GUWAHATI: Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, have developed a novel low-cost improved natural draft charcoal retort (INDCR) reactor to address the technological and capital investment challenges of Indian charcoal makers.

Dr Arunkumar Chandrasekaran and Dr Senthilmurugan Subbiah, professors in the Department of Chemical Engineering, IIT Guwahati, who are the lead innovators of the INDCR system, have filed an Indian patent for the design of the innovative reactor.

The reactor’s technical details and performance have been published in the peer-reviewed journal, Energy & Fuels Journal of the American Chemical Society.

National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) Limited’s new initiative Wing for Waste to Energy Projects, organised an open competition, ‘Green Charcoal Hackathon 2020, where the IIT Guwahati innovators presented the INDCR as participants.

Upon further evaluation and mentorship by the NTPC officials, the developed reactor has been given an opportunity to be demonstrated at the township of NTPC Ramagundam Thermal Power Station, located in Telangana to produce charcoal from Municipal Solid Waste (5 tonnes per day).

Charcoal is widely used as a fuel for domestic and industrial heating applications. While several developed countries are producing industrial charcoal through the retort system, it has not been available for Indian charcoal producers because of technological barriers and the need for higher capital investment.

“The innovative reactor is proven to produce high-quality charcoal from a wide range of feedstock, and it’s designed to use its own feedstock as heating fuel. This reactor is portable to agriculture fields, and proven to convert farm waste to charcoal without the noxious gas emissions,” Dr Subbiah said.

The developed charcoal retort reactor has been installed and tested at Paramakudi in Ramanathapuram district of Tamil Nadu, with fabrication help from a firm, Optima Heat Technologies.

The pilot-scale mobile charcoal production unit is 125 kg of input loading capacity with the two-phase mode of operation. The demonstration of the research consumed two years with more than 60 field trials carried out to ensure consistent yield and quality of charcoal.

Speaking about the technology transfer agreement between IIT Guwahati and Sanron Fuel Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, and Samkitec Resources, Hyderabad, Dr. Subbiah said that the technology transfer would enable further research and development in IIT Guwahati to design a higher capacity reactor system to produce an industrial-grade charcoal irrespective of any input loading feedstock with a higher mass and energy yield and lower emissions.

The researchers from IIT Guwahati chose various biomasses such as Prosopis juliflora, Casuarina equisetifolia, Bambusoideae, biomass briquettes, wood pellets and Refuse-Derived Fuel (RDF) briquettes from Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) as the input feedstock for charcoal making process.

The definition of good quality charcoal depends on its end-user. Hence, the retort reactor has been developed to be capable of producing charcoal in higher mass yield, versatile quality of fixed carbon, higher energy content with minimal noxious emission.

Further, the reactor has the ability to control the process at any point in time during operation. It is user-friendly in terms of loading biomass/feedstock and unloading charcoal.

The retort system operates in an environmentally friendly way with very low emissions of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons, and particulate matter.

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