Page 1

JULY/AUGUST 2017

Producing With CAUTION

Canadian Pellet Industry Beefs Up Safety Efforts, Programs Page 22

Plus: Mitigating Wood Pellet Silo Fires Page 10

AND:

Maine Pellet Plant Makes Gains Page 16

www.biomassmagazine.com/pellets


PFI: WORKING FOR YOU THE PELLET FUELS INSTITUTE HAS ONE GOAL: SUPPORTING YOUR BUSINESS INFORMING

STRENGTHENING

ÂIdentifying legislative and regulatory developments that impact your businesses to help you make informed decisions.

ÂFortifying the industry through the PFI Standards Program which establishes a process for manufacturers to assure consistent, quality fuel — building consumer confidence.

ÂCollecting and distributing valuable data on the industry. ÂIdentifying opportunities to strengthen your business through funding announcements, networking events, and educational forums EDUCATING ÂSpreading the message about the significance of the densified biomass industry to government leaders and policy makers, consumers, project developers, businesses, and other audiences. ÂFacilitating learning opportunities by providing relevant and timely content at the PFI Annual Conference and HPBExpo. ADVOCATING ÂProtecting your ability to do business by lobbying state and federal governments for industry recognition and suitable incentives, free from burdensome regulations.

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT HOW PFI IS WORKING FOR YOU: 206-209-5277 @pelletfuel fb.com/pfipellets

www.pelletheat.org

COLLABORATING ÂWorking with groups across the densified biomass sector and beyond to share valuable information, advance the positive message our industry has to share and facilitate market development. NETWORKING ÂHosting the PFI Annual Conference and other events to provide a forum for developing key industry contacts. INVESTIGATING ÂIdentifying issues impacting the industry and bringing information and solutions to members and others invested in the industry.

The Pellet Fuels Institute is a non-profit trade association that represents the densified biomass fuel industry. PFI has been advocating for clean, renewable, domestically-produced fuel for over 30 years.


Contents »

JULY/AUGUST 2017 | VOLUME 7 | ISSUE 4

Pellet Mill Magazine

Advertiser Index

27 2018 International Biomass Conference & Expo 8 Andritz Feed & Biofuel A/S 28 Astec, Inc. 19 BinMaster Level Controls 25 Bliss Industries, Inc. 15 CPM Global Biomass Group 12 Evergreen Engineering 20 GreCon, Inc. 18 Industrial Bulk Lubricants (a Dansons company) 9 NDC Technologies Ltd

FEATURES 10 FIRE PROTECTION Mitigating Pellet Silo Fires

2 Pellet Fuels Institute

If not properly managed, pellet silo fires can result in loss of product, property and lives, and lead to lawsuits. By Ron Kotrba

21 ProcessBarron 14 RUF Briquetting Systems 5 SWANA Solid Waste Association of North America 13 Uzelac Industries

16 EFFICIENCY Powering Up New Feedstock Demand

Maine Wood Pellets Co.'s lastest innovation is increasing efficiency, creating new value and boosting area wood fiber demand. By TIM PORTZ

COVER

A Pinnacle Renewable Energy employee, equipped with a dust mask and fall protection, safely fills a rail car with the last few tons of wood pellets before its journey to port. PHOTO: PINNACLE RENEWABLE ENERGY

22 SAFETY Safety in Numbers

In partnership with WorkSafeBC and the BC Forest Safety Council, Canadian pellet producers have banded together to take plant safety to new levels. By Anna Simet

04 EDITOR’S NOTE

Self-Reflection and Realities By Tim Portz

06 TESTING GROUNDS

Changes Coming to PFI Standards Program By Chris Wiberg

COPYRIGHT © 2017 by BBI International

07 POLICY TALK

Sustainable Biomass Partnership: Fact, Not Fallacy By Carston Huljus

08 BUSINESS BRIEFS

TM

Please recycle this magazine and remove inserts or samples before recycling

26 MARKETPLACE JULY/AUGUST 2017 | PELLET MILL MAGAZINE 3


Self-Reflection and Realities “Safety in Numbers,” Anna Simet’s page22 feature, begins with WorkSafeBC, British Columbia’s version of the U.S.’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration, dressing down Gordon Murray, executive director of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada, for the less-than-impressive safety record of his members. At the time, the wood products industry in Canada was coming off two very Tim Portz tragic combustible dust explosions in British VICE PRESIDENT OF CONTENT & Columbia that cost four people their lives, and EXECUTIVE EDITOR injured dozens more. Simet reports that in the tportz@bbiinternational.com wake of these events, WorkSafeBC stepped up its outreach and inspections across the forest products sector, including Canada’s nascent wood pellet industry. WorkSafe didn’t like what it found in the country’s wood pellet facilities, and it let Murray know. To his and his association’s credit, Murray used the incident to catalyze a revitalization of the safety culture amongst Canada’s wood pellet producers. The results speak for themselves. Initial reviews of wood pellet facilities found less than half of them compliant with WorkSafeBC’s guidelines. Just three years later, the compliance rate is over 90 percent. Still, there is more learning to be done. Ron Kotrba’s page-10 story, “Mitigating Pellet Silo Fires,” uses a silo fire at Port Arthur, Texas, shipping terminal to underscore the unique challenge that producing, handling and storing wood pellets presents to producers and their storage and logistics partners. While no one was hurt in the fire, or the eventual total collapse of the storage silo, the incident and the subsequent clean-up efforts generated frustration with the community and other users of the terminal facility. Pellet production brings with it very real risks. While working on her story, one of Simet’s sources reminded her that wood dust is the medium that pellet producers work with, and as a result, the risk of fire and explosion will always come with the territory. This doesn’t mean that the industry will forever operate with a cloud of fear hanging over it. In fact, as Murray asserts, the industry must work actively against fear, opening up lines of communication and best-practice sharing throughout the industry—producer to producer, and solutions provider to solutions provider. Most promising of all is that producers who have embraced safety and are aggressively pursuing best practices in dust management are finding that, in addition to increased employee safety and retention, these measures are introducing new efficiencies into plants and increasing profits. Pinnacle Renewable Energy’s Scott Bax explained to Simet that safety and profitability are tightly correlated, and told her, “The idea that safety costs you money…it’s the total opposite.”

4 PELLET MILL MAGAZINE | JULY/AUGUST 2017

Editorial PRESIDENT & EDITOR IN CHIEF Tom Bryan tbryan@bbiinternational.com VICE PRESIDENT OF CONTENT & EXECUTIVE EDITOR Tim Portz tportz@bbiinternational.com MANAGING EDITOR Anna Simet asimet@bbiinternational.com SENIOR EDITOR Ron Kotrba rkotrba@bbiinternational.com NEWS EDITOR Erin Voegele evoegele@bbiinternational.com COPY EDITOR Jan Tellmann jtellmann@bbiinternational.com

Art ART DIRECTOR Jaci Satterlund jsatterlund@bbiinternational.com GRAPHIC DESIGNER Raquel Boushee rboushee@bbiinternational.com

Publishing & Sales CHAIRMAN Mike Bryan mbryan@bbiinternational.com CEO Joe Bryan jbryan@bbiinternational.com VICE PRESIDENT OF OPERATIONS Matthew Spoor mspoor@bbiinternational.com SALES & MARKETING DIRECTOR John Nelson jnelson@bbiinternational.com BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR Howard Brockhouse hbrockhouse@bbiinternational.com SENIOR ACCOUNT MANAGER Chip Shereck cshereck@bbiinternational.com CIRCULATION MANAGER Jessica Tiller jtiller@bbiinternational.com MARKETING & ADVERTISING MANAGER Marla DeFoe mdefoe@bbiinternational.com


Industry Events Âť

2017 Wood Pellet Association of Canada AGM & Conference

September 18-20, 2017 Ottawa Marriott Hotel Ottawa, Ontario

This annual event serves as both the annual general meeting and conference for the Wood Pellet Association of Canada. Canadian wood pellet producers are joined by service and technology providers, government representatives and wood pellet buyers to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the industry.

