The CHIMERA project, financed by the EC’s LIFE programme in 2015, is a point of contact between these future EU’s energy and circular economy paradigms.
It is a step-change in the biomass sector, in perfect compliance to EC’s vision, as it is proposing a new waste-to-energy plant designed to burn chicken manure: a massive problem for EU generating copious amounts of ammonia polluting soil, water and air. CHIMERA also perfectly fits a distributed-energy scheme, by providing district-size energy production, while it is an example of closed-cycle reuse and symbiosis within farmers and fertilizer’s production value-chains.
In fact, the innovative technology which is being developed, is the first one to almost fully recover nitrogen from manure and turn most of the waste into an N-P-K rich fertilizer, with few ashes and sludge as final waste to be disposed. By doing so, it will cut a huge cost for manure disposal and turn it into a possible saving/profit for every farm willing to install the plant and able to use or sell the new fertilizer.
Two demonstrators are currently under test in Italy and a final prototype will be hosted by a Dutch farmer in the Netherlands, the family-owned company Renders & Renders.
“NOW we have something – manure – that nobody wants and represents a cost. With CHIMERA we have something – the fertiliser – that everybody needs and is disposed to pay “, points out Mark Renders, owner at Renders & Renders
The Issue at Stake and the “As Is” situation
Manure disposal impacts heavily on GHG emissions via Ammonia and generates million tons of waste per year. Up to now, it has been a burden for farmers and a special waste. The traditional process includes:
(-) strict regulations, (-) stock within the farm with awful smell for the neighborhood, (-) high transport costs, (-) need for waste treatment and reliance on external companies (e.g. for direct disposal, incinerators, biogas)
In the meantime, EU states are very different in terms of how they process manure: currently, the largest share of the livestock manure production is being processed in Italy, Greece and Germany. Despite this, the Netherlands is a very strategic country for technology validation, future replication and benefits.
Indeed, The Netherlands, with 97 Million poultry heads, keep the highest intensity in EU, at 5.2 million heads per hundred hectares, creating a strong environmental issue due to high concentration of manure – 9,2 Mtons/yy (FAOSTAT). Such a need fostered the development of advanced regulations, with a market ready to take up novel solutions.
Moreover, to date the best available practice in EU just stands in the Netherlands, where the utility company Delta NV has been operating the first commercial-scale power plant since 2008.
Innovative performances in the spotlight
The expected LIFE CHIMERA innovation improves the state of the art performances of biomass plants based on poultry manure and targets a future business made of smaller scale plants, delivering:
1) “As-it-is” manure, no drying required
2) Low temperature avoiding de-NOx stage
3) Ashes which are both rich in N, in P, and in K, completing the formation of raw material to produce NPK fertilizer, already hydrated and ready for transformation, whereas state-of-the-art plants present very low N;
4) A smaller size of plants (target 7000 tons/yy, able to produce at least 800 [tons/yy] of NPK fertilizer) to address different target users with a localized approach.
More in detail: while manure is introduced as such in the combustor (maximum allowed water content = 60%), without any preliminary drying or briquetting treatment, the burner / boiler performs a diffusive combustion of the biomass, without any tube bundle directly exposed to the biomass or to the flames or the fumes. The boiler does not provide moving parts and is inherently simpler and cheaper to build and to conduct, while ensuring a fine combustion regulation thanks to the direct intake of combustion air with precise control of internal temperatures.
The proposed system is intrinsically capable of breaking down powders (PM <50) and the flue gas treatment system is simplified: the average outlet temperature from the combustor is extremely low (adjustable from 60 to 170 [° C]) with a limited emission of fine particles.
As key to its expected success, CHIMERA allows high recovery of nitrogen paving the way to a N-P-K rich by-product to be sold or used. Its extraction comes from the fumes through the treatment water of a two-stage scrubber: in the first phase a “wet throat Venturi Scrubber” is used, suitably modified to inject water mixed with the just-produced ashes; in the second phase the fumes pass through a counter-current Scrubber before entering the atmosphere. The aqueous treatment solution is gradually concentrated on the Scrubber collecting tank in the form of sludge, which is periodically extracted and stored in suitable tanks for the subsequent chemical-physical analyzes. The sludge is then disposed of as waste characterized after having assigned its EWC. The sludge-free water is reused to continuously feed both Scrubbers; a reintegration system with external water is exclusively provided for the first start-up of the system.
Aiming at a circular business
By burning manure, CHIMERA will lead to remarkable economic savings for farmers, due to avoided disposal, plus electric and thermal energy produced by an ORC group included into the biomass plant.
Moreover, a new N-P-K fertilizer can be delivered. To bypass current hurdles, the project is connecting decision makers, fertilizer producers and farmers to explore all the steps needed to test this business and close the cycle between farmers and fertilizer producers. The techno-economic analysis has already shown that the income value can be as high as 300 k€/yy for a plant costing 2 Million Euros.
Next steps to go
CHIMERA has successfully gone through the first tests on the field and in the labs, proving the quality of the ashes and the energy output. A lean approach has kept improving the system before the realization of the first actual size prototype, to be built in the Netherlands.