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March/April 2020


GOLD Biochar Market Growth Drives Opportunity PAGE 16

PLUS: Drying Hemp for Energy PAGE 30

International Biomass Conference & Expo Photo Review PAGE 10



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Alleviating a Waste Problem By Anna Simet

COLUMNS 06 Stepping Up and Doubling Down By Peter Thompson

07 Hitting Singles to Win the Game By Bill Bell




SPONSORED 26 SPOTLIGHT: DRYING From Engineering to Startup

Single-source, turnkey contractor IMI Industrial Services has developed a low-temperature wood dryer currently being deployed in a John Day, Oregon, torrefaction project. By Anna Simet

34 SPOTLIGHT: MAINTENANCE Centrifugal Induced Draft Fans for Power Generation

Power plants using coal or cofiring with biomass need to replace their equipment with newer, higher-efficiency industrial fans. By Doug Jones

10 EVENT Meeting in Music City

The 13th annual International Biomass Conference & Expo, held in Nashville, Tennessee, drew nearly 900 registrants from 21 countries. By Anna Simet


Biochar is produced from thermochemical conversion, the baking of organic material using little or no oxygen. Markets for biochar are evolving and growing, potentially opening new opportunities for companies with waste products to generate additional revenue streams.

16 COPRODUCTS Fighting Climate Change with Ancient Technology

Biochar is gaining significant market traction for its versatility in dozens of applications. By Ron Kotrba

CONTRIBUTIONS 28 GUEST EDITORIAL Biomass and Forest Restoration: Perfect Together

Biomass markets need to play a vital role in forest restoration efforts across North American and the world. By Bob Williams

30 DRYING Hemp as an Energy Crop: Drying Considerations

There are many variables to consider when drying straw hemp for pellets or other energy purposes. By Becky Long

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Biomass Magazine: (USPS No. 5336) March/April 2020, Vol. 14, Issue 2. Biomass Magazine is published bi-monthly by BBI International. Principal Office: 308 Second Ave. N., Suite 304, Grand Forks, ND. 58203. Periodicals Postage Paid at Grand Forks, North Dakota and additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Biomass Magazine/Subscriptions, 308 Second Ave. N., Suite 304, Grand Forks, North Dakota 58203.


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Alleviating a Waste Problem



I’m writing this from the International Biomass Conference & Expo in Nashville, Tennessee, where I had the pleasure of moderating the annual association leadership roundtable discussion. It would be very difficult to boil the lengthy conversation down enough to summarize in this column, so I won’t attempt it. What I can say with confidence is that, out of anything our attendees gleaned from the conversation, perhaps the most notable takeaway was that while each sector is focused on making a different energy product, we’re all on the same page, with very similar goals. When asked what the collective “we,” the bioenergy industry, wants our message to be—something concise, uniform and easy to explain—all panelists agreed that the most significant commonality is that we are helping alleviate a waste problem, whether it be cow manure or human waste, hazardous forest material or thinnings, food waste or something else. On that note, one of the subsequent track panels I moderated focused on opportunities regarding biochar, particularly for businesses that have a waste product, such as pulp and paper manufacturers. Coincidentally, we have included a feature focused on biochar to support this issue’s theme of byproducts, coproducts and secondary markets. In “Fighting Climate Change with Ancient Technology,” page 16, Senior Editor Ron Kotrba dives into all aspects of biochar, including how it’s is produced, the vast array of current and potential markets, how feedstock properties influence end product qualities and suitable uses, and, of course, challenges. Interestingly, one of biochar’s seemingly attractive characteristics—it’s versatility—can also be a detriment, according to Jonah Levine, vice president of development and cofounder of Biochar Solutions Inc. “The challenge for biochar is there are so many different stories to tell that it gets complicated,” he says. “People like a nice, neat story. Biochar has a lot of value, and it’s not a simple story to tell.” Also related to this month’s theme, we have included the contribution “Hemp as an Energy Crop: Drying Considerations,” on page 30, by Becky Long, dryer engineer at Thompson Dryers. While the CBD oil market is bustling, what can be done with the waste leftover—i.e., hemp straw? In this piece, Long discusses the many variables to consider when drying hemp for energy purposes, with a focus on pellets. The last content piece I’ll mention is the photo review of the International Biomass Conference & Expo. It’s difficult to capture the value of an event through photos, but you’ll be able to get an idea of the kind of interaction, information and versatility that is offered to attendees. Next year, we’ll be in Jacksonville, Florida, March 15-17, and in the meantime, I look forward to watching and reporting on the industry’s momentum.



2020 International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo JUNE 15-17, 2020


EDITOR Anna Simet asimet@bbiinternational.com SENIOR EDITOR Ron Kotrba rkotrba@bbiinternational.com ONLINE NEWS EDITOR Erin Voegele evoegele@bbiinternational.com COPY EDITOR Jan Tellmann jtellmann@bbiinternational.com


VICE PRESIDENT OF PRODUCTION & DESIGN Jaci Satterlund jsatterlund@bbiinternational.com GRAPHIC DESIGNER Raquel Boushee rboushee@bbiinternational.com

PUBLISHING & SALES CEO Joe Bryan jbryan@bbiinternational.com PRESIDENT Tom Bryan tbryan@bbiinternational.com VICE PRESIDENT OF OPERATIONS/MARKETING & SALES 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 SOCIAL MEDIA & MARKETING COORDINATOR Dayna Bastian dbastian@bbiinternational.com

