Focus on Recovering Chemicals & Energy from Low Quality Fuels : Vienna University Opens Twin Fluidised Bed Waste Gasification Test Plant

biowaste gasification university of Vienna
© TU VIenna

In Austria the University of Vienna has opened a new test facility as part of its on going research into the use of a twin fluidised bed gasification process to recover high value fuels and gases from wastes.

According to the university, while the combustion of biomass, wastes or industrial waste materials releases stored energy, it does not crack the molecules of the material burned. However, by using a gasification process, products such as hydrogen, methane, methanol and diesel can be produced.

TU Vienna said that it has been researching the process, which can produce both thermal and chemical energy at the same time, for over twenty years. It added that the new facility is the result of two years preparation and that it is expected to be able to cope with a very wide range of fuels.

Johannes Schmid from the Institute of Chemical Engineering, Environmental Engineering and Technical Biosciences TU Vienna, explained that the key idea behind twin fluidised bed gasification to divide the process into two separate chambers.

In one high temperature chamber there is no air, but water vapour, so the gas does not burn. The residual solid constituents of the fuel then enter a second chamber, where oxygen is present allowing for the combustion of the fuel.

This combustion in the second chamber provides the necessary high-temperature to heat for the first chamber. The heat is transferred by means of hot sand, which circulates between the chambers.

The university added that in contrast to an ordinary combustion furnace, this method produces two separate gas streams: a gas stream from the combustion chamber and a product gas stream from the gasification chamber, which can then be used.

The technology has been developed at the university since the beginning of the 1990s under the direction of Prof. Hermann Hofbauer.

TU Vienna added that the world's first large-scale fluidised bed steam gasification plant based on its technology was opened in Güssing in 2001. Plants in Oberwart and Villach, Sweden followed. The plant in Sweden is used to produce synthetic natural gas.

The next step

According to the university the opening of its new test facility will allow it to take the next technological step. It said that it used extensive scientific findings its research over recent years in the design of the plant.

Schmid explained that through a novel reactor design there is a much more intense contact between the swirling hot sand and the fuel and its product gases. This, it was claimed, allows the gasification recover chemicals and energy from more difficult wastes.

TU Vienna said that the 7m tall test facility that has been built on two floors, each of 35 m2, will allow meaningful scientific results to be achieved.

Low cost fuels

Traditionally in large biomass gasification plants mainly high quality, homogeneous wood chips are used for fuel. However, TU Vienna said that its new facility can also handle difficult wastes. Cost effective, low-grade fuels are the focus of interest for the researchers.

The university said that among the low cost fuels it will be able to investigate are wastes from the paper and timber industries, as well as other biogenic waste such as sugar cane and olive bagasse and biomass-coal mixtures and sewage sludge. "

Following an extensive commissioning phase, including safety tests since which have been conducted since 2014, the new pilot plant has now launched a total of series test series.

Schmid said that the first results have already been validated and evaluated internally and many more trials with a variety of fuels will now take place. The professor added that the plant will generate outstanding scientific findings.


According to the university the team led by Professor Hermann Hofbauer has in recent years registered a number of patents, and sees great potential in the fluidised bed gasification concept.

The professor noted the trend for decentralising energy generation and said that the technology could be of particular interest to large companies that generate a lot of waste materials.

Hofbauer concluded that the use of the technology in such applications could reduce the quaintly of residual waste being produced while reducing CO2 emissions and increasing the share of renewable energy for the industrial site concerned.

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