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B iofuels have traditionally been seen as alternatives that can be used when fossil fuels are scarce or expensive. Recent surges in crude

oil prices brought biofuels, among a vari-

ety of alternatives, to the fore once again. Today, biofuels have an added attraction — as “carbon-neutral renewables.” While there has been considerable debate regarding the net obtainable car- bon from these fuels, some regulators, especially in the U.S., have nevertheless classified biofuels as renewables. Recent legislation, such as state-level Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), are driving a surge in interest in using these fuels in gas turbines. Questions gas turbine users are ask- ing include:

• Where do I get biodiesel from?

• How do I get it here?

• Where do I put it and how long does it last?

• Can I use it “straight,” or should I blend?

• Can I switch whenever I need to?

• How much is this going to cost?

• Do I need to modify my unit? Expectations cover the range. The best case may be a large-frame gas tur- bine operating in baseload or “dispatch- able-on-notice” and producing hundreds of megawatts certified as renewable. But critics say that biofuels are not available in sufficient volumes in the U.S. to sup- port utility-scale power generation. Suppliers are saying that they are ramping up capacity, and also hoping that imports from Asian nations would help to fill the gap. A more reasonable scenario would be blending the biofuel with the regular diesel by up to 20% - 30%, and obtaining carbon incentives for the amount of biofuel used. OEMs, such as GE and Pratt & Whitney, and users, such as Duke Energy, have been testing the use of biofuels in their gas turbines. While the OEMs are drawing up extensive recommendations on biofuel use, preliminary reports (Figure 1) from short-term tests suggest that if a few “technical” bogies are tack- led, it would be possible to use biofuels. Questions remain regarding the varia- tions in the composition of these fuels and their compatibility with gas turbines. For instance, biodiesel could potentially

20 Turbomachinery International • November/December 2008

20 Turbomachinery International • November/December 2008 Figure 1: Test results from a GE Frame 7 gas

Figure 1: Test results from a GE Frame 7 gas turbine using Next Generation Biofuels’ product

have a high level of alkali salts, which could corrode turbine blades. Suppliers are confident that the fuel production processes can be tailored to meet gas turbine needs. Experience from the automotive industry may also help to study the compatibility of materials used in power plant equipment.

Considering changes

Of various biofuels, biodiesels may offer characteristics comparable to convention- al liquid fuels. Alcohols, such as methanol and ethanol, may require that the fuel-handling equipment is scaled up by 40% to compensate for the lower heat- ing values. Biodiesel (methyl ester) is obtained by processing natural fats and oils, such as soybean, rapeseed, tallow-poultry and yellow grease, with alcohols, such as methanol and ethanol. Catalysts, such as sodium hydroxide or potassium hydrox- ide, facilitate the process. There are over 175 biodiesel facilities in the U.S. with a total capacity of 2.6 bgpy, according to the National Biodiesel

Board. In general, biodiesels, in their pure form, are non-toxic, have excellent lubricity and are miscible with petroleum diesel. Recent ASTM standards include specifications for various blend percent- ages of biodiesel with regular diesel. Biomass feedstocks may contain alkali salts. Sodium and potassium-based catalysts used in biodiesel production could lead to trace amounts of the salts. These can cause:

• Deposition on turbine blades

• Hot gas path corrosion

• Burner plugging OEM fuel specifications typically recommend 1 ppmw (max.) for sodium and potassium, combined. To investigate the operation of gas turbines on biodiesel, GE recently field-tested a Frame 6B at the Cornauz power plant, Switzerland. The Frame 6B is a 40 MW class machine and has traditionally enjoyed a wide port- folio of alternative fuels. Pure biodiesel was used during the testing without blending. Considering the similarities between diesel and biodiesel properties (Figure 2), no changes were made to the gas turbine hardware or con- trol system. It was found that gas turbines can start up with biodiesel. Biodiesels are general- ly more viscous than diesel oil and they may need to be heated to conform to OEM requirements for viscosity. Biodiesels are intrinsically lubricious and are sometimes used as lubricity agents in some fuels. Therefore no spe- cial measure is required for the operation of the high-pressure fuel pump and the flow divider, GE says. The Cornauz plant fuel supplier used a soda-, potash-free process to manufac- ture the biodiesel. GE says that contami- nation during transportation and transfers are also possible and should be consid- ered when using biofuels. While pure biodiesel is non-toxic and bio-degradable, commercial products use additives, such as pour point depressants, antioxidants and biocides, which make the final product less ecofriendly, though less toxic than diesel. Biodiesels have high solvency power, which can lead to a progressive attack on conventional rubbers. Synthetic elastomers for seals and gas- kets need to be used. Although, biodiesel is miscible with