Minneapolis Convention Center Minneapolis, Minnesota From its inception, the mission of this event has remained constant: The FEW delivers timely presentations with a strong focus on commercial-scale ethanol production—from quality control and yield maximization to regulatory compliance and fiscal management. The FEW is the ethanol industry’s premier forum for unveiling new technologies and research findings. The program is primarily focused on optimizing grain ethanol operations while also covering cellulosic and advanced ethanol technologies. 866.746.8385 www.fuelethanolworkshop.com

2021 International Biomass Conference & Expo MARCH 15-17, 2021

Prime F Osborn III Convention Center Jacksonville, Florida Entering its 14th year, the International Biomass Conference & Expo is expected to bring together more than 900 attendees, 125 exhibitors and 100 speakers from more than 40 countries. It is the largest gathering of biomass professionals and academics in the world. The conference provides relevant content and unparalleled networking opportunities in a dynamic business-to-business environment. In addition to abundant networking opportunities, the largest biomass conference in the world is renowned for its outstanding programming—powered by Biomass Magazine—that maintains a strong focus on commercial-scale biomass production, new technology, and near-term research and development. Join us at the International Biomass Conference & Expo as we enter this new and exciting era in biomass energy. 866.746.8385 www.biomassconference.com

EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBERS Stacy Cook, Koda Energy Justin Price, Evergreen Engineering Tim Portz, Pellet Fuels Institute Adam Sherman, Biomass Energy Resource Center

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COPYRIGHT © 2020 by BBI International

Subscriptions Biomass Magazine is free of charge to everyone with the exception of a shipping and handling charge for anyone outside the United States. To subscribe, visit www.BiomassMagazine.com or you can send your mailing address and payment (checks made out to BBI International) to Biomass 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 701-746-8385 or service@ bbiinternational.com. Advertising Biomass 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 Biomass Magazine advertising opportunities, please contact us at 701-746-8385 or service@bbiinternational.com. Letters to the Editor We welcome letters to the editor. Send to Biomass 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.


Stepping Up and Doubling Down BY PETER THOMPSON

With cheap fossil fuels widely available and woefully misinformed fringe environmental groups shouting inaccuracies, the previous decade was challenging our industry. Underlining the trouble was that we were on the menu, rather than at the table (as the adage goes in Washington, D.C.) in 2005 and 2007 when Congress passed investment tax credits for a slew of renewable energy technologies that largely excluded wood heating technologies. Disengagement was precisely why a group of industry leaders formed BTEC in 2009. They saw the value of engaging Washington, and they dedicated themselves to the task. Their spirit of perseverance remains in the BTEC board of directors, members and staff to this day. With that spirit, after a decade of close calls, tough times and setbacks, BTEC, along with a broad coalition, has delivered multiple policy victories to our sector. In 2019, we achieved: • Appropriations for the new and improved Community Wood Energy and Wood Innovations Program, which can help fund commercial-scale wood heating projects. This program was authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill as a result of BTEC’s leadership and advocacy. • Continued recognition of biomass carbon neutrality across all federal agencies. • Extension of the Wood and Pellet Stove Tax Credit. All this we accomplished on a shoestring budget, through the perseverance of dedicated industry advocates and a knowledgeable government affairs representative. BTEC did not step away from its investment in Capitol Hill when experiencing tough policy losses, nor did we let the common fatigue of working on federal policy discourage us. Instead, we reevaluated our efforts and doubled down on our policy strategy, most notably the Biomass Thermal Utilization Act, which remains the best shot for our industry to grow and address many issues facing the country. I understand the frustration Washington policymakers bring to a wide swath of the country. We deal with them daily. However, frustration is not an excuse to pack up our marbles and go home. Stakeholders that disengage from Washington do so at their own peril. I have been working on the industry’s behalf for longer than two and half years, learning about the intricacies of our sector, engaging policymakers on the issues, and hearing your frustrations on why commonsense policies can’t get over the finish line. I commiserate, but there are two truths we cannot forget: Persistence gets you where you need to go, and your voice matters in Washington.


My background in forestry runs deep and is personal. Forestry provided my father with a career, and for my upbringing and education, including my first full-time job experience—interning at the Forest Resources Association on supply chain issues. My interest in it is even a reason I received detention in high school (I corrected my environmental science teacher that trees are, indeed, a renewable resource). I am humbled by the BTEC board of directors’ continued investment in me and understand my responsibility as deputy director to advance our industry’s common interests and goals. I owe it to the industry to bring success. Consider this BTEC’s call to action to double down on our policy priorities. Our moment to bring long soughtafter, significant policy success to our industry is always in the present. We ensure our forests’ health and management so these resources remain for future generations and are not consumed by wildfires. By providing income to forest owners facing pressure to convert the land, we create jobs in communities that need opportunity. We reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, addressing the critical challenge of our time—climate change. BTEC will advance the BTU Act, increase the appropriations for the Community Wood Energy and Wood Innovations Program to the full $25 million authorization, and continue to build relationships with Congress and federal agencies in 2020. With victories in sight, we cannot afford to disengage Washington. Frustration and disengagement there has one result: a swift kick in the rear end. Imagine what we will accomplish by bucking up to meet Washington gridlock with persistence (and the bipartisan support we have already achieved). So, let us turn the page from the past decade to reinvest, re-engage and rewrite the policy failures of Washington for a better 2020-‘29. There is no magic formula to accomplishing our goals. But the facts are on our side, and we will persist in investing our collective resources to meet the problems of our day collaboratively. Author: Peter Thompson Deputy Director, Biomass Thermal Energy Council www.biomassthermal.org peter.thompson@biomassthermal.org

