The Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) at the University of North Dakota, in partnership with Cummins Power Generation, Inc., has begun a project to demonstrate the production of heat and power from high-moisture biomass. Cummins Power Generation, a world leader in the design and manufacture of power generation equipment, headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has provided the electrical generator for the project, a key component in producing 35–40 kilowatts of power a day, enough for one home.

 “We are extremely pleased by the level of commitment Cummins Power Generation has made to this project and want to express our thanks to Cummins for providing the technology necessary  to make this demonstration possible,” said EERC Director Gerald Groenewold. “A system such as this will provide a first step toward providing commercial entities the motivation to utilize opportunity fuels for energy generation.”

“The Cummins generator, which normally runs on natural gas, has been modified to run on synthetic natural gas (syngas) produced by an EERC-developed advanced gasification unit,” said EERC Research Scientist and Project Manager Nikhil Patel.

The EERC’s gasification unit can convert a range of fuels, such as forestry, agricultural, and industrial biomass waste; animal waste; waste plastics; and railroad ties or cable poles as well as a range of coals, into clean syngas. Together, the Cummins and EERC technologies will work in harmony as a gasification-based combined heat and power technology, with a variety of applications.

“Depending on the circumstances, this combined technology could help industries, farms, and many waste-producing facilities in meeting their own energy needs while utilizing fuels that have disposal costs and liabilities. Users of the technology would also be able to sell green energy back to the power grid, which would provide a financial benefit,” said Patel.

 Another advantage of a combined heat and power system compared to a typical internal combustion generator operating on fossil fuel is its improved emission profiles. The physical properties of the biomass feedstocks, such as their origin, storage, and aging, can often vary. That variation can affect the performance and, ultimately, impact stack emissions when used in a typical internal combustion generator. The synergistic and seamless integration of an advanced gasifier and the engine generator will overcome this limitation and achieve environmentally acceptable emissions. The project aims at demonstrating this fact.

The outcome of the project will lead to the development and demonstration of engine performance on syngas, producing data for environmental permitting and providing strategies for achieving emission levels that meet current and future environmental regulations, which are critical for successful commercialization of combined heat and power technologies.