Grant to HM3 Energy for Coal Replacement

Funds will speed commercialization of technology used to develop a low-emissions alternative to coal and to create new jobs throughout rural Oregon

The Oregon Built Environment & Sustainable Technologies Center (Oregon BEST) has awarded a commercialization grant to a collaborative project involving Oregon State University researchers and HM3 Energy, an Oregon bioenergy startup developing a biomass torrefaction technology that converts forest waste biomass into energy-dense briquettes that can be used as a low-emissions alternative to coal at coal-fired power plants.

The $86,000 grant, part of $1 million in Commercialization Grants that Oregon BEST will award this year to fast-track commercialization of the state’s most promising cleantech products and technologies being co-developed by university researchers and private businesses, will provide resources and specialized research expertise to speed commercialization of HM3 Energy’s technology.

Michael Milota, a professor in OSU’s Dept. of Wood Science and Engineering, will lead precommercial emissions testing of common Oregon biomass fuels (ponderosa pine, western juniper, Douglas-fir and red alder) dried in a rotary biomass dryer. This will provide HM3 Energy with key data necessary to design a commercial dryer that meets environmental requirements.

“We’re pleased to be able to target our Commercialization Program grant funds to help this Oregon company advance a unique technology that will ultimately create rural jobs, lower emissions and establish another Oregon firm as a cleantech innovator,” said David
Kenney, President and Executive Director of Oregon BEST. “If HM3 Energy is successful in its goals, it will have created a truly transformational technology addressing a major global energy challenge. The opportunity to create scale in terms of both job creation and environmental impact is very significant with this technology."

Torrefied biomass is being explored as an option by an increasing number of utilities using coal-based energy, including Portland General Electric. The torrefaction process roasts the biomass at high temperatures in the absence of air, resulting in energy-dense briquettes that burn without the harmful emissions associated with coal, such as mercury, sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxides. Torrefied briquettes contain roughly the same BTU content as western coal.

Torrefied briquettes promise distinct advantages over raw wood pellets in that they could directly replace coal at coal-fired power plants already connected to the electricity grid without making any plant modifications. Because the briquettes are brittle and water repellent, they can be pulverized like coal prior to feeding coal-fired boilers and, like coal, can be shipped in open rail cars and stored outdoors. HM3 Energy, along with other recipients of Oregon BEST Commercialization Grants, will present a research poster on the project at Oregon BEST FEST ’12 in Portland, Ore. on Sept. 12.

“Dr. Milota and his team are the perfect partners for HM3 Energy in helping us get the data we need to permit our first of many biomass torrefaction plants to come,” said Hiroshi Morihara, President and CEO of HM3 Energy. “And the beautiful thing is that these plants have the potential to address many of Oregon’s woes right now: the production facilities will be located in rural areas, where jobs are so desperately needed; the feedstock is forest slash, which is currently burned in place or left to rot after harvesting or forest restoration operations; and the final product is a clean replacement fuel for coal. This is good for the Oregon economy and good for the environment."

HM3 Energy plans to build a small commercial plant in Prineville, Oregon, where sufficient biomass feedstock is sustainably and economically available within a 40 mile radius. The plant would produce sufficient quantities of torrefied briquettes to enable utilities such as PGE, PacifiCorp and others to perform qualifying testburns in their coal-fired power plants.

Once coal-fired plants establish torrefied biomass as a viable replacement fuel, HM3 Energy plans to build 10 – 20 appropriately scaled plants throughout Oregon using wood waste as feedstock, Morihara said. This would produce enough fuel to replace all the coal burned at PGE’s Boardman plant.

About HM3 Energy

HM3 Energy was formed first as HM3 Ethanol in January of 2008 to create a process to produce cellulosic ethanol from residual biomass resources as raw material. Sustainably harvested forest waste was the company’s first source of feedstock for ethanol because it has little commercial value and is currently being gathered and burned to reduce the risk of catastrophic forest fires. After changing its philosophy and focus in late 2008, the company changed its name from HM3 Ethanol to HM3 Energy in 2009. The company’s research had led it to believe that by creating a solid fuel to replace coal in coal-fired power plants, its biofuel product would have a much greater impact on reduction of carbon emissions, and thus global warming.

About Oregon BEST
The Oregon Built Environment & Sustainable Technologies Center (Oregon BEST) is the nexus for clean technology innovation, building capability, convening collaborations, and accelerating solutions to environmental challenges that deliver prosperity in all corners of Oregon. Oregon BEST brings together Oregon’s significant R&D strengths in clean technology to support the commercialization of new products and services. Since establishment in 2007, Oregon BEST’s 210-plus Member Faculty have generated more than $60 million in research revenue from federal, industry and foundation sources to Oregon. At its four partner universities (Oregon Institute of Technology, Oregon State University, Portland State University, and University of Oregon), Oregon BEST has established a network of seven shared-user research facilities. Oregon BEST Commercialization Grants are awarded to collaborations between entrepreneurs and Oregon BEST member faculty at partner universities. The first four Commercialization Grant awardees from 2011 have secured more than $1.5 million in follow-on funding, more than six times the total grant amount awarded. 

Sources: David Kenney, Oregon BEST, 503-725-9849; Hiroshi Morihara, HM3 Energy, 503-674-3222; Mike Milota, Oregon State University, 541-737-4210