Energy sourcesThis Technology Replaces Coal Power with Wood Power

By Georg Mathisen

Published 18 September 2019

A new technology makes it possible to replace coal with eco-friendly wood pellets. As soon as the world stops fueling its power plants with coal, Norwegian technology company Arbaflame is ready to pick up the baton.

The Norwegian company Arbaflame is intent on persuading the world to abandon polluting coal power. The new technology makes it possible to replace coal with eco-friendly wood pellets.

As soon as the world stops fuelling its power plants with coal, Norwegian technology is ready to pick up the baton. The technology will now be tested in a coal-fired power plant in Rotterdam. Moreover, a research project means that the system can be used again and again.

Imitating the Properties of Coal
For almost ten years, Arbaflame has been conducting research and development with this aim in mind.

“It all began when we decided to develop a biofuel that can replace coal in coal-fired power plants without having to make major modifications to the plants”, says Arbaflame’s CEO Bjørn Halvard Knappskog.

The reason that we can’t just use wood or standard wood pellets to fuel a coal-fired power plant is that the coal is crushed into a very fine powder before it is blown into a gigantic combustion chamber for burning.

“Crushing wood chips or pellets fails to produce the same fine powder that we obtain from coal”, Knappskog explains. “We’ve developed a process that crushes the pellets to provide a finer size distribution. As well as producing a finer powder, our pellets are water-resistant and more durable than standard wood. These are the three properties that allow the pellets to be handled in exactly the same way as coal”, he says.

The Challenge of Subsidized Coal
Instead of manufacturing a fuel designed to imitate coal, it is of course possible to reconstruct entire power plants. But this is expensive. In Rotterdam it would cost between one and five billion Norwegian kroner to modify the plant. An alternative would be to shut the plant down and build a new gas-fired plant, but this would require even greater levels of investment. Nor is this the optimal environmental solution.

The problem is that coal is cheap. It is simply subsidized and underpriced. Senior Research Scientist Øyvind Skreiberg at SINTEF Energy Research has carried out an analysis of the economics, energy efficiency and emissions throughout the entire pellets value chain, from the raw materials and transport to end use. “It is not possible to compete with coal at current coal prices”, he says.