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519-429-5188 | www.pellet.org/wpac-agm

Christianson PLLP Biofuels Financial Conference

SEPTEMBER 27-28, 2017

Radisson Blu Minneapolis Downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota

Produced by Christianson PLLP and organized by BBI International, this yearâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Biofuels Financial Conference is focused on the best ways to explore new options in todayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s changing ethanol and biodiesel industries. By understanding risks associated with various technology and marketing initiatives, and by exploring various options for making the best use of capital and resources, attendees will learn how to create a well-managed plan for growth and changeâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;a plan that maximizes profitability while ensuring future stability and meeting the expectations of all stakeholders (866)746-8385 | www.biofuelsfinancialconference.com

2018 International Biomass Conference & Expo

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APRIL 16-18, 2018 Cobb Galleria Centre Atlanta, Georgia

Organized by BBI International and produced by Biomass Magazine, this event brings current and future producers of bioenergy and biobased products together with waste generators, energy crop growers, municipal leaders, utility executives, technology providers, equipment manufacturers, project developers, investors and policy makers. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a true one-stop shopâ&#x20AC;&#x201C;â&#x20AC;&#x201C;the worldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s premier educational and networking junction for all biomass industries. (866) 746-8385 | www.biomassconference.com

Subscriptions to Pellet Mill Magazine are free of chargeâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;distributed quarterlyâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;to Biomass Magazine subscribers.To subscribe, visit www.BiomassMagazine.com or you can send your mailing address to Pellet Mill Magazine Subscriptions, 308 Second Ave. N., Suite 304, Grand Forks, ND 58203. You can also fax a subscription form to 701-746-5367. Back Issues & Reprints Select back issues are available for $3.95 each, plus shipping. Article reprints are also available for a fee. For more information, contact us at 866-746-8385 or service@bbiinternational.com. Advertising Pellet Mill Magazine provides a specific topic delivered to a highly targeted audience. We are committed to editorial excellence and high-quality print production. To find out more about Pellet Mill Magazine advertising opportunities, please contact us at 866-746-8385 or service@bbiinternational.com. Letters to the Editor We welcome letters to the editor. Send to Pellet Mill Magazine Letters to the Editor, 308 2nd Ave. N., Suite 304, Grand Forks, ND 58203 or email to asimet@bbiinternational. com. Please include your name, address and phone number. Letters may be edited for clarity and/or space.

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« Testing Grounds

Changes Coming to PFI Standards Program BY CHRIS WIBERG

At the 2017 Pellet Fuels Institute annual conference on July 24 in Stowe, Vermont, on behalf of the PFI Standards Program, I provided an update to convey general logistical program information, as well as to notify everyone of some upcoming changes. For those not able to attend, I will provide a summary in this column. For the past several months, PFI has been in discussion with the Northeastern States for Coordinated Air Use Management and other northeastern state regulatory representatives, as it pertains to the use of wood pellets within the region. It was brought to our attention that various Northeast states are planning to develop state-level requirements for the use of wood pellets. We were informed that while they felt most aligned with the PFI Standards Program for use in assuring quality requirements, there were some components that needed to be addressed before the program could be referenced for this purpose. While there were several components identified for discussion, the majority were determined acceptable as is, once we explained how the item was being addressed within the program. This included questions concerning inclusion of bark, use of additives, concerns about pellet size (length in particular), and handling of nonconforming product. There were two areas of concern in which it was agreed changes were necessary—the use of the term De Minimis, and provisions for the testing of metals. De Minimis is a term used by the PFI Standards Program to reference the presence of very small amounts of incidental chemical contamination, the primary example being the forestry practice of marking logs or lumber with paint. No doubt, some of these markings end up in the materials used to make wood pellets, but it is a very small amount, and incidental, so PFI has referred to such situations as De Minimis, and the program considers this to be acceptable. The regulatory community has found the adopted definition of De Minimis to be too broad, but rather than redefining the term, PFI will remove the term, and instead incorporate this language within the definition of chemically treated materials. PFI intends to remove all references to De Minimis. In regard to metals, PFI has long held that the up-front screening of raw material suppliers, and the ongoing inspection of raw materials as they are delivered to the site, is the primary means by which inappropriate materials are excluded from the production of PFI premium, standard, or utility grade pellets. This philosophy still holds true, and is a central premise of the PFI Standards Program, however, it is clear that the regulatory community will not be comfortable with-

6 PELLET MILL MAGAZINE | JULY/AUGUST 2017

out some amount of metals testing. Fortunately, and again through education of how the program works, regulators have been agreeable to a fairly small amount of testing for conforming producers, provided there are stricter provisions if auditors witness suspicious activities and/or if metals are found in the product. A summary of PFI’s new metals testing provisions are as follows: • A metals test will be required as part of the initial qualification of each pellet production facility and continue, as a minimum, once annually. • The minimum annual test is to be conducted at a time of the auditing agency’s choosing, however, the test is to be invoiced at the beginning of the year, and results are not to be disclosed until the end of the year, unless results are failing. • Additional audit samples may be tested for metals at the auditing agency’s discretion if they suspect the use of inappropriate materials. • The metals of interest include arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel and zinc. These are the same metals as are referenced in ISO 17225-2, which is the ISO standard referenced by ENplus, CANplus, and DINplus. Limits for each metal will be the same as are published in ISO 17225-2. The test method to be used is ISO 16968, which is the same as is referenced in ISO 17225-2. • If at any time the test results of an audit sample exceed these limits, the affected materials will be further evaluated, and the producer will be required to have at least one audit sample tested for metals each month until there are three consecutive months where no exceedances of metals are found. • Affected product will be dispositioned based on the inspection and reinspection conformance criterial outlined in the PFI Standards Program. The changes above have been vetted and approved by the PFI Standards Committee, the PFI Board of Directors, and by the regulatory officials engaged in discussion with PFI. The institute is currently working with the program accreditation body American Lumber Standard Committee to adopt these changes into the enforcement regulations. The formal revisions process will still take several months, but it is expected that final changes will be implemented by the end of the year. Author: Chris Wiberg Lab Director, Timber Products Inspection/Biomass Energy Lab cwiberg@tpinspection.com 218-428-3583


Policy Talk »

