The objective of this work was to design, construct and test a novel circulating fluid bed fast pyrolysis reactor system for production of liquids from biomass. The novelty lies in incorporating an integral char combustor to provide autothermal operation of the reactor. A reactor design methodology was devised which correlated input parameters to process variables, namely temperature, heat transfer and gas/vapor residence time, for both the char combustor and biomass pyrolyser. From this methodology, a CFB reactor was designed with integral char combustion for 10 kg/h biomass throughput. A full-scale cold model of the CFB unit was developed and tested to derive suitable hydrodynamic relationships and performance constraints. The hot CFB reactor was constructed, its operability was tested and appropriate modifications were accomplished prior to the commissioning.

A major requirement for the desired dual-mode operation of the reactor system conceived was the close coupling of the two reactor subsystems, namely the pyrolysis riser (medium temperature) and char combustor (high temperature). The basic CFB reactor design was proven effective in providing the high heat transfer rates – expressed as low voidage values in the riser and high solid circulation rates – to biomass particles in the very short vapor residence times (VRTs) required. The understanding of the complicated aspects related to two-phase gas–solids flow in the standpipe resulted in a smooth, stable transfer of solids over a wide range of operating parameters during cold CFB reactor operation. In the hot CFB unit testing, the use of two and three cyclones in series was proved insufficient to capture char and unconverted wood particles, especially during the reactor start-up phase. These problems were partially faced by adopting a configuration of a primary cyclone and inertia impinger in series, but further development is still required. A variety of configurations for the product collection system were built and tested, the most efficient being a combination of a shell-and-tube heat exchanger (condenser) and a cotton wool filter. However, the liquid recovery configuration gave rise to a number of problems, the most important being gradual plugging of the heat exchanger due to the formation of sticky solid–liquid agglomerates.

Keywords: Biomass, Reactor, Pyrolysis