It cannot be stressed enough: bioenergy is a field of continuous innovation, always seeking to further advance. FireCube—a project developed by Ecosoftec, a company ran by Jean-Pierre Ravix and partners in the Alpine region (FR) —exemplifies not only such an innovative solution, but presents a unique catalytic process to improve boiler combustion.
FireCube is a story of committed entrepreneurs and their rural start-up finding initial market opportunities in the bioenergy sector. Everything began in 2010 with a single aim: incorporating a catalytic process in installations using combustion technologies to better facilitate, accelerate and complete the chemical reaction of thermal oxidation to solve many daily concerns faced by plant operators. Initially Mr. Ravix and his partners considered heavy fuel and hard processed residues to be niche markets for their newborn technology; however, unexpected outcomes and partners began to spring up, and Ecosoftec found bioenergy operators had an even greater willingness to test their solutions.
FireCube can provide great advantages for the biomass industry as well as the environment. FireCube technology consists of transforming a precursor containing manganese oxide-based compounds (the catalysts) into quantified vapours at nano-scale. The action of the catalyst allows for the lowering of the combustion temperature, which reduces ash vitrification phenomenon and nitrogen oxidation. It also reduces excess air, since the combustion process is improved and the boiler’s fouling limited, preventing long and costly maintenance operations. These issues are fundamental concerns for plant owners as it has a direct impact on plant efficiency in the range of 3% to 15% according to the first companies testing FireCube.
Back in 2010, developing such a project was far from easy. As banks had and still tend to have a limited understanding of such technology and the potential partners from the bioenergy sector, Mr. Ravix still managed to fund the company in a start-up fashion by finding angel investors and securing public funds from national and regional bodies. After this first stage, convincing initial partners was not an easy task either: As FireCube technology cannot be fully simulated in laboratories, it touches at the very crux of installations – the combustion chamber itself and by extension, the heart of many industrial processes. This is where trust and appetite for innovation come into play. This is where local bioenergy operators provide a big push in the right direction for Ecosoftec.
In 2013, Laurent Fustinoni, one of the manager of AEB (Alpes Energie Bois), a cogeneration plant from the region, was one of the first to adopt the technology. After two years of using FireCube, AEB’s manager is positive about his experience, claiming “The use of FireCube has generated improved combustion with a visible reduction in fouling. This decline has reduced steam soot sequences that have a direct impact on the electricity production. This allowed us to produce 1 MWh more of electricity production per day.”
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