Sustainable Biomass Partnership: Fact, not Fallacy BY CARSTEN HULJUS

The Sustainable Biomass Partnership is a credible and robust certification system enabling users of woody biomass for energy production to demonstrate compliance with regulatory and sustainability requirements. At the core of the system are 38 indicators defining legality and sustainability, alignment with leading regulatory regimes on sustainable biomass practice, and independent scrutiny of certificate holders’ management systems and procedures. Responding to the Dogwood Alliance and Natural Resources Defense Council issue paper, “The Sustainable Biomass Program: A Smokescreen for Forest Destruction and Corporate Non-accountability,” SBP has been benchmarked and accepted by leading competent regulatory authorities as a means of verification for compliance with biomass sustainability criteria. The suggestion that SBP is a smokescreen is based on a misunderstanding of what the system stands for and how it operates. The scope of the SBP certification system is clearly and publicly defined. Claims that SBP uses “flawed and incomplete carbon accounting, lacks independent audits and verification, and fails to provide performance-based thresholds and protections” are simply unfounded. Policymakers, civil society, biomass consumers and producers, and all other stakeholders can have every confidence in SBP providing assurances on the legality and sustainability of biomass used in energy production. The SBP certification system is founded on the two principles of legality and sustainability. Those principles are broken down into criteria, and again into indicators, of which there are 38 covering a range of requirements, including ensuring compliance with local laws, ensuring features and species of outstanding or exceptional value are identified and protected, and ensuring carbon stocks are maintained or increased over the medium- to long-term. Collectively, those indicators set SBP’s definition of sustainability and legality, and are published in the first of the suite of six SBP standards. SBP’s definition maps on to simi-

lar schemes, such as the Forest Stewardship Council, the Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification, and those schemes recognized by PEFC, such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and is based on the biomass sustainability criteria of European countries—in particular, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and the U.K. The other five SBP standards cover how to evaluate the sustainability of the feedstock material, including requirements for stakeholder consultation and public reporting, how third-party verification is to be undertaken, and requirements for chain-of-custody. At the heart of the SBP certification system is independent scrutiny. The first point of certification in the SBP certification system is the biomass producer (wood pellet/chip producer). The biomass producer is audited for compliance with the SBP standards, specifically that the feedstock it uses is sourced both legally and sustainably. In line with FSC, PEFC and SFI, that audit must be carried out by an independent, third-party certification body. Since August 2016, the accreditation body, Accreditation Services International, has been responsible for reviewing the certification decisions made by the certification bodies, providing another level of independent oversight. And finally, the independent technical committee makes recommendations on technical decisions, including initial certification decisions. Aside from the independence of the certification decision-making process, the independent advisory board provides advice directly to the board of directors on strategic matters, credibility of the certification system, and technical and public policy issues. Author: Carsten Huljus CEO, Sustainable Biomass Partnership www.sbp-cert.org +44 (0) 7734 793279

JULY/AUGUST 2017 | PELLET MILL MAGAZINE 7


Business Briefs

PEOPLE, PRODUCTS & PARTNERSHIPS

MUNCY, PA

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Uzelac Industries hires Hobbs Uzelac Industries Inc., manufacturer of design-build rotary drying systems, has appointed Mike Hobbs Hobbs vice president and general manager. Hobbs began his career at Siemens, where he held engineering, project management, sales and management roles. He later served as general manager at Avanti Wind Systems. Before joining Uzelac, Hobbs served as operations manager at Rockwell Automation. A Wisconsin native, Hobbs graduated with honors from the Milwaukee School of Engineering, earning a bachelorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s degree in mechanical engineering technology. He is a LEED-accredited professional and a registered professional engineer in the state of Wisconsin. PFI Standards Program qualifies Maine Wood Pellets The Pellet Fuels Institute recently announced the qualification of Maine Woods Pellet Co. of Athens, Maine, to the PFI Standards Program. The addition marks the 25th pellet manufacturer and 38th facility qualified for the third-party accreditation program, which provides specifications for residential and commercial-grade pellet fuel. On their pellet bags, PFI Standards Program participants can display the PFI Quality Mark, which demonstrates to consumers that the product comes from a facility that submits its product to regular third-party audits by an independent accredited auditing agency and testing laboratory. Random audits are regularly performed at production facilities to ensure qualified companies are following a quality control program. Wood pellets are tested according to the program specifications, also on a monthly basis. By taking these steps, participants ensure that their pellet quality remains consistent. Maine Woods Pellet Co. was qualified by accredited auditing agency PFS Corp.

8 PELLET MILL MAGAZINE | JULY/AUGUST 2017

SBP celebrates 100 certifications The Sustainable Biomass Program announced that 100 organizations currently hold valid SBP certificates. The organizations have been certified in accordance with the SBP certification system, a unique certification system designed for woody biomass used in industrial, large-scale heat and power production. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The SBP certification system enables producers of woody biomass to demonstrate that they source the raw material responsibly and in compliance with the regulatory, including sustainability, requirements applicable to generators burning woody biomass to produce heat and/or power,â&#x20AC;? commented Carsten Huljus, SBP CEO. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Reaching 100 certifications is an important milestone for us. It firmly establishes SBP as an effective certification system for the biomass-to-energy sector.â&#x20AC;? SBP Certificate Holders are either biomass producers, traders, or the end users of SBP-certified biomass, such as large-scale utilities producing heat and power. The geographic reach of the SBP system currently extends to 15 countries World Bioenergy Association welcomes new executive director The World Bioenergy Association Kummamuru has announced that Bharadwaj Kummamuru has taken over the role of executive director. Since 2014, Kummamuru has worked as project officer for WBA. He will succeed Karin Haara, who will continue her work in WBA as a senior advisor. â&#x20AC;&#x153;It is a great privilege having this opportunity to serve as the executive director of the World Bioenergy Association,â&#x20AC;? Kummamuru said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Having been a part of the association for the past three and a half years, I am well aware of the various challenges and opportunities of the organization. As the leading global bioenergy association, we will continue our vision for promoting sustain-


able bioenergy worldwide and to create value for our members.â&#x20AC;?

product that makes use of residual materials and provides customers around the world with an environmentally friendly heating solution.â&#x20AC;?

