Source: TAKACHAR LIMITED submitted to
Sponsoring Institution
National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Project Status
Funding Source
Reporting Frequency
Accession No.
Grant No.
Project No.
Proposal No.
Multistate No.
Program Code
Project Start Date
Jul 1, 2021
Project End Date
Aug 31, 2022
Grant Year
Project Director
Kung, K. S.
Recipient Organization
BOSTON,MA 022104501
Performing Department
Non Technical Summary
Most biomass (crop and forest) residues are loose, wet, and bulky, making them logistically costly to collect and convert into useful biofuel/bioproducts. As such, in Western States such as California, excess woody residues either are burned in prescribed fires, or cost landowners tremendously to move out of wildfire-prone regions. Takachar is developing small-scale, low-cost, portable equipment that can be latched onto the back of pick-up trucks to deploy to remote, hard-to-access landings and vegetation management operations to locally densify/upgrade the woody biomass into higher-value biofuels and bioproducts before transportation. As more equivalent energy or value can be now packed onto the same truckload compared to moving raw biomass, this saves electrical utilities hundreds of millions of dollars in vegetation management. This project will validate a feedstock-robust control system over a wide range of input biomass characteristics, consistently producing a biofuel of a heating value specified by a prospective customer despite the input fluctuations. If successful, this project will lead to an integrated hardware-software system that allows Takachar to scale our operation to different vegetation management operations with different biomass types and moisture contents, producing different user-specified bioproducts on demand. When commercialized in the beachhead market, we can help landowner expand vegetation management, increase biomass utilization, and reduce wildfire risk, thereby helping state and federal governments avert wildfire damages and suppression costs, avoiding carbon emissions, and creating additional livelihood in rural, underserved communities.
Animal Health Component
Research Effort Categories

Knowledge Area (KA)Subject of Investigation (SOI)Field of Science (FOS)Percent
Goals / Objectives
Takachar is commercializing a torrefaction process developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) under low-oxygen (non-inert) conditions. In contrast to traditional torrefaction technologies, which often impose an inert atmosphere condition that is expensive and complicated to maintain, our work leads to a new class of simplified, continuous torrefaction reactor designs that are small-scale, low-cost, portable, and autothermal (does not require external energy source to start or operate). The technology also exhibits no open flames, which is an important requirement. The significance is that this work decentralizes deployment of torrefaction in remote, off-grid areas, allowing for production of densified, well-tempered bio-based products or their precursors at source. This output can be more affordably transported, in contrast with moving raw biomass, to end users. Furthermore, decentralized deployment of biomass torrefaction technology realizes, for the first time, the ability for raw biomass to be upgraded to user-specified characteristics in situ before transportation even begins. In order to achieve this with biomass that is highly variable in moisture, particle sizes, etc., we are developing a real-time, automated control system that is integral to the hardware. Based on existing lab validation, this proposal will specifically develop the control aspect, including the appropriate real-time monitoring and data processing capability to produce the desired quality-controlled output characteristics from variable input conditions. If successful, the knowledge and techniques developed in this work is not limited only to small-scale, decentralized biomass torrefaction. It can also be more broadly applied to other biomass conversion reactors such as gasification and biochemical processes, at small or large scales.In terms of hardware, we have demonstrated, in the lab, that our prototype can stably process a diverse range of input feedstock, with different particle geometries, sizes, and relative bulk porosities/densities. We have successfully experimented with incoming moisture contents ranging from 10-50%, though not yet in a systematic manner. We have obtained interest and even funding commitment from the prospective partners for demonstration. However, what these partners would like to see first is a validated automated control system.In terms of developing the control strategy, we have demonstrated in our lab-scale prototype that, by adjusting the air-to-biomass ratio, we can control the steady-state temperature. And by adjusting the output removal rate, we can control the solid residence time. The combination of these two variables gives us a robust handle on the reactor condition and on the output characteristics as a function of the input. We filed the appropriate patent application on this control strategy. We implemented a simple logic loop (first in Arduino and then in IFM) to automate the process at a lab scale. Yet, in order to develop this into a product that can be field-tested, we need to elaborate upon this controller logic over a wider range of more realistically variable input conditions, applying simple machine learning techniques to ensure that quality-controlled output is consistently met (for example, fixed carbon content, ash content). This missing technical milestone is required for our process to be useful to end users, and will be the subject of this project.
Project Methods
The work plan will consist of two parts. The first part will involve running different batches of input biomass prepared at specified, well-controlled moisture contents and particle size distributions, varying the reaction conditions, and mapping the output feedstock characteristics as a function of the reaction conditions and input biomass characteristics. This will produce data tables that will provide a science-based approach for undertaking the second part of the work plan. In the second part, we will allow the input biomass characteristics (moisture content, etc.) to fluctuate in a field-like condition. By fixing a desired output feedstock characteristic value, we will build an active control system to manipulate the reaction conditions in real-time to reliably deliver this fixed output value in spite of the fluctuating input biomass conditions.

