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The pyrolysis of biomass differs from processes such as gasification or incineration since it takes place solely through the influence of heat and without the addition of oxygen.
Pyrolysis is the thermal decomposition of a material in the absence of oxygen. Depending on the process, valuable raw materials such as pyrolysis charcoal, pyrolysis oil and gas are produced.
How does Pyrolysis in agriculture work?
A pyrolysis plant is designed for thermochemical processing and utilization of biomass and other organic polymeric wastes to produce liquid and organic products as well as fine char.
There are various types of pyrolysis technologies, but the process is always the same:
The heart of each plant is the reactor. Here, the heat generated in the energy module is used to thermally crack the dry feedstock, excluding oxygen.
At the microscopic level, organic compounds are split and large molecules are broken down into smaller ones without combustion due to the exclusion of air. Far less CO₂ and energy is released from the feedstock, which leads to new energy-rich reaction products. A vapor-gas mixture and fine coke is produced.
In the following step, the mixture is separated from the charring dust. During a cooling process, the condensation of the mixture separates the liquid pyrolysis products (bio-oil) from the flammable gases.
In biomass pyrolysis, the cell wall components cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin are broken down by cleavage reactions. They react differently depending on the temperature level and duration of the reaction and thus determine the yield of solid, liquid and gaseous products.
No artificial fertilizer, no genetic engineering: Terra Preta, from the Portuguese translation “black earth”, is a very fertile soil that is created by enriching the soil with composted or fermented mixtures of biomass. An important component of this biomass is a nutrient-rich biochar in addition to animal and plant residues. Terra Preta was first found in the Amazon region, where it was created through centuries of cultivation by the indigenous people.
With pyrolysis it is possible to process various types of waste from plants, animals or industry to produce energy-rich products, that can be further used.
These Products are:
The solid pyrolysis products depend on the input material. During sewage sludge pyrolysis for example, a fine black coke with a particle size of up to 1 mm resuluts as solid product, whereas biochar can be obtained from the pyrolysis of plant input materials. This fine coke and char is excellent for briquetting, energy use, as sorbents, as well as for usage in agriculture
- Pyrolysis Oil:
The liquid pyrolysis products are non-polar and can be used as alternativ fuel or further refinded to produce biodiesel fuel (depending on the input material)
- Pyrolysis Gas:
The resulting non-condensable pyrolysis gas is mostly consumed by the pyrolysis plant to generate heat energy for the process.
Examples of Pyrolysis Applications:
Wood tar and pitch obtained by pyrolysis are the oldest plastics used by mankind and were already known in the European Middle Stone Age.
Nowadays the concept of pyrolysis is used in following industries around the world:
Pyrolysis offers an alternative to the incineration and recycling of waste. This includes plastic waste, tyres or wood waste. The substances resulting from the pyrolysis can be further prosessed for energy production.
The pyrolysis plant enables the safe disposal and recycling of sewage sludge through thermochemical conversion. The resulting products are liquid raw fuel as well as fine coal with fertilising properties. By using pure sewage sludge in the pyrolysis process, phosphorus recovery of the sewage sludge coal is possible.
Pyrolysis can be used to extract the nutrient-rich soil “Terra Preta”, which serves as a sustainable alternative to artificial fertilizers and genetic engineering in agriculture. Pyrolysis coal is obtained from animal and plant residues and mixed into the soil.
Pyrolysis is also used in the petrochemical industry to produce chemical products from the oil or gas extracted.
The pyrolysis process is seen as one alternative to replace fossil fuels in the long term and is therefore a sustainable solution to fight climate change. To this end, research is being carried out into many possible applications in order to make them cost-effective, sustainable and suitable for mass use.
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