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Asnaes Power Station

Contract backs sixth DONG fossil fuel plant conversion With a new 20-year agreement recently concluded between Novo Nordisk, Novozymes, Kalundborg Forsyning and DONG Energy, a sustainable alternative has been found to Denmark's largest coal-fired power station unit, enabling a complete phase-out of coal. The 20-year steam and district heating contract involves the conversion of Asnaes Power Station and connection of a new wood chip-fired plant to the power station's existing installations and systems. The conversion will begin this summer, and the power station is expected to be ready for wood chip-fired production by the end of 2019. It will bring the number of Denmark fossil fuel plants DONG Energy has converted to seven. AFPA welcomes Pinnacle Renewable Energy as new member The Alberta Forest Products Association announced that as of July 1, Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc. has joined the association. Pinnacle is a manufacturer of wood pellets, with seven facilities in Alberta and British Columbia, and shipping capacity through the Port of Prince Rupert. The companyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s new plant in Entwistle, Alberta, represents an $85 million investment in the provinceâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s economy. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I am very pleased that Pinnacle has chosen to join our Association,â&#x20AC;? said Paul Whittaker, president and CEO of AFPA. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Their investment in Alberta will help to diversify the economy and create jobs. Additionally, Pinnacle manufactures a sustainable

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, second from left, with Drax Biomassâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Bobby Cooper, far left, JaNeta Thomas, Brad Mayhew and Daniel Watt

Drax Biomass receives Lantern Award Drax Biomass received the Lantern Award for its dedication and commitment to Louisiana communities. The Louisiana Economic Development launched the Lantern Award in 1979, to recognize businesses that have made a substantial contribution to the economic and civic development of their communities. It is a highly competitive process, and nominees must have the support of state officials and leading civic organizations. Winners are selected by Louisianaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s eight Regional Planning and Development Districts based upon manufacturing excellence, growth in the number of employees, expansion of their facilities, and their role within the community. Drax Biomass began construction on its Morehouse BioEnergy facility in Bastrop, Louisiana, in early 2013. Since breaking ground, the Morehouse BioEnergy plant has become a major contributor to the regionâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s economy. The plant maintains almost 65 fulltime employees and supports approximately 150 additional jobs across the forestry, hauling, and transportation sectors. Drax Biomass is also contributing to the revitalization of the local wood products sector, which has suffered in recent years from the closure of several large-scale paper mills. SHARE YOUR INDUSTRY NEWS: To be included in the Business Briefs, send information (including photos and logos, if available) to Business Briefs, Pellet Mill Magazine, 308 Second Ave. N., Suite 304, Grand Forks, ND 58203. You may also email information to asimet@bbiinternational.com. Please include your name and telephone number in all correspondence.

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JULY/AUGUST 2017 | PELLET MILL MAGAZINE 9


« Fire Protection

Mitigating Pellet

SILO FIRES

Silo fires cost time, money and sometimes even lives. Minimizing the risk of, and damage from, fires should be mission-critical for responsible pellet producers. BY RON KOTRBA

I

n April, a wood pellet silo at a storage and shipping terminal in Port Arthur, Texas—one of five silos owned on-site by bankrupt German Pellets Texas LLC (GPTX) and Texas Pellets Inc.— began smoldering. On April 21, GPTX retained global disaster recovery specialist Cotton Commercial USA Inc. to take the lead in extinguishing the fire, extracting the pellets and restoring the site. “Silo fires are nothing new,” says Bruce Lisle, president and CEO of Energex Corp., a pellet producer owning mills in Quebec and Pennsylvania that, combined, surpass an annual production capacity of 250,000 tons. Lisle has had the misfortune of dealing with silo fires in his 30 years of experience in this business, much like many who’ve spent any considerable time in wood pellets.

John Arsenault, director of Quebec Wood Export Bureau’s wood pellet group, is the former vice president of operations for Energex, where he was responsible for Canadian operations and overseas sales. “It’s not a question of if you’ll have a fire,” Arsenault says, “it’s when.” He recalls a story about design of a mill in New York where the engineer inquired, “Where do you want your fire?” The realistic goal is not total elimination of fires at pellet mills and storage, Arsenault conveys, but rather to significantly reduce the potential for risk while implementing sound damage mitigation tactics when a fire or explosion occurs. Back in Port Arthur, GPTX and Cotton Commercial USA worked with local fire officials through late April to extinguish the

10 PELLET MILL MAGAZINE | JULY/AUGUST 2017


Fire Protection »

JULY/AUGUST 2017 | PELLET MILL MAGAZINE 11


« Fire Protection

burn. Equipment was deployed to measure combustible gas levels in the silo, and inert gases were injected to displace combustible gases, and to reduce the risk of fire and emissions. They also established fixed water lines to cool the silo roof, and attempted to seal the vessel as completely as possible to minimize fanning the fire with oxygen. As a result, oxygen levels inside the silo dropped to a safe enough level for GPTX to begin extracting pellets. Specially fabricated access doors were installed in the base of the silo to allow removal of the pellets, and conveyors, roads and infrastructure were built to move the extracted pellets to a location where they could be inspected, extinguished or stored. “I remember when our silo first caught on fire,” Lisle recalls. With tens or hundreds of thousands—or even millions—of dollars in product going up in smoke, or lost to water damage, the natural response might be to ask whether some of the cache might be salvageable. “You can’t save it,” Lisle says. “It’s a hard realization, but you have to belly up to the bar and just accept that you’ve lost it.” That’s what insurance is for, he adds. “When you’re fighting a fire in a silo, the product in the silo is gone—it’s dead,” Lisle reiterates.

“You first need to face that reality and then dump it on the ground, add water to it and scoop it up. It’s done. But you need to get it out. That’s the only way to put out the fire. Every silo should have a reclaim system, just turn it on.” A fine line exists between expeditious discharge of burning pellets from a smoldering silo to reduce impacts on residents’ health, quality of living and property damage, and keeping the safety of those involved in extraction and extinguishing efforts top of mind. “If you try to get the pellets out as quickly as possible, that can create more problems,” Arsenault says. “It’s a long process measured in weeks, not hours. It does cost money. And you may lose 20,000 tons in a silo at $150 a ton or more. The risk—and the value—is high. There’s a lot of energy accumulated in a smoldering silo.” Meanwhile, in Port Arthur, local news outlets reported that reactions from nearby residents of the burning silo ranged from disgust that everything in their houses now smelled like a barbeque pit, to concern of the possible health effects from ongoing inhalation of the smoke. “The amount of smoke and odor being emitted from the silo has diminished significantly,” GTPX stated April 27 on its

12 PELLET MILL MAGAZINE | JULY/AUGUST 2017

website designed to keep locals informed of the situation. “Residents in the surrounding areas should begin to notice the reduction in smoke and odor, if they have not already. Nonetheless, GPTX is devoting significantly more resources to monitoring ambient air emissions in the surrounding area …” Many modern pellet storage designs have fire mitigation and suppression measures built into the vessel. “Maybe in a remote facility, nobody cares,” Lisle says, “but in a port situation, especially where you have neighbors, you’re front and center. If you have the right design, you take a lot of risk out of there.” The silos at GPTX’s Port Arthur site are the classic, corrugated steel style of bins often used to store grains or beans. In late April, GPTX stated, “It is important to note that structural engineers have inspected the silo itself over the past several days and concluded that the silo remains structurally sound. In addition, the neighboring silos have not been impacted by this incident, and temperatures within those silos have remained within the normal range.” On May 5, pellet extraction began after installation of the specially fabricated doors. On May 16, a calibration error in real-time air quality monitoring by GPTX led to read-


ings of “unhealthy” air quality in the area. On May 31, GPTX halted pellet extraction through the fabricated doors and adjusted its approach to using an auger and specially installed pipes. “The auger allows us to extract pellets directly from the center of the silo,” GTPX stated. “This modified approach has resulted in a more efficient and effective method of extraction. Based on consultation with the fire department and to protect the safety of workers and the community, we are immediately soaking the pellets with water once extracted from the silo.” On June 4, more than a month after engineers indicated the smoldering silo was structurally sound, the bin collapsed. Luckily, no injuries or fatalities occurred. “Limited flames were experienced but quickly extinguished,” GPTX stated. One of the largest cranes in the U.S. was being brought on-site to assist with demolition and removal of the collapsed silo, which must occur before removal of smoldering pellets can commence. Then, on June 16, increased heat readings were experienced in the silo next to the one that collapsed. Upon a media request for information, Jeff Erler, general counsel for Cotton Commercial USA, told Pellet Mill Magazine, “It is Cotton’s policy not to respond to media

