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EMPIR project assesses automated sampler for biomass power plants

Q-Robot sampler. Image courtesy of Prometec

The sampler will allow for safer, more efficient and representative sampling to ensure biomass is suitable to be used as fuel

The project

Biofuels are a key component in the drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with the European Union (EU) aiming to increase their use to at least 27 % of all renewable energy consumption. As they are derived from biomass, biofuels are both renewable and less reliant on imports, diversifying fuel supplies.

The EU Energy Taxation Directive stipulates that, for taxation purposes, heat production from biofuels should be derived from their estimated energy content. However, these estimations are impacted by inadequate measurement methods, slow sampling and the use of unverified documentary standards intended for coal measurements. There is also a lack of understanding of the water and impurity content of biofuels, needed for accurate characterisation.

EMPIR project ‘New metrological methods for biofuel materials analysis’ (19ENG09, BIOFMET) has developed traceable measurements for analysing water content and calorific value for solid fuels and for determining impurities in liquid fuels, as well as improved methods for sampling.

Sampling method tests

The project also worked to assess Q-Robot, an automated sampler developed by project partner Prometec. The system can safely and quickly collect samples for analysis from trucks or trains carrying biomass before they’re unloaded.

The Q-Robot system was tested against two other sampling methods: manual collection following EN ISO 18135:2017 and collection by a truck driver. The comparison determined that the Q-Robot system showed no systematic differences in measured moisture content and meets the requirements of the sampling standard.

Biofuel Measurement Training

The project has also created a number of biofuel measurement training videos, available on the project’s YouTube channel. This training introduces key metrology concepts relevant to biofuels, as well as work developed within the project, and is split into five modules:

  • Measurement and metrology fundamentals
  • Moisture and water content measurements
  • Impurity content measurements
  • Calorific value measurements
  • Biomass sampling

These modules include both video presentations and laboratory equipment demonstrations, covering topics from the production of certified reference materials to working with bomb calorimeters.

Good Practice Guide

A new Good Practice Guide aimed at labs and industry has also been made available by the project. The guide, “New metrological methods for biofuel materials analysis” covers uncertainty assessment for biofuel measurements including water content, impurities and effective sampling.

Reference materials

The project has produced three certified reference materials (CRMs): wood pellets, wood pellet powder and biodiesel.

These CRMs, which are due to be made commercially available in mid-2024, can now act as quality control material for assessing and verifying calorific value measurement methods for solid biofuels to the requirements of the ISO 18125 standard. This has enabled the intercomparison of calorimetry facilities at different National Metrology Institutes at a much higher level of accuracy than before, improving the accuracy of calorimetric measurements across Europe.

Project coordinator Jan Nielsen (DTI) has said of the project’s work:

“The project achieved key targets: new calibration methods, services, reference materials, and automatic sampling devices are available for industry. These advancements will help end-users optimize energy production from solid and liquid biofuels by determining parameters impacting calorific value more accurately and quickly.”

This EMPIR project is co-funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and the EMPIR Participating States.

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