Palm EFB Pellet Fuel Powers Japan

By:Mr Darren Chen
Position:Project Sales Director
Dec 30, 2022
Suffered from the Nuclear Power Plant accident years ago, Japanese government turned its main energy strategy to utilize wood pellets and other biomass energy. The pellet fuel is already a well-proven supplementation and substitution of coal. Wood pellets have been widely co-fired in existing coal-fired generating stations in Japan decade ago, aiming to accelerate its pace to decarbonization.

In recent years, Japan takes unprecedented steps to build many new biomass power plants fueled by wood pellets and other biomass fuels. Japan’s demand for wood pellets has grown many times over the past 5 to 6 years, catering to its steadily increasing consumption of pellet fuel for biomass power plants and coal-firing power plants.
3 million tons of wood pellets were imported to Japan in 2021, up from 2.028 million tons in 2020, and almost 6 times than 2017. Estimate, over 4.5 million tons of wood pellets will be imported in 2022. Japan's ambition to achieve carbon neutral in 2050 will lead to continuous higher demand for biomass pellet fuel.
Calendar Year 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Beginning Stocks (kilotons) 19 26 50 75 95 17
Imports (kilotons) 506 1,060 1,614 2,028 3,117 4,800 (est.)
Consumption (kilotons) 626 1,167 1,736 2,156 3,134  

When Japan tries to expand its biomass power plants and wood pellets import amount, it also has been searching for other alternative and sustainable biomass fuels, ensuring its constant energy safety.

Over recent years, some fleet-footed Japanese corporations have invested some pilot plants for producing palm EFB pellets in South East Asia. As one of the main byproducts from CPO mills, its sustainable access makes palm EFB pellets become the new favorite in Japan’s biomass pellet market.
However, a special pretreatment technique has to be adopted to produce palm EFB pellets as clean as wood pellets. Palm EFB has much higher chlorine and alkali metal content. During combustion, chlorine and alkali metal will react at high temperature. This in turn produces alkali metal chlorides which will lead to ash melting in low temperature, then deposit on heating surface and cause the slagging problem. Meanwhile, alkali metal oxide, increasing of the deposition and rise of furnace temperature will also accelerate corrosion to the boiler steel.

Consequently, the corrosion and slagging problem caused by the combustion of palm EFB pellets will obviously increase the boiler OPEX and decline its life span. 
The following two cases illustrate corrosion and slagging problem caused by the combustion of non-treated palm EFB fiber or EFB pellets.

Case 1. A Palm EFB Power Plant in Thailand
One of SIMEC clients in the south part of Thailand has run a palm EFB power plant for decade. But they have suffered from the slagging problem in biomass boilers for years. Because palm EFB is just pressed and cut, then conveyed to the combustion chamber. Although it is a specialized biomass boiler, slagging always occurs and is inevitable. So they have to stop operation frequently to inspect and clean the slag. The shut-down significantly affects the economic benefit of power plant. Actually, they have two boilers, one has been abandoned years ago due to the corrosion.
Case 2. A Palm EFB Pellet Burner in Malaysia
SIMEC was involved in the setup of palm EFB pellet projects in Malaysia. The SAPB1500 pellet burner and hot gas generating system provides heat source to palm EFB drying process. The fuel is untreated palm EFB pellets. After a few days of operation, slagging and the resulting clogging will happen inside the combustion chamber of pellet burner. The client has to stop pellet burner frequently to clear the slag.
Fortunately, chlorine and most of alkali metal are water soluble. For this reason, washing the palm EFB before pelletizing has been proven to be an effective solution to decrease the chlorine and alkaline metal content of palm EFB fiber. This can significantly reduce ash fusion, slag and corrosion in biomass boilers.

As supplier of processing technology and equipment, SIMEC has been working on a number of clean palm EFB pellet projects in South East Asia. The “clean” palm EFB pellets have been certified and exported to Japan. It is foreseen that more and larger commercialized palm EFB pellet projects will be landed in South East Asia, catering to the intense demand of biomass pellet fuel in Japan, even in South Korea in the near future.

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