Hitting Singles to Win the Game BY BILL BELL

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes you find you get what you need.” The Rolling Stones, 1968. A year ago, renewable energy advocates in Maine welcomed incoming Gov. Janet Mills’ reversal of her predecessor’s eight years of opposition to solar, wind and biomass generation. So how have we fared since? Our first at bat produced a solid single to right. Rep. “Harold Trey” Stewart, from northernmost Maine, worked with Matt Bell, Northeast Pellets owner, to introduce a bill requiring that schools receiving state funds for new heating systems “have demonstrated a preference for modern wood heating systems.” Stewart testified before our legislature’s education committee—of which he was a recent member—as the newly elected assistant House minority leader. Equally important was enthusiastic testimony from former superintendents, one of them now a legislator, whose schools had installed chip or pellet heat 10 years ago when millions of dollars of federal Recovery Act funds went to replacing fossil fuels in Maine schools. Predictably, state school officials spoke against anything vaguely reminiscent of a mandate (a dirty word in Maine) for a particular form of heat. The bill was amended and then passed unanimously, with Maine law now requiring that applications for state funds show the applicant to “have considered heating systems that use renewable, locally sourced, wood-based fuels.” Our next time at the plate: another solid single. Critical to the success of pellet heating boilers in Maine has been the rebate program provided by Efficiency Maine, our state’s energy agency. Five years ago, when Efficiency Maine was providing a $5,000 rebate to homeowners installing this equipment, I wrote in this column that “Pellet boiler firms are installing at a combined rate of a unit per day.” Then, the price of oil dropped. Efficiency Maine, for a number of reasons, reduced its incentive to $3,000. The firm distributing Kedel boilers in Maine went belly up. This spring, citing higher pellet boiler rebates in the other New England states and invoking legislative support, our Maine Pellet Fuels Association worked with Efficiency Maine to restore the previous boiler incentive, and actually increase it to $6,000 per residence. Our next initiative faces an uncertain future. At the urging of a key staff member who was previously with Maine’s chapter of the Nature Conservancy, Mills invited a handful of to make the case for wood heating. After listening, she asked, “Now, where do you suggest the money might come from to support this?” We had a ready answer: the more than $5 million recently clawed back from a failed state attempt to keep a number of bio-

mass electric plants running. The newly elected president of the Maine Senate, a northern Maine logger by profession, had already incorporated these funds in the proposed “Act to Establish the Wood Energy Investment Program.” The governor nodded, smiled and said, “And these are precisely the funds I need to balance my budget.” The budget was balanced and passed; we are now seeking another source of funding to assist with wood heating and cogeneration projects. Our major accomplishment of the past year has received little recognition, for good reason. It’s complicated, and it won’t kick in until 2021. Even then, it will have a modest beginning, but against considerable odds, we convinced our legislature to include thermal renewable energy credits, or T-RECs, in a massive upgrade of Maine’s law governing our state’s renewable energy portfolio standards. Under this law, one of the most ambitious in the nation, by 2030, renewable resources must account for 80 percent of electric sales in Maine. By 2050, all electricity sold in Maine must come from renewables. Of importance to us: Electricity suppliers serving Maine must, in 2021, also purchase thermal RECs equal to 0.4% of total sales, increasing to 3.6% of total sales by 2030. This means that schools, factories or even a large aggregation of homeowners heating with wood can generate these T-RECs and sell them at a price, offsetting a significant portion of their fuel costs. There are, of course, a lot of details to be worked out with the Maine Public Utilities Commission. It would have been easy for our legislature to set aside this proposed section of law, as had happened in recent years. But elections matter. The new director of our governor’s energy office was a strong advocate. Democrats, now with majority in the Maine Senate and a larger majority in the House, wanted to bring about major changes. Republicans, while digging in their heels on fiscal issues, continued their strong support of Maine’s forest products industry and the utilization of low-grade wood. Great credit also goes to third base coach Charlie Niebling of Innovative Natural Resource Solutions, whose experience with New Hampshire’s first-in-thenation T-RECs program, as well as numerous technical advisory trips to Maine’s capitol, brought this important runner home.

Author: Bill Bell Executive Director, Maine Pellet Fuels Association billb@mepfa.org www.mepfa.org



Pinnacle announces new ship charter for trans-Pacific wood pellets

Pinnacle Renewable Energy announced the christening and launching ceremony of S1130, a Handy class vessel PHOTO: PINNACLECHARTER of almost 40,000 deadweight tonnage. The ceremony was held at the Shikoku Dockyard in Takamatsu City, Japan. Pinnacle will charter the vessel, named MV New Pinnacle, from NYK Bulk & Projects Carriers, a leading Japanese ocean carrier, on a long-term charter to carry the company’s industrial wood pellets from Canada to Japan. The charter is an important element in Pinnacle's approach to logistics as the company continues to participate in the trend of British Columbia-based businesses expanding in Asian markets. Pinnacle has signed three contracts with customers in Japan since August.


Prodesa awarded belt dryer order for Pinnacle plant

Pinnacle Renewable Energy has selected Prodesa for the design, manufacturing and commissioning of a low-temperature belt dryer for its new wood pellet plant in High Level, Alberta. The selected low-temperature belt dryer has an annual capacity of 210,000 metric tons. It allows for a higher product quality due to gentle drying that keeps the physical and chemical product properties unaltered, while minimizing electricity consumption. Prodesa recently installed equipment at Skeena BioEnergy, J. D. Irving’s pelleting island and Granule 777, all new Canadian wood pellet plants.