Figure 2: Table compares typical biodiesel and diesel properties. However, the composition, quality and properties

Figure 2: Table compares typical biodiesel and diesel properties. However, the composition, quality and

properties of biodiesel vary widely

diesel oil in any proportion, a minimum mixing energy is required to get a homogenous phase. This means that adding biodiesel to a tank partly filled with gasoil can lead to phase segregation. Since biodiesel is biodegradable, it is more sensitive than diesel to bacterial growth in storage tanks. GE says adding biocides and draining storage tanks peri- odically could mitigate the problem. Thermal stability varies based on feedstock types. While this may not affect combustion, it still is a concern. Also, biodiesel has a higher cloud/gel point than diesel and requires blending in cold weather. The tests showed:

• SOx is minimal — biodiesel is non-toxic

• No visible plume

• CO 2 emissions on biodiesel is slightly higher due to the lower heating value and consequently higher fuel consumption •CO and Volatile Organic Compounds are as minute as with No. 2 Diesel

• NOx emission is lower — 2% lower

without water injection and 19% lower with water injection

• The NOx abatement effect of water injec-

tion is normal and similar to that of diesel oil GE says that the following are the lessons learned from short-term tests on the 6B and 7EA. Users should start the permitting process early, partner with fuel providers to determine the actual composition of fuels to be used, and establish a fuel-sampling program. Fuel

(Courtesy of DOE report DOE/GO 102006-2358)

pre-heating may be necessary, and spare fuel filters may be required, especially during the start of biofuel burning. GE says it has concerns about fuel quality, fuel properties and impact on hardware since fuel can act as a solvent. Seal compatibility is a key issue and is a concern for some polymer materials. Long-term storage issues include fuel stability, potential need for fuel additives, and heating may be required (depending on location). GE warns: “Such considerations are preliminary and must not be considered as extensive recommendations for embark- ing on a commercial use of biodiesel for which the OEM shall be consulted.”

Controlling quality

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has embarked on a project that aims to:

• Describe biodiesel properties, composi- tion and feedstocks • Review published experience with

B100 and biodiesel blends in large frame and aeroderivative gas turbines

• Perform screening tests for combustion

characteristics, and fuel handling and material compatibility

• Perform field demonstration tests Elements of the project include com- paring gas turbine emissions and perfor- mance characteristics operating on distil- late and biodiesel, and assessing the impact on fuel handling and storage sta- bility. The project hopes to study techni-

cal feasibility and economic viability of using biodiesel blends, and to generate data that could be useful for supporting air permit decisions and switching to biodiesel based on RPS. In the winter of 2007-2008, EPRI conducted a two-day test on a 6B unit with water injection and a Selective Catalytic Reduction system. B100 (100% biodiesel) was used from poultry tallow feedstock. EPRI recommends that, due to variability in biodiesel quality, com- position and properties, users need to formulate a firm quality assurance- quality control system. “The composi- tion and quality could vary from sup- plier to supplier and even batch-to- batch,” says Leonard Angello, EPRI’s Program Manager. An “off-take approach” can solve the quality problem, says Sam Gray, Vice President of Market Development for Verde Biofuels, Inc. “This approach creates an exclusive supply agreement between the purchaser of biodiesel and the plant.” The off-take approach offers consis- tent plant production schedules by guar- anteeing the purchase of the finished product. In this manner, a 30 million- gallon-per-year plant, such as Verde’s Wilmington, NC facility, actually pro- duces up to its capacity and can supply large customers including utilities. This will help to control the raw material input, which allows for greater quality control and cost management. “Sourcing raw materials from reputable firms, such as Cargill, provides initial quality that we depend on for our prod- uct consistency,” says Gray. “Decreasing the variables that go into the production process creates greater confidence in the certificates of analysis that we offer with every batch of pol- ished biodiesel.” Gray advocates that utilities enter into forward contracts with fewer biodiesel suppliers rather than playing the spot fuel market in an attempt to reduce cost, often to the detriment of quality. “It is far easier to rely on prod- uct consistency from a plant with strong quality control protocols rather than relying on spot deals that may occasion- ally deliver price savings.” Meanwhile, EPRI also suggests that the fuel control valve limits may need to be reset or the valve replaced to compen- sate for the 10% to 12% lower heating value in cold ambients. Storage and fuel delivery temperature should be controlled to prevent deposits in cold weather and vapor lock at elevated temperatures.

