Crude glycerin burner for heat, power undergoes testing at NCSU

By Bryan Sims | January 11, 2012

Applied Combustion Technologies LLC has licensed a patent-pending technology developed at North Carolina State University that combusts crude glycerol, the raw byproduct of biodiesel production, in a burner for industrial heat and power applications. The technology is currently being matured under a multiyear U.S. DOE Industrial Energy Efficiency Grand Challenge grant at NCSU’s campus in Raleigh, N.C.

Specifically, the patent-pending burner features a proprietary spray atomization, high swirl burner configuration in a specially designed chamber that safely burns 100 percent crude glycerin. A 20-kilowatt burner was built and demonstrated on NCSU’s campus to test various design concepts, performance under long-run conditions, nozzle fouling solutions and emissions characterization.

Richard Taff, chief operating officer of ACT, said the system met all key performance milestones operating on various grades of crude glycerin derived from the transesterification of a variety of feedstocks such as animal fats, yellow grease and vegetable oils. Additionally, Taff noted that the burner operated successfully on crude glycerin with varying levels of water, methanol, salts and matter organic nonglycerol (MONG) remaining. The system can use any liquid fuel having an ambient viscosity greater than 20 centistokes.

“We’re seeing an acceptable range of low NOx and aldehyde emissions, well below any level of concern,” Taff told Biodiesel Magazine. “One of the big differentials is that there is a preheating process using a type of other alternate source like a diesel or propane because [glycerin] is a highly viscous fluid. You have to get it to flow. Once that chamber is fired up to certain acceptable temperature then it runs on 100 percent crude glycerol, which is truly unique as far as any other glycerol burning application goes.”

ACT and NCSU are currently testing the burner, conducting economical modeling and commercialization planning under Phase 2 of the DOE/EERE grant. Taff said he hopes to secure Phase 3 funding, which would allow ACT and NSCU to scale up the burner technology from 200 kilowatts to 2,000 kilowatts (or 2 megawatts).  

Scaling up the burner technology, according to Taff, could either be accomplished through the third stage of the grant-funded research if it comes through, or if not, he said, “We’ll look for partners, either strategic, technical or investment  partners, such as boiler manufacturers, biodiesel producers or venture capital firms that might see value in this type of application for domestically produced heat and power applications.”

Recognizing the rising interest biodiesel producers have in finding more cost-effective and value-added methods for utilizing their crude glycerin, Taff envisions a distributed approach to the commercialization of the crude glycerin burner. He said the burner technology could become particularly an attractive option for small to mid-sized biodiesel plants located in rural areas that may find it challenging to sell their crude glycerin to the open market due to lack of transport capabilities. Therefore, the burners could be used for process heating, steam generation or converted into power.

“Small to mid-sized biodiesel plants located in rural areas would be ideal, especially those that may not be near rail lines for transporting out their glycerin out,” Taff said. “This type of application would also cut down on storage and/or disposal costs. We’re seeing that as the No. 1 most beneficial use of the technology right now.”

A few biodiesel producers have already expressed interest in the burner technology, including Renewable Energy Group Inc., which came on board as an industry partner, as well as Indiana-based Integrity Biofuels. 


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