DigitalFire: digitization of biomass furnaces

Because optimal configuration is so difficult when it comes to biomass furnaces, the systems do not always run as efficiently as they could. Digital process monitoring could help – even for smaller systems.

Biomass is the renewable source of energy that can do it all, as it can be used to generate heat, electricity or fuel. Through the DigitalFire project, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology UMSICHT are working to make biomass combustion plants more efficient and thus more cost-effective – with the aid of digitization. “Digital process monitoring really only existed at larger biomass heating power plants and waste incineration plants,” says Martin Meiller, group manager at Fraunhofer UMSICHT. “DigitalFire also addresses, for the first time, furnaces in smaller output classes such as boiler plants and smaller biomass power plants with a rated thermal output of 100 kW to 20 MW.”

Most incineration systems can burn fuels of lower quality such as forest residues as well as biogenic residues such as biowaste, green waste, crop residues and straw. However, the individual furnace parameters need to be adjusted manually in order to maintain a stable incineration process and ensure maximum efficiency. This complex configuration process requires extensive experience and is occasionally limited. But mistakes can lead to higher emissions or, even worse, increase wear and tear, resulting in additional maintenance and downtime. “In comparison, digital monitoring of control systems across the board also enables highly efficient use of fluctuating fuel qualities – in other words, the best-possible incineration economically and environmentally at all times,” explains Meiller. The researchers combine the control systems with digital modules, ranging from fuel storage and supply to the combustion chamber, and test these in operation. A user-friendly front end for mobile devices, for example, will also be developed during the project.