Skip to main content

By David Tiessen, Arterran Renewables 

In 2014 when Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG), Thunder Bay Generating Station became the world’s 1st power station to successfully switch from thermal coal to an advanced bio-pellet the promise of a more easily adopted, drop-in replacement for thermal coal was ignited. 8 years later no power station has followed OPG’s lead. What went wrong? 

In short, cost. What’s possible is not always commercially viable and when it comes to highly competitive energy markets where all fuel sources must be able to compete with one another, the cost to produce a Steam Exploded or Torrefied Pellet and thus a unit of electricity is simply too high to render a commercially viable coal replacement alternative. 

Arterran Renewables is looking to change that “viable” equation. Unlike the high temperature and high-pressure processes employed by Steam Exploded or Torrefied technologies, Arterran looks to disrupt the solid biofuel industry with a completely novel low temperature, low pressure process that utilizes a proprietary catalyst, not an external energy source, to dispel the water from the biomass feedstock. 

This results in a huge energy savings and an ability to produce a 24-29GJ/T drop in renewable fuel at a lower per GJ price point than the incumbent industrial wood pellet currently utilized to replace thermal coal globally. 

More Renewable Energy at less Cost 

This presents great promise given the growing body of evidence [1] and academic analysis [2] revealing of all renewables deployed at large scale, converting existing coal generation to industrial pellets presents the most value for money receiving less public funding for more renewable power produced. 

The Expedited GHG Reduction Opportunity 

Compared to thermal coal the Arterran product reduces GHG emissions by more than 80%, has significantly less ash, no toxic emissions and most importantly is a 1:1 drop-in replacement for thermal coal. For the world, a viable drop-in replacement for thermal coal, is the missing piece to the renewable basket of solutions and presents nothing less than an opportunity to switch the world’s #1 climate problem to the world’s #1 climate solution. 

For the world’s coal fired generators needing to mitigate a future of escalating carbon costs and legislated coal phase out, Arterran’s lower cost renewable solution will dramatically improve the renewable option for generators, both economically, and by allowing for incremental reduction of coal from 1% to 100% until fully switched renewable. The opportunity presents advanced bio-pellets as a legitimate and expeditious coal replacement solution by: 

• Eliminating expensive thermal plant conversion costs 

• Providing a truly hydrophobic product to eliminate cover storage cost 

• Lowering logistics and delivered fuel cost 

• Delivering the same energy density as coal 

• Being 100% renewable 

This will allow utilities to keep their major generation assets in service longer, while increasingly reducing carbon emissions each year, and will be the first new form of commercially available bio-pellet to be introduced to the coal-displacement fuels market in the past forty years. 

Working in conjunction with NAIT the Arterran process has now been optimized, and feedstocks from Canada and from prospective customers in India (Bamboo) and Malaysia (EFB) have now been validated. Next steps will see Scovan modular engineer and build a commercial demonstration plant at the Gemini Fabrication facility in Alberta. 

Following initial testing and plant optimization Arterran’s more efficient manufacturing system for the conversion of residual biomass into an energy-dense, hydrophobic, solid biofuel to renewably replace thermal coal will be ready for commercial deployment around the world. 

Given fuels derived from biomass or renewable waste feedstock are by far the largest renewable energy source [3] Arterran’s commercializing cleantech solution looks to play a pivotal role in advancing a low-carbon future. 

Originally published in Scovan’s IGNITE Vol. 3