In the UK, power generation is achieved mostly through the combustion of fossil fuels from remote power stations at a low-efficiency rate of 40%. This can lead to a large depletion of energy resources and pollution to environment. In reality, after taking into consideration long-distance power transmission and distribution losses, the generation efficiency tends to be further reduced to around 32% at the power supply end. To combat this problem, a local and decentralised combined heat and power (CHP) system may be used to attain not only 30% electrical efficiency but also over 50% heating efficiency, which would significantly improve the energy utilisation rate. In areas with simultaneous heating and electricity demand including supermarket and district heating, such systems would be a viable economic option. However, currently most CHP systems still require fossil fuel energy resources, which diminish both their energy-saving merit and potential CO2 emission reductions. Therefore, it would be highly desirable to promote the use of localised renewable resources, such as biomass fuels, with optimised CHP system engineering designs.
Currently, there are two main biomass CHP systems: biomass gasification with gas/steam turbines and biomass combustion with Organic Rankin Cycles (ORC). However, these biomass CHP systems cannot be further developed or extensively applied before the resolution of certain critical issues. These include achieving an acceptable thermal efficiency, compact system size, environmentally-friendly working fluid, advanced thermodynamic power cycles, optimal system design and control, and flexible operation etc. On the other hand, for power generation with medium to high temperature heat sources, CO2 supercritical Brayton cycles (S-CO2) can predominate over conventional ORCs in terms of thermal efficiency, environmental impact and system compactness. The S-CO2 systems have been applied in large-scale waste heat recovery of nuclear power plants but have not yet been utilised in biomass power generations due to various unsettled challenges. In this proposed project, a small-scale biomass power generation system with advanced CO2 supercritical Brayton cycles and novel heat exchanger designs will be investigated experimentally and theoretically. The investigation will address the challenges involved in the proposed system including innovative designs of thermal drive CO2 supercritical compressors, precise CO2 parameter controls at the S-CO2 compressor inlet, novel designs of supercritical CO2 heat exchangers and comprehensive understanding of the complex heat transfer and hydraulic processes involved. In addition, a detailed transient model of the biomass S-CO2 power generation system will be developed which will enable the system to be further optimised and scaled up for actual design and operation.