Charcoal for the perfect barbecue

Wednesday June 11, 2014 14:16

Europe’s largest charcoal factory is in south-western Ukraine. Under Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) supervision, Polyprom transforms low-quality wood into excellent charcoal for your summer barbecue. ECN is helping the company to improve its product and to work more efficiently. As a result, we have started looking at the barbecue in a whole new way.

With its thick forests, wood is in plentiful supply in Ukraine. The best is selected for the manufacture of premium products like furniture. But the rest is certainly not wasted: the company Polyprom turns it into charcoal.

From trunk to barbecue
The tree trunks are first sawn into small pieces about the size of the logs used in domestic fireplaces. These are then dropped into a 25-metre high silo to dry. From here they are transferred to a second silo, a 40-metre retort where they are carbonised and pulverised in an oxygen-free environment. Finally, the product is cooled from 500 degrees Celsius to less than 100. The result: the charcoal we use on our barbecues.

Efficient thermal conversion
Heat is vital to Polyprom’s production process. It is used both to dry the wood and to carbonise it. Looking for ways to improve thermal conversion at its plant, the company asked ECN for assistance.

Members of our team first visited Ukraine in May 2013. There they conducted an audit of the entire manufacturing process to identify areas for improvement. Scientists Paul de Wild and Gertjan Herder then returned to Polyprom in May 2014. “This time we performed a series of measurements of the thermal processes in the retorts. Combined, the audit and measurements have resulted in concrete proposals. For example, we have recommended that the drying processes be modified. First of all, by stacking the wood more neatly at the factory so that it dries better. Not only will that make the production process more efficient, it will also enable Polyprom to generate a higher income from charcoal of better quality. We also advised them to use more gas in the drying silo, at a lower temperature. That improves efficiency, too, and prevents unwanted premature disintegration. Moreover, excess humidity in the wood detracts from the calorific value of the gas released during charcoal production in the retorts.” ECN has forecast that changes to the drying process could increase production by as much as 33 per cent.

Investing for the future
The Polyprom factory operates around the clock, so implementing modifications is not easy. But the company was able to act immediately to improve its on-site storage and sawing work. And it is already testing changes to the carbonisation process. “It is fantastic to see that Polyprom has taken up our recommendations,” says Paul de Wild, “and that the modifications instantly had a positive effect. We have advised them to invest in more production capacity in the future, and in modernising their reactors. We can help them to compile specifications and select suitable equipment suppliers. We also advise on sustainability aspects, such as dust emission and wastewater clarification. That will make our partnership complete: from initial audit and measurements all the way to an investment for the future.”

Are you interested in our partnership with Polyprom or in thermal conversion?  Paul de Wild is happy to bring you up to date.

Category: Mei, Biomass, Corporate