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Knife grid size reduction to pre-process packed beds of high- and low-moisture switchgrass

Igathinathane, C., Womac, A.R., Sokhansanj, S., Narayan, S.
Bioresource technology 2008 v.99 no.7 pp. 2254-2264
Panicum virgatum, biomass, cutting, drying, energy, engineering, equations, feed mixing, feedstocks, flow resistance, forage, grasses, knives, shear stress, slicing, spatial distribution, surface area, water content
A linear knife grid device was developed for first-stage size reduction of high- and low-moisture switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.), a tough, fibrous perennial grass being considered as a feedstock for bioenergy. The size reduction is by a shearing action accomplished by forcing a thick packed bed of biomass against a grid of sharp knives. The system is used commercially for slicing forages for drying or feed mixing. No performance data or engineering equations are available in published literature to optimize the machine and the process for biomass size reductions. Tests of a linear knife grid with switchgrass quantified the combined effect of shearing stresses, packed bed consolidation, and frictional resistance to flow through a knife grid. A universal test machine (UTM) measured load-displacement of switchgrass at two moisture contents: 51%, and 9% wet basis; three knife grid spacings: 25.4, 50.8, and 101.6mm; and three packed bed depths: 50.8, 101.6, and 152.4mm. Results showed that peak load, ultimate shear stress, and cutting energy values varied inversely with knife grid spacing and directly with packed bed depth (except ultimate shear stress). Mean ultimate shear stresses of high- and low-moisture switchgrass were 0.68±0.24, and 0.41±0.21MPa, mass-based cutting energy values were 4.50±4.43, and 3.64±3.31MJ/dry Mg, and cutting energy based on new surface area, calculated from packed-circle theory, were 4.12±2.06, and 2.53±0.45kJ/m², respectively. The differences between high- and low-moisture switchgrass were significant (P <0.05), such that high-moisture switchgrass required increased shear stress and cutting energy. Reduced knife grid spacing and increased packed bed depths required increased cutting energy. Overall, knife grid cutting energy was much less than energy values published for rotary equipment. A minimum knife grid spacing of 25.4mm appears to be a practical lower limit, considering the high ram force that would be needed for commercial operation. However, knife grid spacing from 50 to 100mm and greater may offer an efficient first-stage size reduction, especially well suited for packaged (baled) biomass. Results of this research should aid the engineering design of size reduction equipment for commercial facilities.