TOP OF THE LINE: Quebec Stevedoring Ltd. built this state-of-the-art, 37,000-ton pellet silo for Rentech, in the port of Quebec City, featuring explosion vents at the top, a dust-minimizing ladder tower inside with temperature probes, and an inert gas injection system. PHOTO: JOHN ARSENAULT, QWEB

inquiries regarding active projects unless specifically requested to do so by the company’s client. Accordingly, any media inquiries should be directed to German Pellets.” German Pellets did not respond to multiple requests for its side of this story, outside of what is posted on its website designed to inform the public. Pellet Mill Magazine did confirm, however, with the Jefferson County, Texas, district court clerk’s office that the city of Port Arthur filed a lawsuit June 30

against GPTX, citing the public nuisance the community is experiencing over the prolonged calamity.

Proper Prevention, Damage Mitigation

Fire prevention in pellet storage begins with proper safety procedures in the mill. “You have to think about it at all levels,” Arsenault says. When pellets come off the press, they are hot, so coolers are used

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« Fire Protection

to bring the heat down to ambient temperatures. “That means pellets are going into whatever you’re putting them into warm,” Lisle says. “We know from our experience, if you use a warehouse and dump them onto the floor in a pile and let them sit, over time you get an ice cream cone effect. Moisture goes up the center of the pile, like a chimney, and it degrades the pellets at the top of the pile. They break down.” Arsenault says equipment that some don’t identify as sources of ignition—dryers, grinders, pellet machines themselves— must be routinely monitored and serviced. “There’s lots of horsepower putting pressure on wood, and it can get red hot and produce sparks, so there are lots of risks in operation. It must be controlled at all levels, from mechanical failures like bearings to simple storage. Operators must, on a daily basis, look out for them and do proper maintenance and cleanup. Some are just simply not aware, and they can end up with catastrophic failures.” He adds that conveyor systems are

also sources of danger, and material handling equipment must be protected so they aren’t sparking, or delivering burning pellets to the silos. Fire damages can range from loss of product to property damage, and from injuries to fatalities. Furthermore, civil and criminal lawsuits could follow. Energex’s Quebec plant was built decades ago under a division of Shell Petroleum, where Arsenault says safety standards from the mature refining industry included several layers of protection. Even then, accidents still happen. “In 1998, we had an explosion at the plant and an employee suffered third-degree burns,” he says. “The fire originated from a faulty bearing from the mill. The pellet cooler exploded, even though we had fire suppression equipment in the cooler. One week and $10,000 dollars later, we were running again. One of our competitors had the same problem—a bearing in the mill— and it killed an employee and burned the place completely down.”

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14 PELLET MILL MAGAZINE | JULY/AUGUST 2017

The Wood Pellet Association of Canada is promoting safety through a new program, Arsenault says. “Right from the get-go, you have to build safety measures into the plant,” he says. Lisle, like other pellet producers, is no stranger to the occasional fire. “The plant in Quebec has been there a long time,” he says. “Some of the fires are self-induced like a welder error, but spontaneous combustion is the real issue. In one case, we had a silo—75 feet in diameter and 60 feet tall—filled up too much. You’re supposed to be able to ventilate these silos.” Adequate ventilation is critical. “If you’re putting pellets in a silo, you need to vent condensation out and get rid of it,” Lisle says. “If not, that moisture will condense on the roof and come back into the pile as water, and moisture plays a major role in spontaneous combustion.” After that particular silo fire at Energex, the crew cleaned up and went back to work. But they overlooked the critical fact that the

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side vents on the silo were filled up with pellets from the previous incident. â&#x20AC;&#x153;We forgot to clean the vents and, five months later, bang, with no ventilation we had fire No. 2 in that silo,â&#x20AC;? Lisle says. â&#x20AC;&#x153;At that point, the silo was done. We just let the sucker burn. And it burned for a long time.â&#x20AC;? The lesson? Empty the silo once it begins burning, clean it out thoroughly, and make sure it has proper ventilation. Large silos are often equipped with internal sensors to measure the temperature, which should be monitored on a regular basis, Arsenault says. â&#x20AC;&#x153;When you start to see the temperature rise, something is going on,â&#x20AC;? whether the hoard of pellets is being heated from a hot pellet that was transferred into the silo, or from spontaneous combustion. Moisture from leaks, humid conditions, improper ventilation and bacteria in biomass can altogether create dangerous conditions. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Basically, the bacteria become very happy when there is 20 to 35 percent moisture,â&#x20AC;? Arsenault says. â&#x20AC;&#x153;They begin proliferat-

ing, generating heat, and generating gas, so if you let these things run out on you, and air makes its way in, you are creating conditions for a fire.â&#x20AC;? Lisle says pellet companies should inform their local fire departments, particularly for pellet storage silos located in communities, how to fight a pellet fire in a silo. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Otherwise, if they just pour water on it, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s like shaking a can of beer,â&#x20AC;? he says, adding that if water is added to pellets, they expand to four times their volume. â&#x20AC;&#x153;First respondersâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the guys who show up if you have a fireâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;need to be trained on what to do, and what not to do, if thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a fire.â&#x20AC;? Tests performed over the years have found that the ideal technique is not to water down the pellets, Arsenault says, but rather to sprinkle foam on top and inject inert gas on the bottom. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Because we didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have gas suppression, we stopped storing pellets in large silos,â&#x20AC;? Arsenault says. â&#x20AC;&#x153;We began storing in small silos, or in open areas like Aframe buildings. The large, enclosed silos are

too large a risk. They are hard to handle. In the open, we can move material around and manage a fire easier, and thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s no explosion risk.â&#x20AC;? Ultimately, when handling combustible materialâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;whether itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s natural gas, crude oil or wood pelletsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;adequate protection measures must be put into place, Arsenault says. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Even when you do all of that,â&#x20AC;? he says, â&#x20AC;&#x153;and youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re handling this material day-in and day-out, you can still get an occasional slipup.â&#x20AC;? But when accidents do happen, the ability to mitigate the damage is paramount. Author: Ron Kotrba Senior Editor, Pellet Mill Magazine 218-745-8347 rkotrba@bbiinternational.com

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« Efficiency

Powering Up

New Feedstock Demand On-site biomass power production is the latest chapter in a decades-long story of the Linkletter family adding value to Maine’s robust wood fiber resource. BY TIM PORTZ

