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Developing clean energy, one briquette at a time
Hiroshi Morihara has had a long, distinguished career in business; from being a mechanical engineer, inventing silicon manufacturing processes, starting up manufacturing plants, working as a consultant in semiconductor and biotech industries and developing property. It wasn’t until the beginning of this century though, after his wife suggested he return to inventing, that he developed the idea for HM3 Energy. He had just finished reading a book about energy and hearing a speech on the environmental ramifications of coal plants, when it hit him. His invention would be a cleaner form of energy, and that’s just what HM3 Energy has developed.
HM3 Energy has a proprietary torrefaction process to turn biomass into clean fuel to replace coal in coal-fired power plants. HM3 Energy's TorrB briquettes can be made sustainably from readily available and abundant biomass sources such as urban wood waste, agricultural residue, and forest waste. Existing power plants designed to burn coal can use HM3 Energy’s torrefied biomass instead of coal, drastically reducing carbon and other harmful emissions such as mercury, sulfur and nitrous oxides.
Different from many other pellets made from wood chips or agricultural residuals, HM3 Energy’s TorrB torrefied biomass briquettes can be burned in existing coal plants without any plant modification. Torrefied biomass briquettes provide utility companies a reliable, clean and environmentally-friendly source of energy.
In order to get where they are today, HM3 Energy needed funding. They accessed that through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, a highly competitive program that encourages small businesses to engage in Federal Research/Research and Development that has the potential for commercialization. Through an awards-based program, SBIR enables small businesses to explore their technological potential and provides the incentive to profit from its commercialization.
The SBIR program is structured in three phases; the objective of the first phase is to establish the technical merit, feasibility, and commercial potential of the proposed R/R&D efforts. Morihara received his first SBIR grant in 2010 to develop a waterless dirt removal system in order to clean the biomass without creating additional waste.
Once that was accomplished, the next step, phase II of the SBIR program, was to figure out how to scale up a pellet plant, specifically the torrefaction and densification parts of the process. In November 2012, HM3 Energy demonstrated commercial-scale densification through their phase II funding, becoming possibly the first company in the world with a proven process for mass producing biomass briquettes which are water resistant.
The third phase of the SBIR program is for the small business to pursue commercialization objectives resulting from phase I/II. Since the SBIR program does not fund phase III, Morihara is working hard to establish funding to build HM3 Energy's commercial plants.
When asked how he and HM3 Energy were able to accomplish what they have, Morihara immediately spoke of his employees, “develop a good team, you need all of your people.” He also added some advice for inventors and entrepreneurs alike, “if you think you know everything, you fail; you will need help along the way.”