White joins Drax as senior vice president

Drax Biomass Inc. has hired Matt White as its new senior vice president to run the company’s U.S. biomass operations from its headquarters in Monroe, Louisiana. White joins Drax from Rockwater Energy (now Select Energy Services), an oil industry chemicals and logistics provider, where he was director of manufacturing and engineering.



Most of White’s career has been in manufacturing management, helping organizations, grow, adapt to change and increase safety and efficiency by developing high-performing teams. A mechanical engineer by background, White has worked in many sectors, including air products and chemicals. White holds a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

US pellet exports reach nearly 778,000 tons in November

The U.S. exported just under 778,000 metric tons (MT) of wood pellets in PHOTO: PINNACLECHARTER November, according to data released in January by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. More than a dozen countries imported U.S. wood pellets in November. The U.K. was the top destination with 565,110 MT, followed by Belgium-Luxembourg with 63,782 MT, and the Netherlands with 61,834 MT. The value of U.S. wood pellet exports reached $112.35 million in November, up from $75.82 million in October and $79.98 million in November 2018.

Total pellet exports for the first 11 months of the year reached 6.35 million MT at a value of $872.85 million, compared to 5.42 million MT at a value of $730.97 million for the same period of 2018.

Emerson introduces new pulse valve

Emerson has introduced its newly redesigned ASCO Series 353 Pulse Valve to help original equipment manufacturers and end users achieve a more effective, efficient and convenient bag cleaning. With a higher peak pressure, wider temperature range, patented quick-mount clamp connection and overall part simplification, the new series provides longer bag and filter life and lower maintenance. The new valve can be used in a wide range of applications, including power plants. Without optimum peak pressure, dust collector cleaning becomes inefficient and the consumption of compressed air rises. Because it hits peak pressure quickly, the Series 353 creates a more effective cleaning process. The new design also leads to improved airflow through the filter bags or cartridges for optimized dust collector performance, while reducing costly compressed air consumption. The valve is designed with fewer moving parts for increased reliability and simplified maintenance.



Anna Simet, Biomass Magazine editor, left, leads the association leader roundtable discussion. Participating panelists were Bob Cleaves, Biomass Power Association; Patrick Serfass, American Biogas Council; Dan Wilson, Biomass Thermal Energy Council, and Tim Portz, Pellet Fuels Institute.




y t i C c i s u M in the

The 13th annual International Biomass Conference & Expo drew nearly 900 attendees to Nashville, Tennessee. BY ANNA SIMET



he booming “it” city known for its legendary music venues welcomed the 13th annual International Biomass Conference & Expo, which took place Feb. 3-5 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. The event drew a diverse mix of technology developers, academia, investors, service and equipment providers, bioenergy plant personnel and a range of other stakeholders who met to gather information, network and collaborate. Following a day-long preconference workshop focused on biomass preparation, storage and handling, the event kicked off with annual awards bestowed by Biomass Magazine. Bruce Lisle, founder and CEO of pellet manufacturer Energex Corp., received the Excellence in Bioenergy Award, and Restoration Fuels LLC and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities were named recipients of Groundbreaker of the Year Award. Received on the organizations’ behalf was endowment President and CEO Carlton Owen. Following the awards, trade organization leaders participated in an industry roundtable to discuss policy, challenges, priorities and the messages the industry conveys to policymakers and the public. Panelists included Patrick Serfass, American Biogas Council; Tim Portz, Pellet Fuels Institute; Bob Cleaves, Biomass Power Association and Dan Wilson, Biomass Thermal Energy Council. Roughly 80 speakers presented during the event span, during sessions focused on biomass heat and power, pellets and densified biomass, biogas and waste-to-energy, and advanced biofuels. The closing event brought attendees to Aries Clean Energy’s Lebanon, Tennessee, biomass gasification plant, as well as WastAway Fuels’ municipal solid waste-to-densified fuel operation in Morrison, Tennessee. The 2021 International Biomass Conference & Expo will be held in Jacksonville, Florida, March 15-17.

(From left) Serfass, Cleaves, Wilson and Portz agreed that rather than arguing the case of carbon neutrality, one of the main focuses of the bioenergy industry's unified message should be alleviation of a waste problem



Bruce Lisle, CEO and founder of Energex, was named recipient of the Excellence in Bioenergy Award.

Carlton Owen, CEO of the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, accepted the Groundbreaker of the Year Award on behalf of the endowment and Restoration Fuels LLC.


Jason Kessler, president and owner of grand opening reception sponsor KESCO Inc., cut the ribbon to the trade show floor.


(From left) Dominik Stracke, Harry Rotsch and Carlos Soteldo represent exhibitor KOBO USA LLC.

Chris Wiberg, vice president of laboratories at Timber Products Inspection/Biomass Energy Lab, converses with booth visitors.



Kent Mellen and Andy Turner of exhibitor BM&M Screening Solutions discuss the company's offerings with a booth visitor.

Jennifer Frost and Laura Ostlie man the exhibit booth for the city of Benson and Swift County, Minnesota.

Nico Nicoletti, owner of general session sponsor IMS Group USA, takes the innovation stage.

Jason Peterson, Henrik Jacobsen and Jose Ignacio Pedrajas from exhibitor PRODESA engage with trade show attendee.



(From left) Roger Ford, CEO, Eureka Energy Corporation; Ernie Pollitzer, owner and senior engineer, Clean Energy Consultants; Tom Wassel, Air Techniques Inc., and Thomas Brill, Of Counsel, Greenberg Traurig LLP, participate in a biogas and RNG market outlook panel discussion.