N

early 90 percent of Maine is blanketed in dense forests, and the state boasts nearly 40 species of trees that have commercial value. The Linkletter family has been working in these woods for four decades, logging, trucking and manufacturing wood pellets. Like everyone else who is economically dependent upon Maine’s forests and forest products industry, the family has worked continuously to anticipate and react to the industry’s continual evolutions. Both pulp and paper manufacturing and sawmilling have been on a slow decline for years, constraining opportunities for private and institutional landowners and the logging community. In 2006, the Linkletter family took matters into their own hands, and began to investigate the economic viability of pellet manufacturing as a means of shoring up withering fiber demand. The Linkletters engaged Oregon-based Solagen, a hardware manufacturer and wood pellet

manufacturing consultancy, to design and build a 100,000-ton-per-year facility for them near Athens. In April 2007, the facility began operations, and demand was robust. “Sometimes, we’d have trucks waiting,” says Scot Linkletter, plant manager at the facility. Not long after the facility opened, bottlenecks were identified. Plant operators quickly exhausted the plant’s 12-ton-perhour drying capacity, as well as the reserve capacity that the Solagen team designed into the plant, and now regularly requires 16 to 20 tons per hour. “They used that [reserve capacity] up 10 years ago,” says Francis Sharron, president at Solagen. The facility achieved a high-water mark of 117,000 tons of production, and the Link-letters began evaluating options to remove some bottlenecks and increase their overall capacity. “Five years after the facility was commissioned, the Linkletters considered building a stand-alone pre-dryer to increase production at the plant,” Sharron

16 PELLET MILL MAGAZINE | JULY/AUGUST 2017

says. “The facility was doing well, and they had landed a couple of good bulk customers in the area as well.” The plant’s bottlenecks were most pronounced in the winter months when the facility’s inbound green material, at around 50 percent moisture, would freeze. Sharron explains that before the moisture in frozen sawdust and chips can be driven off, it must be thawed and converted back


NEW DAWN AT MAINE WOODS PELLET CO.: In an effort to add value to even more of the area’s abundant wood fiber, the Linkletter family, after working in Maine’s woods for four decades, decided to build an on-site power production facility near their existing wood pellet facility. The plant features a thermal oil boiler, an organic Rankine cycle turbine generator, and a dryer that uses waste heat from the turbine to begin drying the biomass for the pellet facility. PHOTO: SOLAGEN

to water. This process requires energy—144 Btu to convert one pound of ice to one pound of water. “I don’t remember specific numbers all the time, but that number is one I certainly do,” says Sharron. Converting water from a solid to a liquid is called a phase change, and this phase change energy requirement constrained an already limited supply of drying power—another 15 percent in the winter months.

Compounding this problem in the winter were the higher electricity costs Maine Woods would encounter. Pellet presses consume massive amounts of electricity, and three years ago, prices got so high that the plant idled production because the cost of making pellets was more than what they could sell them for. Having to roll out of production in the middle of the heating season frustrated the Linkletters, and they

began thinking of ways to work around these new operational challenges.

Changing Market Dynamics

At about the same time, it was becoming evident that the optimistic pellet market projections that had been stoking the Linkletter’s debottlenecking and plant expansion conversations were not likely to come to pass.

JULY/AUGUST 2017 | PELLET MILL MAGAZINE 17


« Efficiency

“When the facility was being built and commissioned, heating oil prices were still relatively high,” Sharron says. “However, many of the area’s potential bulk customers who were considering wood pellet systems opted for a different heating solution. Trucks carrying compressed natural gas were beginning to deliver fuel into the area, and it became clear that a good share of the bulk business everyone was anticipating just wasn’t going to materialize.” Regardless of the prices of heating oil and natural gas, or the market’s embrace of wood heat systems, the forests near Athens continued to grow, and the Linkletters once again realized they needed to produce their own demand center. This time, they hoped they could arrive at an end use that could simultaneously introduce some new demand for fiber while also solving a few of the pellet facility’s operational constraints. Once again, Sharron and the team at Solagen were brought in to help. “We’ve maintained a close relationship with Maine Woods because we answer ongoing O&M questions, sell them some replacement parts, and provide some service on the energy side of the pellet plant,” Sharron says. Together, Solagen and Maine Woods began staking out what they wanted from a project. “We really worked to introduce a systematic decision making process into the discussion,” Sharron says. The Linkletters expressed interest in power production, and the team started investigating available technologies to accomplish this goal. One of the constraints that both Solagen and Maine Woods had to keep top of mind was the labor shed in the area. Skilled labor, particularly licensed and ticketed high-pressure boiler operators, are in short supply in the rural area, and both parties wanted to avoid having to include the type of salary that thought would be needed to attract such a professional into the project pro-forma. “We kind of focused on one solution that seemed to make the most 18 PELLET MILL MAGAZINE | JULY/AUGUST 2017

sense,” Sharron says. “Rather than use a high-pressure steam boiler that will give you higher efficiencies on the generating side, the idea was to supply them with an atmospheric pressure thermal oil boiler. Because the boiler runs at atmospheric pressure, we were able to avoid some really high personnel costs, saving on the order of $300,000 to $500,000 on staffing alone.” Staffing wasn’t the only obstacle that a low-pressure solution offered. The project team was able to eliminate some permitting challenges that a high-pressure solution would have introduced. Additionally, on the property there is a slow-moving stream that the project team was concerned would be warmed too much with boiler blow down water. “There is no blow-down associated with this thermal oil plant,” Sharron. Solagen designed the system to capture waste heat exiting the thermal oil boiler via its stac,k and repurpose that heat to pre-dry the furnish that would ultimately flow into the pellet presses. “The idea was that it was going to add an additional 4 to 6 tons of drying capacity to the pellet plant at virtually no resource cost to improve the production efficiencies in the pellet plant,” Sharron says. “By putting in this dryer to use boiler stack gas to recover all of the waste heat off the thermal oil boiler, while also using a combustion air preheater in the system, we were able to qualify for a boiler efficiency of 100 percent, which is basically unheard of, by adding all of these other uses for the waste heat.”

ORC for Power Production

For the power generation component of the project, the team decided upon an organic Rankine cycle (ORC) turbogenerator supplied by Turboden, an Italian company that is part of the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Group. Solagen tells Pellet Mill Magazine that while ORC technologies are relatively new in the U.S., they can be found in Canada, and certainly in Europe. “Again, steam boilers are just very expensive to operate


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0XOWLSOH3RLQW$FFXUDF\ Installation Underway: Crews work to install and connect the dryer outlet hopper and multiclone with the Solagen dryer. Several of the project components, including the thermal oil boiler (not pictured) were housed outside of buildings, further reducing project costs.

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because of the licensing requirements,â&#x20AC;? Sharron says. â&#x20AC;&#x153;That is why thermal fluid is so popular.â&#x20AC;? The lifeblood of the installed system at Maine Woods is a cyclopentane, a hydrocarbon with a number of industrial applications. â&#x20AC;&#x153;This entire system is a bit like a refrigerator running backwards,â&#x20AC;? Sharron says. â&#x20AC;&#x153;We evaporate this thermal oil under pressure, and the resulting pressure spins a turbine, which spins a generator to produce electricity. The thermal oil is recondensed, and the system begins again. One of the key differences between turning an electric turbine with vaporized cyclopentane as opposed to vaporized water is the higher molecular weight of the thermal oil allows for the turbine to spin at far lower RPMs. â&#x20AC;&#x153;It is essentially like having heavy water,â&#x20AC;? Sharron says. A conventional steam turbine will spin at anywhere from 7,000 to 12,000 RPMs, while the turbine in the ORC skid turns at just

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3,600 RPMs. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re talking about orders of magnitude difference between the two solutions,â&#x20AC;? Sharron says. Lower RPM rates reduce the wear and tear on turbine blades and turbine assembly, and prolong the useful turbine life between maintenance events. This value aligned perfectly with the lighter maintenance footprint the project team was pursuing. Finally, when it was time to commission the facility, the ORC turbogenerator set performed as advertised. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The equipment started right up,â&#x20AC;? Sharron says. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The commissioning process went very, very well. Weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve been involved in a number of other biomass plants and comparatively, this one went very well.â&#x20AC;?

