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Increasing the flexibility of a fixed-bed biomass gasifier through model-based control strategies: method and practical verification

Published 2023

Citation: Hollenstein C, Zemann C, Martini S, Gölles M, Felsberger W, Horn M. Increasing the flexibility of a fixed-bed biomass gasifier through model-based control strategies: method and practical verification. 7. Mitteleuropäische Biomassekonferenz: CEBC 2023. 20. Jan 2023. Oral presentation.


Future hybrid energy systems require flexible technologies for compensating the volatile nature of most renewable energies. As such, fixed-bed biomass gasifiers are especially relevant as they allow a flexible production of heat, electricity and in a broader sense bio-based products (e.g. biochar). Thus, flexible fixed-bed biomass gasifiers will continuously become more relevant for a sustainable and highly flexible energy and resource system (bioeconomy).


However, due to their current economic dependency on specific feed in tariffs for the produced electricity, they are almost always operated at nominal load, to maximize the electricity production. Thus, their potential for flexibility has not been revealed up to now. Consequently, the currently applied control strategies are typically designed with the focus on steady-state operation. Any operation differing from nominal load typically requires manual interventions of the plant operators to avoid lower efficiencies or operational difficulties. Thus, currently applied control strategies do not allow a fully-automatic and flexible operation of the gasifiers.


To unleash the full potential of the gasifiers’ flexibility, new and more advanced control strategies able to handle varying operating conditions automatically are required. For this reason, this contribution aims for the development of a model-based control strategy, since it allows to explicitly consider all the correlations between the different process variables, and an efficient adaptation of the control strategy to different plants. The development was carried out on the basis of a representative industrial small-scale fixed-bed biomass gasifier operated as combined heat and power plant (CHP) with a nominal capacity of 300 kWth and 150 kWel. In this contribution we present the developed method as well as the practical verification of the model-based controller for the industrial small-scale fixed-bed biomass gasification plant.


The practical verification revealed a significant potential for flexibility increase by the new model-based control strategy in comparison to state-of-the-art control strategies. For example, the new controller performs a step-wise load change from 150 kWel to 100 kWel (-33%) within less than 2 min without affecting the gasification performance. The new control leads to a much more homogeneous gasification, in particular during partial load operation, and reduces the fluctuation margin of relevant process parameters to less than 1%. This controlled stabilization and homogenization of the gasification at different operating conditions is also a prerequisite for further future flexibilization measures, e.g. the extension of the feedstock variety (fuel flexibility) or increasing product flexibility.


Due to the modular and model-based design, the new control strategy can also be implemented on other fixed-bed gasifiers of the same type without requiring any structural modifications, by solely adjusting the model parameters appropriately. Furthermore, the new control strategy makes only use of sensors and actuators typically already available in state-of-the-art fixed-bed gasification systems. In conclusion, the model-based control strategy to be presented states a very important contribution towards flexible fixed-bed biomass gasification systems.


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