Laurenz Schmidt, FutureMetrics, presents during a panel discussion on global wood pellet markets. Additional panelists, from left, included moderator William Perritt, Fastmarkets RISI; Bruce Lisle, Energex America Inc.; and Tim Portz, Pellet Fuels Institute.




Ancient Technology Used for millennia, biochar is gaining significant market traction for its versatility in dozens of applications and its primary environmental benefit of sequestering carbon indefinitely. BY RON KOTRBA

Biochar Solutions offers turnkey systems to manufacture biochar. Starting at $400,000, they can process 2,000 pounds an hour of course, dry wood chips to produce two cubic yards of char per hour, and 3 to 6 million Btu on a continuous basis. PHOTO: BIOCHAR SOLUTIONS INC.





nthropology demonstrates the first evidence of controlled fire by human ancestors—Homo erectus—dates to 400,000 years ago, but some in the field assert this could span as far back as 1.7 million years. How soon afterward primitive humans developed charcoal is unknown, but experts believe they used it for cave drawings 32,000 years ago. The first documented use of charcoal was nearly 6,000 years ago, when ancient Egyptians employed the material in smelting ores to manufacture bronze from copper, tin and other metals. “Biochar is not new—it’s been made and used for millennia,” says Melissa Leung, business development and marketing manager for Quebec-based GECA Environnement. “It’s coming back to life, and the industry is growing. Let’s not forget, it’s a known, green product. We know how to make and use it. It’s only a matter of who will do it.” Biochar is made from a variety of feedstocks through various techniques, such as pyrolysis or gasification, and can be a byproduct, coproduct or main product of a given production process. It is produced in low- or no-oxygen environments with heat through which moisture and gases are burned off, leaving behind a carbon-rich product. “In more technical terms,” describes the International Biochar Initiative, “biochar is produced by thermal decomposition of organic material (biomass such as wood, manure or leaves) under limited supply of oxygen, and at relatively low temperatures (less than 700 degrees Celsius). This process mirrors the production of charcoal, which is perhaps the most ancient industrial technology developed by humankind. Biochar can be distinguished from charcoal—used mainly as a fuel—in that a primary application is use as a soil amendment with the intention to improve soil functions and to reduce emissions from biomass that would otherwise naturally degrade to greenhouse gases.” While biochar’s primary application is a soil amendment, Tom Miles, IBI board member and principal of T.R. Miles Technical Consultants Inc., says there are at least 55 documented uses of biochar listed in various articles. “It can be used in cement, or as a filler in plastics, also wallboard, building products, or added to anaerobic digesters to improve gas production at dairies,” he says. On the surface, having such a broad range of uses for biochar may appear beneficial to its desirability and market value, but this vast list of product potentiality might actually be a detriment, according to Jonah Levine, vice president of development and cofounder of Biochar Solutions Inc. “The challenge for biochar is there are so many different stories to tell that it gets complicated,” Levine says. “People like a nice, neat story. Biochar has a lot of value, and it’s not a simple story to tell.” He adds that, in addition to the breadth of applicability being a challenge for people to understand what biochar is and how it can be used, biochar’s complicated story also “screws up” developing businesses. “Some want to produce biochar and think they’re going to do 10 different things with it, but that’s hard to do,” Levine says. “They should really choose one or two things and run with it, but they can get distracted. It’s important to know who the stakeholders are and give them a nice, neat package. The story of biochar in


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So long as it is not burned like charcoal, biochar sequesters carbon indefinitely and has dozens of documented uses.

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agriculture is tight. So is one on filtration, or animal feed. Each of those alone is a tight story. But blend them all together and it becomes challenging. The stakeholders are different. It becomes too large and unwieldy. It’s too hard for biochar to be all things to all people.” Leung says although this may be true, she simplifies the story of biochar by advising that each biochar’s unique set of properties is the best indicator for suitable market applications, thereby narrowing the field of possibilities and uncomplicating the otherwise complex narrative. One type of biochar might work best as a soil amendment while another may be more appropriate for filtration, and another yet as an animal feed supplement—although the latter is not currently approved in the U.S., despite studies demonstrating large increases in daily weight gain and decreases in methane emissions from cattle. Think of choosing the right potatoes for mashing, Leung says. “Yellow potatoes are the best to make mashed potatoes, more so than other types,” she says. Conversely, one wouldn’t choose cherry tomatoes to slice for sandwiches, but those same tomatoes work well in a garden salad. “It’s the same thing with biochar,” Leung says. “So, it’s important to understand the different types of biochar and assess the properties for each product. Feedstock, temperature, technology, preconditioning—they all affect the end product and its usefulness in certain applications. That’s why we at GECA Environnement do what we do. It’s confusing for those who don’t know about biochar, and they might use the wrong product in the wrong situation.”


