San Mateo, CA- Renewable Fuel Technologies and the Schatz Energy Research Center (SERC) today announced a research partnership.  Together with Humboldt State University’s Department of Forestry they will study torrefaction – a heat process that removes water and breaks down forest waste, producing a dry material that burns cleanly.

The research partners’ ultimate goal is to develop a renewable replacement for coal.   RFT has made available its demonstration-scale, mobile torrefaction prototype for research, experiments, and evaluations.

Mobile torrefaction holds great promise in converting woody biomass to clean fuel:  the greatest cost to industry has been transporting it from the forest source to a conversion site.  Fuel, equipment and logistics costs have, until now, greatly reduced biomass’ commercial viability.

Endowment/State Foresters Launch “Issues in the Forest” Series, starting with Torrefaction

May 28, 2011

Excerpt from the U.S. Endowment site, latest news

Issues in the Forest is aimed at informing dialogue on topics relevant to sustainable forestry today.  “We hope the extensive research compressed into a one-page format will help keep our partners and other interested parties up-to-speed on fast moving and critical forestry topics,” said Endowment President Carlton Owen.

The first publication,  includes Renewable Fuel Technologies in the list of known U.S. Companies pursuing Torrefaction.

Torrefaction: A Woody Biomass Companion to Coal – April 2011″

TORREFACTION, the old coffee bean roasting process, is being touted by some as verging on making woody biomass the perfect renewable match with coal. Torrefied wood is superior to chips and pellets for use in electrical generation because it looks and acts much like coal including a similar Btu value (10,000/lb vs. an average 11,500/lb for coal), is easily pulverized and water resistance.

Torrefaction removes moisture from raw biomass by charring the wood in the absence of oxygen at temperatures ranging from 390 to 650 degrees Fahrenheit. The lignin and cellulose become brittle, much like coal, while the remaining volatile organic compounds, like pinene and turpene, generate process heat thus less smoke associated with burning.

Renewable Replacement for Coal Successful in Test Burn

February 7, 2011

Renewable replacement for coal successful in test burn;
first of its kind in western U.S.

BioCoal from Renewable Fuel Technologies (RFT) helps renew forests; works in existing fossil fuel power plants


Monday, February 7th, 2011: Pittsburg, CA – California utility Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and power generator GWF Power Systems, L.P. today reported a successful test burn of RFT’s BioCoal, a new clean, high-energy renewable fuel. Twelve hundred pounds of BioCoal were co-fired during the two-hour test at GWF’s Pittsburg petcoke power plant, and was the first of its kind test in the western United States. The test generated approximately one megawatt hour of electric energy, which was delivered to PG&E without changes in operations.

The BioCoal was produced from woody debris provided by PG&E’s vegetation management team using RFT’s demonstration mobile torrefaction processor. BioCoal is a carbon-neutral, coal-grade fuel that is free of mercury, sulfur and toxic ash.

KEMA, a leading global authority on energy consulting, testing and certification, witnessed the test burn and verified that the power plant stayed within its normal operating range during the test. No power plant modifications were needed.
Thursday’s test burn comes at a critical time both economically and politically: California legislation requires utilities and their power providers to significantly reduce CO2 emissions, even as they increase renewable energy production. They need to evaluate emerging renewable technologies that can help them achieve these challenging goals.

“It is important that we develop renewable energy solutions that can leverage our existing power generating infrastructure,” said Renewable Fuel Technologies CEO Mark Wechsler. “Power providers can use BioCoal in their existing power plants exactly as they’ve been using their traditional solid fossil fuels. Viable renewable fuel solutions that increase fuel diversity and supply and are simultaneously economically attractive can be an important part of California’s future.”

KEMA believes torrefied biomass shows good promise as a renewable fuel. Dick Bratcher, KEMA Senior Principal Consultant said, “Our studies in North America and Europe indicate that torrefied biomass can be a high-value replacement for coal or other solid fossil fuels used in generating electricity. The process being developed by RFT has the potential to create a cost-effective supply of renewable biomass that also provides other environmental benefits.”

Proprietary mobile torrefaction technology
Torrefaction is a heat process that removes water and breaks down wood, producing a dry, solid material with high energy content. RFT’s patent-pending process is unique in the industry: its trailer-based mobile torrefaction processors can convert woody debris at its source in the forest, safely and economically.

“Converting forest waste into a cost-effective renewable fuel serves a dual purpose,” said RFT’s Wechsler. “It enhances the health of forests across the state and creates a large new source of renewable fuel that can help the state achieve its renewable energy objectives.”

Mobile torrefaction is compatible with forest management protocols: American forests are overgrown with brush and small trees, putting them at risk of out-of-control forest fires. Removing slash, as forestry debris is known, is critical to restoring healthy forest conditions. Until now, slash had little commercial value, so each season; most of it was gathered up and burned — at significant expense to the state.

Renewable Fuel Technologies
RFT develops torrefaction technology that enables compact, energy self–sufficient mobile torrefaction processors which convert woody biomass into BioCoal, a clean renewable fuel that transports, stores and burns like coal.

GWF Energy
Since 1989, the GWF family of companies have constructed, owned and operated nine power plants in California with a combined generation capacity of over 500 megawatts.