Progress 07/01/21 to 08/31/22

Target Audience:Forest landowners--such as Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E)--have expressed a need for low-cost, portable systems that can be carried in a pick-up truck and moved from site to site to convert woody residues on-site into a densified biofuel, bioproduct, or precursor. This serves two value-added purposes. First, the densified form can reduce logistical costs of in-woods biomass removal by 15-50%, equivalent to a cost saving of more than $100 million/year for PG&E alone in its vegetation management budget. Second, landowners currently do not have a viable market to sell their small-diameter woody biomass, and must often resort to prescribed burning, mastication, or other costly removal processes. By robustly crafting the residues into a quality-controlled form that satisfies specific end-user requirements--whether for biofuel, chemical, or fertilizer--the Takachar technology connects landowners to offtaker markets This increases economic utilization of residues in order to offset the costs of vegetation management. Changes/Problems:The major milestones were accomplished, though we experienced an approximately three-month delay in our project, for which we had to request a no-cost extension (NCE). The reasons are twofold. Firstly, in November, owing to positive reaction from stakeholders at the Jackson Demonstration State Forest (JDSF), we made the ad hoc decision to temporarily move our prototype from Richmond to JDSF for three weeks for a short on-site demonstration, in order to solicit more realistic end user feedback. This was not in our original plan and added a month-long interruption to Task 1.4 and to our testing schedule. Secondly, starting in December 2021, the company was affected by the omicron variant. A few of our employees became sick and/or tested positive, and we were short-staffed for most of December 2021 and January 2022. This limited the amount of technical work that could be carried out in our Richmond lab. Some of these changes resulted in the main tasks completed out of the original order. What opportunities for training and professional development has the project provided?As a result of the technical work performed under this project, subsequently, we were able to explain/co-design our process and showcase our laboratory-scale prototype to various prospective customers and end users. This community outreach culminated in a public demonstration of our prototype in March 2022. CAL FIRE Fort Bragg organized and publicized the event widely on our behalf, and there were more than twenty attendees, including local forested landowners, sawmill operators, vegetation management contractors, viticulture farmers, a UC Cooperative Extension specialist, as well as employees from the Mendocino County Government. Additionally, within the Takachar team, this project provided the training opportunity for two six-month co-op undergraduate students. The students were embedded in the engineering team, and learned not only the engineering aspects of prototoype iteration, but also the hypothesis-driven approach to the testing that is so central to our work. How have the results been disseminated to communities of interest?Part of our initial customer discovery and discussion took place with Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), which conducts right-of-way power line timber harvest projects through our community. Based on our work, the company, after much consultation and input from the Takachar team, has issued a special public request for proposal for novel on-site vegetation management with a budget of $2 million (RFP 132384: EPIC 3.47). Our contacts at PG&E have specifically alerted the Takachar team to this RFP and encouraged us to apply. Takachar responded to the PG&E RFP by the end of April 2022. Based on our understanding, PG&E is interested not only in scaling our equipment in the Jackson Demonstration State Forest community, but also subsequently throughout its other service areas in California, where we also plan to take a community-centric approach. Furthermore, recently, our company has been approached by the Government of British Columbia, which intends to support the field trials of our MiniTorr prototype amongst rural underserved First Nations (Lil'wat Nation, Esk'etemc Nation, and Ulkatcho Nation). What do you plan to do during the next reporting period to accomplish the goals? Nothing Reported

What was accomplished under these goals? We were able to characterize the woody residues obtained from our field test partners. Based on input biomass of different moisture contents and particle sizes, we were able to test-run these through our prototype set-up. We discovered that bulk flowability varies significantly as a function of the particle size. Based on more than 121 cumulative hours of continuous reactions run, we found that moisture content has a strong influence on the steady-state reactor condition, and it is most efficient to run the reaction by gradually increasing the moisture load. We have collected output samples afor laboratory characterization at UC Santa Barbara. Finally, based on the general strategies and techniques developed, we were able to implement a preliminary real-time control system to maintain reaction homeostasis. This is now the building block of a new funding proposal applying machine learning to further refine this active sensing and control.