(380a) Performance of a Bench-Scale Continuous Hydrothermal Carbonization Reactor

Authors: 
Reza, M. T., Ohio University
Coronella, C., University of Nevada, Reno
Hydrothermal carbonization (HTC, thermal hydrolysis, or wet torrefaction) is a treatment process which converts moist feedstocks into homogenized, carbon rich, and energy dense solid fuel, called hydrochar. One of the main advantages of HTC compared to other thermochemical treatment processes is the use of moisture as reaction medium and reactant, thereby precluding the need for drying prior to treatment. Thermodynamic properties of water change greatly in the subcritical region from 180-280 °C, and as a result, subcritical water behaves as a non-polar solvent and mild acid and base catalyst simultaneously. When subjected to HTC biomass undergoes rapid hydrolysis and other reactions, releasing oxygen-containing volatiles and producing a highly hydrophobic hydrochar.

Although HTC offers a relatively simple and straightforward solution to process diverse biomass feedstocks, the requirements of high pressure and high temperature make the process complex and potentially costly to design and operate. The lab-scale batch process has already been demonstrated in various laboratories around the world, but batch process is not cost-effective for industrial-scale deployment. A continuous process offers a relatively small footprint, energy recovery and efficiency, and notably, economies of scale.

In this study, a bench-scale continuous HTC reactor system has been designed, constructed, commissioned, and operated with model compounds and with whole biomass feedstocks. The maximum temperature and pressure of the reactor are 250 °C and 40 bar. The throughput of the reactor system was maintained at 0.3 L/min with solids loading of ~5%, while the reaction time was maintained at 5 min. The basic reactor configuration is a section of straight pipe, and numerous engineering challenges were encountered during design and commissioning. The primary challenges are related to instrumentation durability, temperature control, and flow control.

Results are presented for conversion of glucose and microcrystalline cellulose. Both solid and liquid products were tested for their physico-chemical properties and compared with the corresponding products from batch process generated in a 2L batch Parr reactor. It was found that temperature and pressure were stable during operation and products are relatively similar to that of batch process.

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