To elaborate on this concept, Miles details three main Continued on page 22

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¦COPRODUCTS Continued from page 19

determinants of biochar quality. “One is feedstock,” he says. “Ag residues, whether field crops or manure, urban residues such as sewage sludge or urban wood waste, or wood residues, whether waste from processing or from the forest—each of those feedstocks has different qualities in terms of the amount and composition of ash.” He says sewage sludge has higher ash and lower carbon content while wood, on the other hand, has much less ash but very high carbon content. In addition to feedstock, another aspect that affects biochar quality is the design of the device used to carbonize the biomass. “If you take raw biomass and heat it, 80 percent turns to gas and you can recover that gas as steam or heat, but 20 percent remains as char,” Miles says. “If you burn that as a fuel, it’s called charcoal, but if you use it in the soil or for other nonfuel uses, it’s biochar. It retains 50 percent of the energy it had when you started with it.” Several different designs of devices exist to convert biomass to biochar: pyrolizers, which use no air and yield 25 to 30 percent biochar; gasifiers, which use little air and produce slightly less biochar content, perhaps 15 to 20 percent; and combustors, boilers or stoves, which use a lot of air and mostly convert the biomass to energy and yield little char, maybe 5 percent or less, according to Miles. “The third leg of the stool,” Miles says, “is how you operate those devices and at what temperature. If you want to make a biochar that duplicates an Amazon [rainforest] soil amendment, then take the biomass and combine it with clay, heat at low temperatures and you’ll make a composite material that’s similar to Amazon soil. If you want a high surface area to capture pollutants like heavy metals, then biochar made from a gasifier with higher temperatures gives a higher surface-area material, which makes it good for capturing metal contaminants. In China, 20 percent of agricultural lands are polluted from industrial processes, so they’re using biochar as a growing medium and for filtering water from irrigation to capture pollutants.”

Soil Health

Biochar works best with a partner, Levine says. “Biochar plus compost is the best blended material,” he says. If a farmer wants to upgrade course, sandy soil in order to improve nutrient cycle times and utilize moisture more efficiently, then they should target 5 percent organic matter in the soil profile—but adding 5 percent organic content to soil six inches deep is too much all at once. The farmer could implement a three- or five-year program, adding a biochar-compost mix annually until the target organic content is achieved. “There’s labile and recalcitrant organic matter—or what will and won’t break down,” Levine says. “Biochar will not break down. Compost will. Biochar is more expensive and compost less so.” Levine says there are layers of carbon value by adding biochar to soil. Biochar interrupts the natural carbon cycle, so the atmospheric carbon retained in the biomass via photosynthesis is not released back into the environment when charred—so long as it’s not set back on fire. “The carbon will remain sequestered permanently,” he says—or at least for thousands of years. He likens it to the reverse of burning coal. “That’s what got me excited about biochar to begin with—it’s coal in reverse,” Levine says. “Frankly, I’m not a coal hater. It’s been a wonderful resource for the time and where we were. Now we know better. I believe in sustainability. It’s what gets me excited to go to work in the morning.” The second layer of biochar’s carbon value to soil, according to Levine, is if one can reduce moisture and nutrient requirements for soil, then by extension this reduces other pollution-emitting inputs needed. And the third is, if that ground is now more agronomically productive, the carrying capacity of biomass on that piece of land is elevated, thus removing more atmospheric carbon through, once again, photosynthesis. “With all biochar,” Miles says, “you’re increasing carbon content in soil, which is the really interesting part. For every 1 percent organic carbon in the soil, 26,000 gallons of water per acre is available. So, as you increase carbon in the soil, not only


Biochar Solutions’ system is exothermic, so after starting the process with a torch, the energy in the chips drives the reaction, producing 18 to 20 percent char by mass coming out. If it used external energy, making it endothermic, the system would generate 40 to 50 percent char by mass.



does this increase the fertility, but it also increases the amount of water the soil can hold and make available to plants.�


While biochar has its market-related challenges, Miles says an equally encumbering obstacle is helping would-be manufacturers get into biochar production at a reasonable scale. “That’s been a challenge,� he says. “Transportation becomes a big issue. If you’re going to use it, you need to find sources within 30 to 50 miles to be economical. Now biochar is being transported all across the country. We need more decentralized production.� Biochar Solutions designs, produces and sells systems to make biochar, and Levine says anyone with excess capacity of biomass such as course, dry wood chips would be a great potential candidate to start manufacturing biochar in order to add diversity to their product line and revenue to their bottom line. This could be

feedstock providers, biomass power plants with excess feedstock on-hand, or numerous other players in the biomass space. Levine says the standard base unit costs $400,000 and can process 2,000 pounds an hour of course, dry wood chips. The result is two cubic yards of char per hour and 3 to 6 million Btu on a continuous basis. “It’s exothermic, so you start the process in the morning with a torch and the energy in the chips drives reaction,� he says. “You get 18 to 20 percent by mass char coming out. If you use external energy, which would be endothermic, you could get 40 to 50 percent by mass carbon out. But being exothermic, it consumes carbon in the reaction.� Levine says some energy goes into the process for blowers and augers, “but it only takes 25 kilowatts,� he says. Certain plants designed to create energy produce biochar on the side, Leung says, and the energy generated from the pyrolysis process can be fed back into the main processing plant for heat or steam.





¦COPRODUCTS “The feedstock going in so high in energy, and since the actual pyrolysis process releases more energy than it needs, people who already have biomass plants can benefit in multiple ways from incorporating such technology,” she says. “For example, if a sawmill has a bunch of residues and it wants to install a pyrolysis system right next to the mill to transfer extra energy, they’ll be doubling their energy and also producing biochar as a product. Some want residues to heat greenhouses. Pyrolysis works well in different situations in which primary revenue is being generated from another process. As a company though, we always make a point to say, if you choose to make biochar, use residue that would not otherwise be used. We don’t recommend taking a high-value feedstock to make biochar. If someone has wood chips that would rot outside otherwise, then there’s a good opportunity.” Suzanne Allaire, owner of GECA Environnement, says her company encourages the use of everything that comes out of biomass. “There is always gas coming out of the [biochar] process, so that gas can be used to dry the material,” she says. “If it’s already dried, say at a big sawmill, then the surplus energy can be cleaned and sent to the grid or used to make energy on-site. It fits well in a circular economy.”

