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Hydrothermal pretreatment of softwood biomass and bark for pelletization Tooyserkani, Zahra


Densification can resolve the logistical challenges encountered when large volumes of biomass are required for conversion processes to benefit from economies-of-scale. Despite the higher density of pellets, they easily disintegrate into fines due to impact or moisture sorption during handling and storage. Fines accumulation can lead to explosion, off-gassing and self-combustion, threatening the occupational health and safety of the workers. The current study investigates the use of several hydrothermal pretreatments to improve pellet quality in terms of mechanical strength and moisture sorption resistance, while lowering energy input during size reduction, drying and densification steps. Pretreatment of ground softwood particles (Pine, Spruce, Douglas fir whitewood and bark) with external saturated steam at 220°C for 5 min resulted in the higher calorific values, higher hydrophobicity and higher carbon percentage. These changes along with the dark brownish colour of steam treated material indicated a mild degree of torrefaction when compared to dry torrefaction at higher temperatures. Despite a slightly lower density, the mechanical strength of pellets made of steam treated particles increased considerably. Mechanical energy input for pelletization of treated material was higher than the untreated pellets when compressed under the same force for all species and bark samples. Hydrothermal pretreatment of wet Douglas fir wood particles, by steam generated from the moisture inside the material, resulted in the same characteristics as those obtained from pretreatments by external steam. Increased treatment temperature increased the hydrophobicity compared to untreated pellets. Sulfur-dioxide catalyzed steam pretreatment substantially reduced the particle size of Douglas fir woodchips, eliminating any further grinding requirement for pelletization. The SO₂-catalyzed steam treated pellets had a higher density and exhibited a two-time higher mechanical strength compared to untreated pellets. Despite a higher moisture adsorption capacity than the untreated, treated pellets remained intact under highly humid (30°C, 90% RH) conditions. The high heating values, low ash content and good overall carbohydrate recovery of SO₂-catalyzed steam treated pellets indicate their potential suitability for both biochemical and thermo-chemical applications.

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