Volvo CE, Rolls-Royce and Air Burners collaborate on BioCharger

Volvo Construction Equipment, Rolls-Royce and Air Burners have teamed up to develop and test a portable machine that turns wood waste on jobsites into energy capable of powering electric equipment fully off-grid.

The first-of-its-kind BioCharger uses air curtain technology to burn wood waste in a closed-looped system, reducing harmful particulate matter from entering the atmosphere. The residual heat is then converted into electric energy and stored in a connected Battery Storage Module. The stored energy can be used to charge battery-powered construction equipment, vehicles and tools using the accompanying charging mechanism.

“While electric machinery becomes increasingly popular in the fight against climate change, when it comes to forest management, we must have practical solutions for charging electric machinery away from traditional power sources,” said Brian O’Connor, president of Air Burners. “The Air Burners’ BioCharger provides that solution and manages wood waste, all done in an economical and environmentally conscious way.”

According to Air Burners, seventy million tons of wood waste are collected annually in the U.S., but only 48% of that waste is recycled, leaving the rest to open burns or decomposition, which releases particulate matter and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

The BioCharger can eliminate wood waste – including whole trees, slash piles, logs, root balls, crates and other clean wood or vegetative waste – at a rate of up to 20 tons per hour, depending on the FireBox option chosen. The wood does not need to be sorted, crushed or ground before burning. The clean, fast burn leaves 2% Biochar, a soil-restorative byproduct contractors can sell or return to the forest.

Rolls-Royce helped Air Burners develop the 450-kWh charging station within the BioCharger.

The BioCharger can create and store enough energy daily to recharge three to six battery-powered machines while retaining enough energy to start itself and continue the cycle the next day, the company says.

“The BioCharger is a unique application for our mtu EnergyPack battery energy storage system that I think shows just how versatile energy storage can be,” said Kevin McKinney, sales director at Rolls-Royce Solutions America. “The BioCharger’s ability to reduce emissions and generate energy through responsible handling of vegetative waste perfectly aligns with our targets to support our customers with innovative solutions for the transition to clean power generation.”

To test out the charging capability, Volvo CE provided BioCharger with its prototype 23-ton EC230 Crawler Electric Excavator. The EC230 Electric is currently in pilot testing across North America ahead of its commercial launch next year.

“This collaboration with Air Burners for the BioCharger allows us to demonstrate one of the more non-conventional sources to fast-charge our equipment in off-grid locations,” said Dr. Ray Gallant, vice president of sustainability and productivity services, Volvo Construction Equipment.

[Watch: Forget the Hype, Here’s the Reality of Electric Construction Equipment]

Unlike biomass power plants, the BioCharger is a fully portable machine that can be relocated to a new site and be operational in approximately 6 hours. It does not require any secondary fuel sources like natural gas, reducing costs and easing installation. 

Air Burners, Rolls-Royce, and Volvo Construction Equipment will host a demonstration event for the BioCharger in early 2024. 

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