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Pieces of the Puzzle

For Sharron, the biomass power project at Maine Woods was a case study in numerous important parties coming together

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JULY/AUGUST 2017 | PELLET MILL MAGAZINE 19


« Efficiency

and delivering on their aspect of the project. Additionally, many of the larger capital expenditures were made outside the typical parameters of a standard EPC contract. This approach, too, was a costs savings measure. “We shared with Maine Woods early on that for this entire project to be economically viable, we needed to get a good owner’s engineer on board to help procure some of these larger items,” Sharron says. The project’s material handling systems, cooling towers, and the Turboden power skid were all sourced directly by Maine Woods. “This drove millions of dollars of expense out of the project,” he says. The project also got a significant boost from a local environmental consultant who was brought on to help navigate the permitting requirements and the generation of the Tier 1 Renewable Energy Credits that were key to making the economics of the project work out. Additionally, the Mid-South En-

gineering office in Millinocket was engaged to manage the interconnection, metering and interfacing with Central Maine Power, the utility that the produced power was sold to. “This can be onerous,” Sharron says. “It can be very, very difficult, and it can be the difference between success and failure for projects like this.” Altogether, Sharron estimates the project cost Maine Woods between $30 million to $35 million. It was brought online in August of last year in a limited basis, and in February, finally running near the 7.1 MW outlined in the power purchase agreement. “We’ll know more about the efficiencies we’ve introduced into the pellet operation later this fall,” Linkletter says. At that time, both the pellet facility and the power facility are allowed to run at full song, together. The stakes of the project are not lost on Sharron. “For a small, privately owned company like Maine Woods to spend be-

20 PELLET MILL MAGAZINE | JULY/AUGUST 2017

tween $30 million and $40 million dollars, and then the project doesn’t work out, it’s not good,” Sharron says. But Sharron’s overall confidence in the project is high. He points to the systematic approach that he and other members of the project team took in identifying the project goals, budget and how to make the financial and operational goals for the project align. “The success of the project was bringing together a team of people, who had very high levels of expertise in certain areas. They accomplished a lot,” he says of the Linkletter family. “It amazes me that they’ve been able to do what they’ve done.” Author: Tim Portz Executive Editor, Pellet Mill Magazine 701-738-4969 tportz@bbiinternational.com


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« Safety

SAFETY

in Numbers A collaborative campaign to overhaul safety protocol at Canadian wood pellet plants is evoking positive ripple effects across the industry. BY ANNA SIMET

I

n April 2012, within just a few months of each other, two massive combustible dust explosions at British Columbia sawmills claimed the lives of four workers, and injured 32. Budd Phillips, prevention field services manager at WorkSafeBC, recalls the aftermath, describing the accidents as “pretty major… traumatic, catastrophic events.” The accidents took many in the forest products industry by surprise, according to Gordon Murray, executive director of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada. “That should have been the first wake up call for our [wood pellet] industry, but we were still having a lot of these small incidents—little fires, small explosions—but nobody had

gotten hurt,” he says. “And we’d just sort of rectify them with, ‘Well, it’s a dangerous industry.’ ” In a swift attempt to ensure events similar to what occurred at the B.C. sawmills weren’t looming, WorkSafeBC—a provincial regulatory agency comparable to the U.S.’s OSHA— immediately began visiting other sawmills to observe and assist them in their combustible dust management and mitigation programs. To further build out that effort, in 2014, the organization moved on to other segments of the forest industry susceptible to potential dust problems, including the relatively young wood pellet sector. “We were failing inspections, one after another, and getting these suspensions, clo-

22 PELLET MILL MAGAZINE | JULY/AUGUST 2017

sures and orders to comply,” Murray says. “Finally, I got a phone call in May 2014, from one of the WorkSafe vice presidents, and he said, ‘You get everyone in your association on the phone at 9 a.m., and they better be there.’ I tried to gather everyone up, and on the call, WorkSafe basically said, ‘If you guys don’t clean up your act, we have the authority to essentially close your industry down permanently, and we’ll do it. If we deem certain plants to be unsafe, it’s well within the law to order it to close, and never open again.” WorkSafe ordered association members to meet in Vancouver the following week, according to Murray. “We got a little more lashing, and after we finished the


ALL IN: Pinnacle Renewable Energy's Meadowbank/Hixon, British Columbia, pellet plant employees regularly meet and discuss critical safety issues as members of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada's Safety Committee. PHOTO: PINNACLE RENEWABLE ENERGY

meeting, we asked them if we could keep the room. It was there we asked ourselves, ‘Okay, what are we going to do? Just complain and whine about it and say how mean they are, or we actually going to do something?’ And that was the start of it.” According to Phillips, for the initial review of B.C. wood pellet plants, the compliance rate was at about 40 percent. “Pretty low,” he says. “It precipitated a significant focus on inspecting their locations, and that led to what we call a focused initiative. We ended having two dedicated officers—myself as a dedicated manager, and then support from our senior manager—to focus on the industry sector and bring it up to a sustainable compliance requirement.”

Then was born WPAC’s Safety Committee, which initially had a main focus on combustible dust control and mitigation. “The challenge that the pellet sector has is that dust is their medium—it’s what they make their product out of,” Phillips says. “So handling it in a safe manner presented some unique challenges.” But the Safety Committee has been up for that challenge. Fast-forward three years later, and it has proven itself tremendously successful.

Safety Committee

To date, the committee represents over 90 percent of Canada’s wood pellet industry, and other members include insurance

companies, equipment suppliers and more, anyone with a vested interest. “It’s incredible,” Murray says. “I get an additional member every couple of months.” Murray is quick to emphasize that the work that WPAC has done, in partnership with the B.C. Forest Safety Council and WorkSafeBC, isn’t incredulous. “It’s been nothing magical,” he says. “We just identified that this is a critical issue for us. We have to make it a high priority. We researched all of the technical aspects, beginning with combustible dust and eventually moved on to other things, in order to understand all of the issues and address them. We began having phone calls weekly at the beginning, and now they’re once a month.”

