ICM debuts commercial-scale biomass gasifier

By Kris Bevill | May 10, 2011

Colwich, Kan.-based ICM Inc. has announced the availability of a commercial-scale biomass gasification system that can be used as a cogeneration unit or to completely eliminate fossil fuel intake at various facilities, including ethanol plants. The commercialization is the result of a project that began with a demonstration-scale gasifier in Newton, Kan., in 2009. Since commencing operations at that facility, ICM has tested more than a dozen feedstocks and amassed more than 2,100 hours of operation on the unit, proving its commercial potential with a variety of industries and feedstocks, according to Tom Ranallo, ICM’s vice president of operations.

“It was critically important for ICM to invest heavily in a commercial-scale demonstration unit to prove the feedstock-flexible capabilities of this robust technology, which dates back to 1975, as well as to give potential customers and lenders the comfort and reassurance they need to finance waste-to-energy and biomass-to-energy projects,” he said.

ICM is known for its engineering expertise in the ethanol industry and it was the ethanol industry that the firm had in mind when it first began developing the biomass gasifier. The plan was to design a gasification system that could be applied as a bolt-on to ethanol plants, but economic factors altered that plan slightly. “That was around the time when natural gas prices were very high,” Ranallo said. “As gas prices came down, it didn’t really pencil out. So we decided to work on different feedstocks and perfect the technology around many, many feedstocks.” The company has tested various fuel sources such as refuse-derived fuel from municipal solid waste, tire-derived fuel, chicken litter, wood chips, wheat straw, corn stover and energy crops.

Ranallo said private developers that have expressed interest in the gasification system are generally working with municipalities or power production facilities, but he added that ethanol producers with access to corn stover, for instance, could also apply the gasification system to their facilities. Equipment and installation fees for the system vary depending on the feedstock used and whether the user would like to also produce biochar as a coproduct, Ranallo said. He estimated that the project costs generally range from $3 million to $4 million per megawatt of power produced. System installations can be completed in about a year.

One area of concern for ethanol producers who might otherwise consider fuel switching to biomass-based sources is the U.S. EPA’s delay in determining whether biogenic emissions should be included in overall emissions calculations. ICM has installed back-end technology, including thermal oxidation and a wet electrostatic precipitator, at its demo plant and is conducting emissions testing to gather data for regulators and producers who will need emissions data in order to apply for air permits. “We know it’s going to be an important area, so we have tried to be proactive in having BACT [best available control technology] on the back end so we can start compiling a database to provide regulators with the information they need,” he said.