Open Innovation Challenges

Next-generation woody biomass densification and transportation technology
Learn How ProblemSpace's Open Innovation Challenges Help Entrepreneurs Jumpstart Their Ventures

Open Challenge:

Next-generation woody biomass densification and transportation technology
Woody Biomass
Deadline for concept summaries: October 4, 2019

Sponsored by

pg&e logo

Problem

Transportation of woody biomass from a collection site to either a concentration/feedstock yard or to a conversion facility accounts for roughly 25% to 50% of the total delivered cost. Densification and moisture reduction can be important in reducing transportation costs, and most existing densification technologies are prohibitively expensive.

Desired properties

  • Increases bulk density of woody biomass for transportation
  • Delivered cost below $5/mmBTU to a location roughly 50 miles away
  • Reduces moisture content to below 15% 

Specifications

Category 2: Next-generation woody biomass densification and transportation technology

Problem statement

Transportation of woody biomass from a collection site to either a concentration/feedstock yard or to a conversion facility accounts for roughly 25% to 50% of the total delivered cost. Transportation cost depends on fuel prices, feedstock moisture content, haul distance, and vehicle capacity and utilization. Several factors make the densification and transportation of woody biomass challenging:

  • Transporting woody biomass, especially small diameter and underutilized (SDU) woody biomass, in its original state, is expensive. Even if chipped or pelletized, high moisture content can significantly increase transportation cost.
  • Keeping untreated wood (or untreated wood chips or wood pellets) in uncovered storage facilities is problematic.
  • Trucking capacity in the northern and southern Sierra region is constrained due to equipment and driver shortages.
  • Most existing densification technologies are prohibitively expensive.
  • Differing operational contexts – such as urban vs. rural, or on-road vs. off-road – pose differing constraints such as space, environmental impact, vehicle access, and noise impact, creating complexity but also multiple opportunities areas.
Possible approaches

Any technical solution or process innovation that optimizes the densification process or reduces the transportation cost of woody biomass to a conversion facility or a concentration/feedstock yard is welcome. Novel cost-effective torrefaction approaches would be an example of a densification approach of interest. Novel, cost-effective approaches to removing woody biomass from forested areas far from haul roads would be an example of transportation approaches of interest. Another area of interest would be reducing the cost of hauling urban woody biomass from a collection site, e.g. inexpensive mobile densification technology that is superior to a drum chipper.

Known approaches not of interest

Unless significant performance/cost breakthroughs or innovative applications can be achieved, the following technologies or techniques represent known state-of-the-art and are thus not of interest:

  • Transpirational drying (e.g. leaf seasoning, delayed bucking, or field drying)
  • Pelletization
  • Briquetting
  • Screw extruder
  • Agglomeration
  • Pre‐heating 
  • Grinding 
  • Steam explosion
  • High capacity chip tractor–semi-trailer combinations
Success criteria

Required:

  • If applicable, adheres to ANSI A300 Standards
  • Must support CARB emissions standards as well as California regulations that govern on-road trucking and limit vehicle dimensions and gross vehicle weight (GVW) 
  • If the technology involves the heat treatment of biomass, it must operate within Cal Fire standards for safety

Desired:

  • Commercially available in 0 to 4 years 
  • Delivered cost below $5/mmBTU to a location roughly 50 miles away
  • Reduces moisture content to below 15% 
  • Increases bulk density (kg/m3) or (lbm/ft3) of woody biomass for transportation
  • Increases Heating Value (BTU) for energy conversion technique
  • Produce no more emissions than would occur by a well managed, “prescribed” burning or “hazard reduction” forest fire burning program
  • Labor and safety-enhancing technology (e.g. autonomous equipment)
  • Improves water-resistance such that covered storage is not required
More solicitations...
Woody Biomass

Problem
Woody Biomass is today an underutilized resource for reuse in other products, especially in the case of biomass considered “non-merchantable.” Finding novel ways to increase the value of products created from woody biomass, or, reduce the cost and/or increase the safety of woody biomass collection could benefit utilities, landowners, and communities and citizens across California.
Desired properties
Optimize for the highest value per mmBTU
High-value products, either for energy production or non-energy purposes

Woody Biomass

Problem
PG&E alone trims and removes more than 1 million trees near its wires across its territory each year to mitigate wildfire risk, and as many as 15 million acres of California forests need some form of restoration. Finding novel ways to reduce the cost and/or increase the safety of woody biomass collection could benefit utilities, landowners, and communities and citizens across California.
Desired properties
Supports a cost of collection cost of under $15 per Bone Dry Ton
Enables moisture reduction on location or reduces the amount of pretreatment drying needed if sent to a gasifier