November/December 2008 • Turbomachinery International 21

Figure 3: Statewide Renewable Portfolio Standards could provide a significant impetus to biofuels Since biodiesels
Figure 3: Statewide Renewable Portfolio Standards could provide a significant impetus to biofuels Since biodiesels

Figure 3: Statewide Renewable Portfolio Standards could provide a significant impetus to biofuels

Since biodiesels are biodegradable, their storage duration should be limited. The atomization of heavier and more viscous biodiesels, especially those from animal fat, should be improved to prevent increases in emissions. The Wobbe Index should be optimized to control emissions. A recent study by the Universiy of Alabama indicates that at a constant

fuel flow rate, CO and NOx emissions with biodiesel are lower compared to diesel. While at a constant heat release rate, CO and NOx emissions with biodiesel and diesel-vegetable oil blends are slightly higher than those from diesel. EPRI is planning additional field demonstration tests this year to broaden its experience base to additional

GASIFYING BIOFUELS SSpray diffusion burners are used to to burn liquid fuels in gas turbines.
SSpray diffusion burners are used to to burn liquid fuels in gas turbines. The LPP
system vaporizes the liquid and converts it into a substitute for natural gas. This
would enable the use of liquid fuels in conventional lean premixed combustors
and produce emissions comparable to natural gas levels. Testing by LPP shows
that gas turbines operating under stringent NOx and CO emission limits for nat-
ural gas can potentially burn biofuels, which can be freed of alkali salts after
The LPP system (Figure 4) is a fuel conditioning skid consisting of a vaporizer,
nitrogen generator, compressors, heaters and heat exchangers. Co-firing with
natural gas is possible. Switchover can be done on the fly without shutting down.
Figure 4: The LPP system vaporizes the biofuel to help burning in any type of combustor

22 Turbomachinery International • November/December 2008

biodiesel feedstocks and burner config- urations. The institute is seeking hosts for the tests.

Not always favorable

The regulatory environment may not always favor using biofuels. While pro- posed carbon legislation and renewable standards (Figure 3) promote biofuels, the prospect of switching to biofuels from gas or liquid, or even blending it, may require re-drawing the permit as per other U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations, such as New Source Performance Standards, New Source Review or Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) rules. Mack McGuffey, an attorney with Troutman Sanders LLP, advises operators to check their existing permit to deter- mine fuel restrictions and emission lim- its. Each permit and each state will be different. A typical permit may say: “The permittee shall not discharge from each combustion turbine, when burning fuel oil, NOx emissions in excess of 190 tons during any 12 months.” Before embarking on a biofuels pro- ject, operators can test the fuels. The U.S. EPA has special rules built in to allow such testing. And then use the data obtained to modify the permit. The question is: Will biofuel consti- tute a “modification.” The test data can be compared with maximum achievable hourly emission rates in the past five years to make that decision. Gas-fired combustion turbines are exempt from MACT rules. But McGuffey believes they may apply for biofuels. A key MACT restriction relevant for biofu- els is the formaldehyde limit of 91 ppb at 15% O 2 on oil. A driving factor for biofuels is the monetary incentives built into regula- tions. Mike Ramotowski of LPP Combustion estimates that a typical B100 fuel (100% biodiesel) priced at $3.39/gallon could see its cost reduced to $1.58/gallon from the fol- lowing incentives:

• Federal blending credit (up to $1.00 per gallon)

• Green power premiums ranging from

$0.015/kWh to $0.08/kWh • Federal production tax credit of $0.01/kWh to $0.02/kWh for renewable power production power

• Carbon credits (RGGI: $4/ton, EU ETS:


Assuming a lower heating value of 118,296 Btu/gallon, this would be equivalent to $13.36/MMBtu. A federal- ly mandated carbon cap program may

further reduce biodiesel costs.