Allaire, left, and Leung PHOTO:GECA ENVIRONNEMENT

Market Value

The value one can expect to receive for biochar depends, again, on many factors such as the quality, type and intended market. “Right now, it’s like the Wild West,” Miles says. “There’s no set prices. Biochar is not viewed as a commodity, it’s still a specialty product.” He says pricing can range

from $50 to $200 per cubic yard, or more, depending on the cost of production, and supply and demand. “As we see production grow,” Miles says, “prices will come down to maybe settle down at $50 a cubic yard.” Allaire says the cost of biochar depends on what the client is willing to pay and in what application they intend to use






it. “The range can be $300 to $1200 per metric ton,� she says. “That’s a huge difference. Why? If they want to use it to replace coal, then it’s cheap, but activated carbon is expensive—as much as $3,000 a ton. The same biochar could have one price, but in a different application the price doubles.� Leung adds that the niche markets pay the highest, but the volume is low. Conversely, the high-volume markets typically pay much less. “Finding markets can be difficult for producers,� she says. “That’s what we do to help. We make market studies, determine what markets are the most accessible and which pay the highest revenue.� In addition to connecting producers to buyers, GECA Environnement also puts biochar seekers in touch with the right supply. “People looking for biochar may not know what they need,� Allaire says, “so they’ll call us and we have so many biochar producers we work with that we can find the right biochar for the right consumer.� For the past 16 years, Allaire has worked to build out the biochar industry and market. “Early on, it was like I was coming from Mars,� she says. “The past two years, however, have been very unique. The market is really picking up. Regulations take a long time to change. Biochar was not allowed to be used in concrete, and that took like 20 years to change the laws. Other industries like steel, agriculture, ani-

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mal feeding, cannabis—they are willing to use biochar. But this is really new. There’s been a big jump in new markets over the past two years—exponential.� One reason for this, Leung says, is a better understanding of biochar’s ability to sequester carbon. “In 2019, there was a huge surge in positive, public opinion,� she says. “Enterprises are looking for alternative, new products that are environmentally friendly and sustainable to use or replace current products. This is partly where the surge is coming from. Also, more and more large producers have started making biochar. Before, it was largely small producers, and those larger markets didn’t have access to enough volume to satisfy the need.� Allaire adds that the volume and quality control for energy, steel and concrete industries was simply not there three years ago. “Now we see it, companies are willing to switch to replace coal, for instance,� she says. “There’s not enough biochar volume for 100 percent replacement of coal, but they can do coal-biochar mixtures. For a coal power plant to switch to wood [pellets], it would cost about $200 million to adjust the equipment. With pyrolyzed wood—pelletized biochar—there is no modifications to switch from coal.� Leung says biochar emits three times less carbon equivalent than coal, and it is an ultra-low sulfur energy source, which is “way better

for the environment,� she says, adding that transport costs for biochar are less than wood. “The other thing is, when comparing wood pellets to biochar for a coal replacement, pellets are very sensitive to humidity and make a lot of dust.� Conversely, she says, biochar isn’t affected as much by humidity and doesn’t create the same amount of dust. GECA Environnement currently has access to a total volume of 230,000 metric tons of biochar per year, according to Leung, to which the company can refer clients. “That’s a significant amount—more than half of the biochar in North America,� she says. “In the next two or three years, we’ll double that in our agreements. A lot more plants are going to be built in the next few years.� Allaire says, “Through our agreements with producers and others building plants for which we don’t have agreements yet, we could probably reach 1 million tons in the next two or three years.� That is significant, impressive growth considering 10 years ago, according to Levine, the market was essentially “zero.� Author: Ron Kotrba Senior Editor, Biomass Magazine 218-745-8347 rkotrba@bbiinternational.com

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IMI’s turnkey approach to project execution is successfully exampled by installation of its biomass dryer at Restoration Fuels' torrefaction plant in John Day, Oregon. PHOTO: IMI INDUSTRIAL SERVICES GROUP

For more than 30 years as a singlesource contractor, IMI Industrial Services Group has provided a complete range of industrial contracting services and turnkey solutions, including dryer technology and the balance of plant systems, such as torrefaction, pellet mill operations and material handling. Its debut in the chip drying industry began in 2017 in Lumberton, South Carolina, at Georgia Renewable Power’s 22-MW biomass power plant, followed by GRP’s two 58-MW plants in Franklin and Madison counties, Georgia. Most recently, IMI provided a chip dryer to Restoration Fuels’ torrefaction plant under construction in John Day, Oregon, after the project team caught wind of IMI’s solid reputation and capabilities. “IMI has developed a low-temperature wood chip dryer that creates an efficient, environmentally friendly way to dry wood chips and similar biomass fuels,” says Mike McCoy, vice president of IMI. “Very early in the pro-

