Design, modeling and construction of a novel ablative fast pyrolysis reactor and product collection system

  • Nicholas M. Robinson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The objective of this work was to design, construct and commission a new ablative pyrolysis reactor and a high efficiency product collection system. The reactor was to have a nominal throughput of 10 kg/11r of dry biomass and be inherently scalable up to an industrial scale application of 10 tones/hr. The whole process consists of a bladed ablative pyrolysis reactor, two high efficiency cyclones for char removal and a disk and doughnut quench column combined with a wet walled electrostatic precipitator, which is directly mounted on top, for liquids collection. In order to aid design and scale-up calculations, detailed mathematical modelling was undertaken of the reaction system enabling sizes, efficiencies and operating conditions to be determined. Specifically, a modular approach was taken due to the iterative nature of some of the design methodologies, with the output from one module being the input to the next. Separate modules were developed for the determination of the biomass ablation rate, specification of the reactor capacity, cyclone design, quench column design and electrostatic precipitator design. These models enabled a rigorous design protocol to be developed capable of specifying the required reactor and product collection system size for specified biomass throughputs, operating conditions and collection efficiencies. The reactor proved capable of generating an ablation rate of 0.63 mm/s for pine wood at a temperature of 525 'DC with a relative velocity between the heated surface and reacting biomass particle of 12.1 m/s. The reactor achieved a maximum throughput of 2.3 kg/hr, which was the maximum the biomass feeder could supply. The reactor is capable of being operated at a far higher throughput but this would require a new feeder and drive motor to be purchased. Modelling showed that the reactor is capable of achieving a reactor throughput of approximately 30 kg/hr. This is an area that should be considered for the future as the reactor is currently operating well below its theoretical maximum. Calculations show that the current product collection system could operate efficiently up to a maximum feed rate of 10 kg/Fir, provided the inert gas supply was adjusted accordingly to keep the vapour residence time in the electrostatic precipitator above one second. Operation above 10 kg/hr would require some modifications to the product collection system. Eight experimental runs were documented and considered successful, more were attempted but due to equipment failure had to be abandoned. This does not detract from the fact that the reactor and product collection system design was extremely efficient. The maximum total liquid yield was 64.9 % liquid yields on a dry wood fed basis. It is considered that the liquid yield would have been higher had there been sufficient development time to overcome certain operational difficulties and if longer operating runs had been attempted to offset product losses occurring due to the difficulties in collecting all available product from a large scale collection unit. The liquids collection system was highly efficient and modeling determined a liquid collection efficiency of above 99% on a mass basis. This was validated due to the fact that a dry ice/acetone condenser and a cotton wool filter downstream of the collection unit enabled mass measurements of the amount of condensable product exiting the product collection unit. This showed that the collection efficiency was in excess of 99% on a mass basis.
Date of Award2000
Original languageEnglish


  • Design
  • modeling and construction
  • novel ablative fast pyrolysis reactor
  • product collection system

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