• Reigniting the….2010’s

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      Neil Fricker

A perspective from Neil Fricker, former IFRF Director and Investigator

Hello MNM readers – it doesn’t seem like a year since I was putting together MNM ‘pieces’ from IFRF’s office in sunny Livorno.  My ‘IFRF credentials’ span almost exactly five decades from being an Investigator at the IJmuiden Research Centre in the Netherlands in the late 1960s.  At that time, I coordinated experimental work on the then new and ‘difficult’ fuel, natural gas.  Who could have imagined then that I would act as interim Director during the transition from IJmuiden to Livorno in Italy, let alone reprising this role in 2015 during the preparation for IFRF’s move to Sheffield.

While I am looking forward to delving back into several exciting eras of activity (albeit somewhat worried at what photographs of callow young Investigators might be unearthed!), I have been asked to look over my shoulder at the IFRF’s research activity during the last six years in Livorno and highlight some of the key items available in the archives that have resonance today and into the future.  So here goes…

One focus of IFRF’s research from 2010 was collaborative work on two important European Commission (EC) funded projects, namely ‘BRISK’ (Biofuels Research Infrastructure for Sharing Knowledge) and ‘RELCOM’ (RELiable and efficient COMbustion of oxygen/coal/recycled flue gas mixtures).  These two projects, both of which ran from 2012 to 2015, involved multiple partners and utilised some of the excellent combustion rigs that IFRF had access to at Enel’s Research Centre in Livorno.

BRISK, as its name indicates, was focused on the dedicated combustion of various biomass feedstocks and the co-combustion of these fuels with coal.  Both of these options are increasingly critical components of power generation and industrial combustion systems in many parts of the world, with perhaps ‘dedicated biomass’ increasingly being the direction of travel as many countries strive to move to lower carbon futures in line with Paris Agreement targets.  As was clear at the recent Nordic Flame Days meeting in Stockholm, some very large utilities are taking this transition to biomass very seriously indeed (e.g. DONG Energy A/S has divested itself of all its upstream oil and gas assets and is focused on renewables – mainly biomass – and has been renamed ‘Ørsted A/S’ to reinforce this transition). See here for the recent MNM article on the Nordic Flame Day.

The RELCOM project, on the other hand, was concerned with the combustion of coal in an oxygen/recycled flue gases environment as a means to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal fired power stations.  When the RELCOM project was initiated, this approach to combusting fossil fuels was a highly promising option for ‘carbon capture’, generating a lot of interest in the USA, Europe and elsewhere.  Even with the current political swing away from coal, this work remains an important option to keep in our back pockets as politicians face up to the realities of their promises.

In specifying solid fuel combustion systems, knowledge of the combustion characteristics of the fuels to be used (as well as the uncertainties in the measured parameters) is vital.  Both these EC-funded projects made extensive use of the solid fuel combustion characterisation rig developed by IFRF in IJmuiden (the so-called Isothermal Plug Flow Reactor, IPFR) which was moved, rebuilt and improved at Enel’s laboratory in Livorno.  Three very readable reports that give a description of the IPFR technique, as well as the measurements made on several biomasses (BRISK) and coals in oxy/CO2 atmospheres (RELCOM) are contained in three 2013 IFRF reports available through the IFRF’s documents archive:

The data are also available in digital form through IFRF’s Solid Fuel Database which will be a future topic in the ‘Reigniting the…’ series.

As a footnote, I am sure everyone will be pleased to know that, following an initiative by a previous IFRF Superintendent of Research Prof Leo Tognotti, Enel and the University of Pisa were able to cooperate to save the IPFR rig from the bulldozers when the Enel Livorno Research Area was cleared.  The rig was carefully dismantled and is stored at UniPi.  Leo would be delighted to hear from individuals and organisations who wish to discuss its future reconstruction and use. To contact Leo click here.

Well, I hope that my selection of outputs from the 2010s has whetted your appetite for more of IFRF’s over 2,000 technical reports, more than 300 ‘Combustion Files’ and the scores of papers and presentations in the archive.  Why not have a delve?

Right, I’m off to dig out some of my spectacular ties from the 60s and 70s so that I’m ready for future editions of ‘Reigniting the…’ series.

Happy reading!

[Editor – thanks Neil.  We look forward to hearing from you again later in the series.]