Behavior of Black Liquor Nitrogen in Combustion - Formation of Cyanate

Niklas Vähä-Savo

    Research output: Types of ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


    The Kraft pulping process is the dominant chemical pulping process in the world. Roughly 195 million metric tons of black liquor are produced annually as a by-product from the Kraft pulping process. Black liquor consists of spent cooking chemicals and dissolved organics from the wood and can contain up to 0.15 wt% nitrogen on dry solids basis. The cooking chemicals from black liquor are recovered in a chemical recovery cycle. Water is evaporated in the first stage of the chemical recovery cycle, so the black liquor has a dry solids content of 65-85% prior to combustion. During combustion of black liquor, a portion of the black liquor nitrogen is volatilized, finally forming N2 or NO. The rest of the nitrogen remains in the char as char nitrogen. During char conversion, fixed carbon is burned off leaving the pulping chemicals as smelt, and the char nitrogen forms mostly smelt nitrogen (cyanate, OCN-). Smelt exits the recovery boiler and is dissolved in water. The cyanate from smelt decomposes in the presence of water, forming NH3, which causes nitrogen emissions from the rest of the chemical recovery cycle.

    This thesis had two focuses: firstly, to determine how the nitrogen chemistry in the recovery boiler is affected by modification of black liquor; and secondly, to find out what causes cyanate formation during thermal conversion, and which parameters affect cyanate formation and decomposition during thermal conversion of black liquor.

    The fate of added biosludge nitrogen in chemical recovery was determined in Paper I. The added biosludge increased the nitrogen content of black liquor. At the pulp mill, the added biosludge did not increase the NO formation in the recovery boiler, but instead increased the amount of cyanate in green liquor. The increased cyanate caused more NH3 formation, which increased the NCG boiler’s NO emissions. Laboratory-scale experiments showed an increase in both NO and cyanate formation after biosludge addition.

    Black liquor can be modified, for example by addition of a solid biomass to increase the energy density of black liquor, or by separation of lignin from black liquor by precipitation. The precipitated lignin can be utilized in the production of green chemicals or as a fuel. In Papers II and III, laboratory-scale experiments were conducted to determine the impact of black liquor modification on NO and cyanate formation. Removal of lignin from black liquor reduced the nitrogen content of the black liquor. In most cases NO and cyanate formation decreased with increasing lignin removal; the exception was NO formation from lignin lean soda liquors. The addition of biomass to black liquor resulted in a higher nitrogen content fuel mixture, due to the higher nitrogen content of biomass compared to black liquor. More NO and cyanate were formed from the fuel mixtures than from pure black liquor. The increased amount of formed cyanate led to the hypothesis that black liquor is catalytically active and converts a portion of the nitrogen in the mixed fuel to cyanate.

    The mechanism behind cyanate formation during thermal conversion of black liquor was not clear before this thesis. Paper IV studies the cyanate formation of alkali metal loaded fuels during gasification in a CO2 atmosphere. The salts K2CO3, Na2CO3, and K2SO4 all promoted char nitrogen to cyanate conversion during gasification, while KCl and CaCO3 did not. It is now assumed that cyanate is formed when alkali metal carbonate or an active intermediate of alkali metal carbonate (e.g. -CO2K) reacts with the char nitrogen forming cyanate. By testing different fuels (bark, peat, and coal), each of which had a different form of organic nitrogen, it was concluded that the form of organic nitrogen in char also has an impact on cyanate formation.

    Cyanate can be formed during pyrolysis of black liquor, but at temperatures 900°C or above, the formed cyanate will decompose. Cyanate formation in gasifying conditions with different levels of CO2 in the atmosphere was also studied. Most of the char nitrogen was converted to cyanate during gasification at 800-900°C in 13-50% CO2 in N2, and only 5% of the initial fuel nitrogen was converted to NO during char conversion. The formed smelt cyanate was stable at 800°C 13% CO2, while it decomposed at 900°C 13% CO2. The cyanate decomposition was faster at higher temperatures and in oxygen-containing atmospheres than in an inert atmosphere. The presence of CO2 in oxygen-containing atmospheres slowed down the decomposition of cyanate.

    This work will provide new information on how modification of black liquor affects the nitrogen chemistry during thermal conversion of black liquor and what causes cyanate formation during thermal conversion of black liquor. The formation and decomposition of cyanate was studied in order to provide new data, which would be useful in modeling of nitrogen chemistry in the recovery boiler.

    Original languageUndefined/Unknown
    Print ISBNs978-952-12-3135-3
    Publication statusPublished - 2014
    MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


    • Black liquor
    • chemical recovery
    • Combustion
    • Cyanate
    • Emissions
    • Gasification
    • nitrogen
    • Fast pyrolysis
    • recovery boiler

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