Fluidyne Gasification Archive

Ulster University Training

In May 2011, a visit was made by myself to Ulster University, Northern Ireland, to complete a project to establish a facility for gasification studies. With completion of a dedicated building to contain the gasifiers while being tested, the MicroLab Gasifier supplied by Fluidyne was at last put to work as a system for fuel testing.

The tuition required for fuel testing by necessity, is different to learning to operate a gasifier correctly, but having said that, operating the gasifier correctly will be taught to students as a first stage of their selected courses. Having the opportunity to work with a commercially built gasifier, instead of bench top equipment that approximate gasifier operation, should provide more realistic results, and better understanding of how these waste fuel streams can be best utilized.

Charged with the task of setting up this facility is Mark Anderson, who is a huge asset to the University, having considerable practical mechanical, and electrical experience, gained from his families farming activities. Setting up these new facilities always seems simple on paper, but if you are on the front end where it all has to happen, the real work is bringing it all together, often creating the forgotten missing links.

Separate from the gasification building, is a purpose built laboratory, where specific biomass studies can be conducted, and an impressive amount of equipment was being assembled during my visit. I have shown only a small section of the laboratory in the following photos taken as a record of my visit.

Worth mentioning, was an opportunity to gasify rape seed pellets or "worms" after extrusion from an oil extraction process. We are often asked for advise regarding these types of waste streams, but without these wastes available to test, find it impossible to provide reliable answers. They do carbonise well, and every indication suggested they could be an ideal small gasifier fuel.

To sum up my visit to the Jordontown Campus of Ulster University, I felt that students who wish to complete their studies here will enjoy the experience, and perhaps bring forward some original ideas for research, that improve the understanding of biomass as a sustainable energy.  Gasification studies are but a pathway, and should be seen as such, but the future no doubt, will tell us if we got it wrong!

Doug Williams.

July 2011.



Not often seen in a white coat, Doug Williams checks out the MicroLab gasifier before beginning the fuel testing training programme.

Mark Anderson gives the thumbs up to beginning the first tests in the new purpose built gasification facility at Ulster University.

First test using small wood blocks ensures gasifier is operating correctly, and provides base line operating data. Bright oxidation temperature visible through ignition port.

Stopping the gasifier at the same level each time, allows for the observation of how the heat radiating upwards from the oxidation zone begins the distillation and then the charring stages.

Lower down, the same cubed pine wood blocks, show good representation of how the char segments in the oxidation zone. Once all these details are recorded, other fuels can then be tried using the same tar free making parameters, so that variations can be spotted immediately they eventuate away from the norm.

A lucky coincidence had rape seed oil extraction being conducted at the same laboratory, and a supply of these "worms" were a rare opportunity for me to evaluate them for myself as gasifier fuel.

Here the rape seed can be seen distilling and carbonizing on the same length without blowing it's self apart from expanding moisture.

In the carbonization phase just above the oxidation zone, the extrusions can be seen holding good shape and size, with very little fine carbons packing the bed.

As the carbonized pellets enter the oxidation phase, you can see the grey ash content exposed on the surface of the shedding carbon. The shrinking diameter of the pellet can be observed without them fracturing or segmenting, indications of a very robust char structure.

Showing the rape seed gas at the test flare, the orange high colour indicates uncracked hydrocarbons, combined with high radiating heat that can be felt close up to the flare. The flare temperatures also become elevated in the presence of uncracked hydrocarbons.

These wood chips were made from storm damaged trees, and included a lot of dead wood. The chunky chips were ideal for such a small gasifier as the MicroLab.

Just below the air nozzles and in the oxidation zone, the storm chips have retained their shape without too much segmentation, but this is influenced by the species of tree, which were predominantly hardwoods. The raw chips dropped down as we removed the layers of char, so are not normally seen at this level.

This small clinker nodule was probably formed from dirt in the fuel. It could also have formed as a result of melted ash from the high proportion of dead wood in the fuel, which has a high ash content. Melted ash nodules can quickly agglomerate if present, and form a large clump of sintered clinker.

This brand new laboratory had only just been handed over from the builders, and just waiting to be put to work in the next intake of students. Always handy when working with gas, a Bomb Calorimeter on the left, and a QIR 5000 Thermogravimetric Analyser. The laboratory equipment is gradually being assembled to facilitate a wide range of biomass studies.  A fume cabinet is just visible on the extreme right side of the photo.  

This is a Carbolite Furnace, used for measuring ash fusion temperatures, which can be recorded by built in camera.