JULY/AUGUST 2017 | PELLET MILL MAGAZINE 23


« Safety Once each year, a work plan is devised and then continually updated, and certain objectives are assigned to specific persons on the committee. “We hold people accountable, and we make the plan public so that people can see it—we have to live up to it,” Murray says. “It’s a commitment to stick with it. But there is nothing innovative, fancy or Harvard Business School about it, it’s just making it a priority, that list of the thing we need to do to get better, and picking them off one by one.” The committee began with combustible dust, but has since expanded to other issues including hot surfaces, machinery guards, working at heights, worker training, confined spaces, raw material storage and more, according to Murray. “We have a whole list of things that we’re working on, and we try to keep four or five of them active each month. And we’re strict about keeping these monthly calls to one hour to check in on everyone’s action items.” Nowadays, producers who have embraced the safety initiative are passing inspections with relative ease. “There’s a high degree of compliance, over 90 percent,” Phillips confirms. “In the past year, we haven’t issued any significant orders in the pellet sector. They have risen to the challenge, and done an extremely good job managing combustible dust.” Successful and continually evolving, per WorkSafeBC’s advice, the Safety Committee has moved beyond just occupational health and safety, now onto process safety management. “We’re looking at all of the different manufacturing processes and breaking them down into smaller components to devise a system for identifying all of the risks in pellet manufacturing and dealing with change, such as when new equipment is added, and how it will affect other equipment,” Murray says. “It’s something that has been well-adopted in oil, gas and chemical industries, especially in the U.S. We’re just starting down that path, and though it is quite daunting, we’re going to try to pick away at it and just build, over time, to slowly get better and better.” One way to ensure success of the Safety Committee’s goal is being transparent and willing to divulge information, even when it involves an accident, mistake or oversight, Gordon adds.

‛We don’t compete on safety—we are willing to share this information, with anyone, any time.’ Transparency, Teamwork

“One of the things we said early on is that we were going to be open about our flaws—we won’t hide anything, and that we would show WorkSafe, trusting that they wouldn’t overact and shut us down,” he says. “Rather, they see it as an attempt to get better, advise us, and give us the opportunity to improve. It took a bit of faith and trust on their part, to give us that chance to work through a lot of the issues.” From a regulator perspective, that tactic is right on, Phillips says. “One of the key ways to be successful is to be transparent about it—what have you learned, what have you experienced, and moving forward, what can the industry do to prevent silo fires? We don’t want like incidents in other areas; let’s learn collectively and apply it, so we can learn together across the sector.” Phillips acknowledges a concern in Canada, about public image and repercussions after fires and explosions. Not just the Canadian industry, but in the U.S. and elsewhere. “There is the social license to operate, and if you continue to have problems with explosions and are viewed as a dangerous industry, it can have a real negative impact on the whole industry, in terms of marketing and being able to develop,” he says. While Canada’s safety profile has significantly improved over time, there are still frequent incidences reported in the U.S. Most recent, attention has been on a silo fire at Port Arthur, Texas. “It seems like every few weeks there is a new story, and all it does is reinforce how dangerous the pellet industry is,” Murray says. “If that’s what’s going to continue to happen, then the industry is dangerous. We’ve got to do better collectively. If we can take our initiative and cooperate with others, anybody—any association, any individuals, U.S. companies, if they want to join in—we’ll gladly accept them. We’re certainly not closed to anybody, and there’s no cost to it. Pick up the phone, join in and do a little bit of work.”

24 PELLET MILL MAGAZINE | JULY/AUGUST 2017

For Pinnacle Renewable Energy, Canada’s largest producer with seven operating plants and one under construction, the Safety Committee has been paramount to its operations, and an excellent way to share with and obtain information from other producers, competitor or not. That’s according to Scott Bax, Pinnacle senior vice president of operations chair of the Safety Committee. “This is a huge opportunity,” he says. “We don’t compete on safety—we are willing to share this information, with anyone, any time. Not only does it protect our business, but making everybody’s business safer is the right thing to do for the entire industry. All you need is one or two bad players, and the whole sector gets a bad rap.”

Seizing Opportunity

From Bax’s perspective, aligning with Murray’s and Phillips’ stances, the opportunity isn’t limited to B.C. or Canada, but the industry as a whole, to cooperate and avoid duplicating efforts. “North and south of the border, and in Europe—we don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” he says. “People are doing great things, sharing knowledge, and it’s in the better interest of everybody’s companies to share these things. There’s a balance needed to protect yourself from certain liabilities, but something simple might save a life or injury. Greater transparency is needed on this. We already have some great relationships with some U.S. producers like Drax and Enviva, and if we could meaningfully engage safety across the entire industry, it would be super powerful.” Aside from everything related to safety, multiple positive side effects have stemmed from the initiative. For one, better relationships between producers. “By talking about safety on a regular basis, they have gained more trust of one another,” Bax says. “I have observed companies now cooperating more in other areas besides just safety. They’re sharing ideas and production processes, fiber supply and things like that. Dis-


SafetyÂŤ cussions are happening now that wouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have before, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s just a spin-off of trust thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s been built through the safety initiative.â&#x20AC;? And interestingly, committee member companies say that profitability has gone up in direct correlation with their safety measurements. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The two are tied hand-inhand,â&#x20AC;? Bax says. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The idea that safety costs moneyâ&#x20AC;Śitâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s the total opposite. The safer you are, the less accidents you have. And there are side benefits that have come off of it.â&#x20AC;? And last but not least, employee retentionâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;at least, at Pinnacleâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;is at an alltime high. â&#x20AC;&#x153;As weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve increased engagement, weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve really been able to change the perception of Pinnacle within the communities we operate in,â&#x20AC;? Bax says. â&#x20AC;&#x153;As a result, weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve been able to dramatically improve our employee retentionâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;95 percent in 2016, across all of our operations. That number wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t possible without meaningful engagement, where people feel like theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re creating value across our operations, in every position. With meaningful two-way conversa-

tions and feedback between employees and management, we saw our incident rates fall, and our financial results increase dramatically. As you engage your employees on safety, they arenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t just creating a safer work place, but they actually become engaged in every other part of the business, which fundamentally improves the bottom line. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s really been dramaticâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;some of the fringe benefits when focusing on safety are all these ripple effects that you start to seeâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; unintended, but positive consequences.â&#x20AC;? Despite the many positives spurred from the Safety Committeeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s efforts, Bax admits that changes have not come without challenges. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The whole thing has been a big challenge, and change is a slow processâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; sustainable change, by creating a different workplace culture. People have done things in a certain fashion for months or years, and now youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re asking them to stop, telling them that something that isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t as safe as it could be. We really try to make things actionable, putting a lot of time and energy in creating bite-sized elements can be rolled out with reasonable ease, or provide the resources,

tools and expertise that some of the smaller producers may not have so readily. Thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s what we focus on each month when we get togetherâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;how do we make actionable change on the ground within our wood pellet facilities? By holding conferences, regular calls and talking about it all of the time. It takes time to build the culture.â&#x20AC;? Demonstrating its adaptability, focus and innovative nature, since the beginning of its journey to improve safety measures, the pellet industry has been a very encouraging sector to work with, Phillips adds. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s considered a young industry, and thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a factor in its favor, because it isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t as entrenched in the way it does thingsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;[producers] are willing to look at new ways to improve health, safety and their image, and itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s something they want to build on as they go into the future.â&#x20AC;? Author: Anna Simet Managing Editor, Pellet Mill Magazine asimet@bbiinternational.com 701-738-4961

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2017 July August Pellet Mill Magazine  

The Production Efficiencies & Plant Safety Issue

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