[Gasification] Identifying and fixing technical and commercial roadblocks to commercial small-scale CHP gasifiers

Peter & Kerry realpowersystems at gmail.com
Fri Jun 29 22:39:53 CDT 2012

Excellent summary Tom, and I like Thomas's pragmatism voiced from real 
experience.  We are continents apart yet have had many similar 
experiences.  Davids suggestion of a study sounds good, so long as the 
system developers tell the truth about their failures (allowing for the 
fact many don't understand what these really were and the rest is 
proprietary) and the person doing the study is knowledgeable and 
experienced enough to understand the difference. Still such a study 
would be a good title for a grant application somewhere...

On Thursday I had a great day, not so much the start as the morning was 
spent in paperwork till after lunch, but then I got to travel 80 minutes 
from where I live to the gasifier near Canberra to meet someone who had 
asked to see it, and to give a small demonstration.

I don't know what the chaps real interest was, and I don't really care, 
it was an excuse to get away and play with the system for a couple of 
hours. We have been way too busy on other aspects of the business.

In the last few months operational runs have been managed by my sons as 
I have a couple of crook knees that prevented me from climbing up and 
checking how things were going inside (it is a development unit), which 
was frustrating as we had changed our normal fuel preparation to 
something more likely to be found in the real world. This day I was on 
my own, when I got there, at the same time as the visitor, I realised 
that on the last run 10 days earlier the top hopper door had not been 
closed properly and the rain, frosts and heavy fog in between had soaked 
much of the fuel bed that had been left inside, with the hopper 3/4 full 
of now damp wood chips. I explained the situation and he was very 
understanding and said he didn't really expect to see it running.

Getting it running though was not my concern, I lit her up on the top of 
the fuel bed instead of where we would normally, it merely took an extra 
15-20 minutes compared to the usual start-up before we had a a self 
sustaining flare at the gas burner, running at 180Nm3/hr. We had watched 
as the steam plume diminished and finally disappeared as the unit came 
up to stable operation with fresh fuel at about the 35 minute mark, with 
the flare transition to fully transparent (colourless) with no sign of 
soot or tars. Our visitor was gobsmacked and confessed to having 
forgotten all the questions he had been going to ask, they were in any 
case redundant, he was amazed at the low smoke levels before flare 
ignition even with the wet start up.  He did volunteer as he was 
vigorously shaking my hand on leaving that he was someone very 
influential (who knew?) and that what he had witnessed gave him hope for 
the world in our rapidly changing and carbon constrained future...

The point of me relating this story is this; we have been able to do 
exactly the same thing on a wide range of fuels for the last three 
years. It does not make us commercial, and the visitor may well be 
important in some way, but this will not speed up our progress.

Yes there have been many technical barriers along the way but these have 
been overcome, I was really pleased to see Thomas's list here and on an 
earlier post to cross check against our own. Thomas, any time you down 
in the antipodes we would be pleased to show you some innovations working...

The real barriers begin after this, and are more to do with human 
systems and greed. We have even had to fight a court case against a 
public authority following a successful project with them where they 
have then withheld lawful payments in order to ensure they "secured" our 
IP for themselves through unilaterally reissuing amended contracts after 
the event and requiring us to accept these before being paid for what 
had already been done.

I have lost count of the number of "engineers" who have turned up 
offering to take and "fix" our system and distribute it to the world.

Then there is the seemingly economically bizarre decisions, like clients 
who have allocated sufficient funds to put a system in,  are stalled on 
their essential business expansion due to local grid constraints, but 
are still waiting for the outcome of grant applications to give them the 
same amount of money as would have been saved in avoided energy costs 
over the same waiting period if they had just gone ahead with the 
project alone in the first place.

Do we blame clients for our failure to launch? Generally no (the 
exception is those who having confirmed the feasibility then engage in 
corrupt practice to gain advantage), there is so much bastardry and 
false claims in the industry ordinary clients are justified in being 
cautious. It is ultimately up to us to prove ourselves worthy and there 
is little alternative other than to work slowly but surely towards 
operation goals with every risk management strategy in place.  This 
cannot help but take time.

There is another fundamental aspect to this illustrated in the reverse 
by some of the comments on this thread. Successful implementation of the 
technology must seamlessly integrate with the clients "business as 
usual". We are yet to find anyone running successful lives or businesses 
who are "lazy". There is some education required, particularly in 
transitional thinking from "I have a waste stream I have to deal with" 
to "I have a resource that enhances my business". In this context they 
will accept extra labour input, but only if it turns a clear profit. 
However the best implementation of systems simply redirect existing labour.

We are well over the thousand hour mark on one of the hearths, with a 
rebuild initially after only 100 hrs because we found issues ultimately 
traced back to material substitution by the fabricator. Did we blame the 
fabricator? No, we saw this as a failure of our own quality control 
systems and amended these accordingly, allowing for the fact that this 
will be tried from time to time by people who "think they know better" 
but do not understand the impacts of their decisions, and also by the 
unscrupulous who do not care either way.

We are expecting problems at the 2000-3000 hr mark as some components 
degrade over time in the harsh conditions they operate under (no sign 
yet). Is this a show stopper? No because this has been catered for in 
the system design which allows replacement and restarting of the whole 
hearth assembly in under 4 hours. The "old" hearth assembly can then be 
shipped back to the workshop for refurbishment. Yes this has all been 
catered for in our economic model and is part of the anticipated 
maintenance schedule and cost. If this does eventuate (at whatever 
regular interval) does it then matter at 15,000 or 30,000hrs?

I have a mate who laughed at this approach as he said it reminded him of 
the story of the old axe near the wood heap at the back of the farm 
house. It reputedly had been in the family for generations, of course 
the handle had been replaced a few times along with the steel head at 
least twice over the years...but it is the continuity that matters.

Over the next twelve months or so we will crack the 3000hr and +7000hr 
milestones in commercial type operating conditions. We might then 
advertise our success, but this will not be because we need to drum up 
business, the level of word of mouth enquires we deal with on an almost 
daily basis is why we don't have a website for tyre kickers to flutter 
around. It is no wonder the scam artists do so well, we do not seek 
investor finance yet still have to turn down offers on a regular basis.  
Why turn them down? because money is not a substitute for time and 
operational experience. Money can assist getting the latter started, but 
if you are already on the path why dilute ownership?

Before anyone feels jealous, calls us liars or pronounces us "lucky" to 
be in the above position it took more than two decades of sacrifice and 
unpaid work whilst surviving being ripped off by scam artists along the 
way (some lurking on this list) to arrive at this happy circumstance, 
and we are still not commercial, which we define for ourselves simply as 
returning a profit on our investment and labour without resulting in 
unhappy customers, the rest is just academic.


More information about the Gasification mailing list