‘IMI has developed a low-temperature wood chip dryer that creates an efficient, environmentally friendly way to dry wood chips and similar biomass fuels.’ –Mike McCoy, Vice President, IMI Industrial Services Group

jectdevelopment, IMI was approached by Dennis Carroll, Restorations Fuels’ project manager, to provide our chip dryer.” Though IMI had designed and fabricated similar dryers—the capacities of which range up to 42 tons per day—the company carefully reviewed Restoration Fuels’ application. “Honestly, we were a little skeptical about whether or not this project, like so many, would get any legs under it,” McCoy says. “However, having previously worked with both Dennis and the U.S. En-


dowment for Forestry & Communities, the driving force behind Restoration Fuels, we clearly understood the goals of the endowment’s project, its staff and their mission. We welcomed the opportunity to be a part of it.” Soon, a purchase agreement was issued for the design and fabrication of a 17-tonper-hour chip dryer. IMI has streamlined production of its chip dryers, McCoy says, and was able to quickly deliver the equipment and assemblies. The dryer has been

SPOTLIGHT: DRYING » designed to dry fiber to 10 percent moisture content for a torrefied fuel product. Ultimately, the project developer determined that with IMI’s extensive construction capabilities and project experience, it was a good fit and made sense for the company to provide the balance of work for the installation of major components for the entire operation. As with any unique project, it has come with a few hurdles, but none that IMI and Restoration Fuels haven’t been able to overcome. “We’ve had some challenges, one being simply that this torrefaction project is the first of its kind,” McCoy says. “It’s also located in a very rural location, so the current economy and availability of tradesmen, to name a few, presented some challenges, but we met them head on.” All the while, construction on-site continues—completion and subsequent commissioning is on track for this summer—and IMI remains committed to finishing its work at the site safely, on time and on budget. “As this project nears completion,” McCoy adds, “the vision of Restoration Fuels will come to life.” Contact: Mike McCoy Vice President, IMI Industrial Services www.imiindustrialservices.com mike.mccoy@imiindustrialservices.com


Bob Williams, certified forester, does restoration work in northern California. PHOTO: PINE CREEK FORESTRY LLC

Biomass and Forest Restoration:

Perfect Together BY BOB WILLIAMS


aking good use of trees, one of the planet’s most renewable, organic resources, can help resolve many of our concerns regarding sustainable economies and the environment. But some folks—those who believe we should never cut a tree—are simply are not seeing the trees for the forest. When we consider the degraded condition of tens of millions of acres of neglected forests across North America, as well as the decline of many of our important forest ecosystems such as the long leaf pine, shortleaf pine, and Atlantic white cedar ecosys-

tems, it’s clear we need to get busy with restoring these forests back to their optimum health and ecological integrity. It’s true that past misuse or abuse of forests, along with a mistaken long-term fire exclusion policy, have resulted in many forests being in very poor condition today. However, science and research are showing us that most forest ecosystems respond well to restoration efforts. Restoration requires us to examine the ecological processes that allow these forests to sustain and regenerate themselves. This ecological forest management approach

does not focus on the optimum economic return, but instead, it focuses on the optimum ecological return. On the other hand, production-oriented forest management has a primary focus on economic value combined with environmental values. Both approaches should remain available to land and resource managers to achieve different desired outcomes, whether it be financial or ecological. Restoration forest management limits economic return, and getting the work done requires a creative approach. This approach typically requires the removal of low-grade

CONTRIBUTION: The claims and statements made in this article belong exclusively to the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Biomass Magazine or its advertisers. All questions pertaining to this article should be directed to the author(s).


GUEST EDITORIAL¦ trees or species of little economic value. These less desirable species have replaced the desired natural species of some imperiled forest ecosystems such as the longleaf and shortleaf pines and Atlantic white cedar. In many cases, fire suppression or interruption of the natural fire regimes has allowed more competitive, less desirable tree species to dominate and suppress the native forest ecosystem. Thus, significant tree removal is needed to restore these forests to optimum ecological conditions. In most cases, it is taxpayers’ dollars that fund the work, but not enough is done to make real landscape level forest restoration effective or meaningful in the long term. The use of woody biomass from these degraded forest ecosystems is essential. The biomass industry needs to step up and begin to understand the critically important role it can and should play in major forest restoration efforts needed across North America. In a very short time, the results of these types of forest management properties will dramatically demonstrate their importance. Moving our forest ecosystems back to a state that assures the sustainability of their ecological integrity is a win-win for all who care about forests and our planet. Some people don’t seem to understand this, and many in the biomass industry would be wise to look at this approach. The volume of wood fiber available is staggering and will compete with the production-oriented alternative if given a chance. Here in southern New Jersey, we have as much as 500,000 acres of forest in need of restoration with regard to wildfire prevention, habitat restoration and ecosystem restoration. All this needed work has nothing to do with timber or wood production, as some environmentalists would claim. We hear a lot about sustainability, climate change and renewable resources, yet here in New Jersey, our large retail centers sell tens of thousands of cords of firewood that is shipped in from eastern Europe, while our forests suffer from a lack of market to get needed work done. A healthy, natural forest ecosystem is not exclusive of a viable wood fiber industry—it just depends on how, when and where trees are utilized. Our forests need help, and they need it now. The continued benign neglect and the

Forest restoration activities are performed in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, which consists of 1.1 million acres and stretches across seven counties in New Jersey. PHOTO: PINE CREEK FORESTRY LLC

illusion of preservation only ensures the continued decline of critically important forest ecosystems and the continued increase in catastrophic, uncontrolled wildfire. Biomass markets need to play the vital role they can in forest restoration efforts


across North American and the world. Trees are the answer. Author: Robert Williams Certified Forester, Pine Creek Forestry LLC bob@pinecreekforestry.com





Immediately after harvest, quick and gentle drying will be optimal for final quality and yield of hemp. This can be achieved by having the dryer available at the field; the side benefit is water weight removal before shipping. Pictured is a rendering of Thompson Dryers' mobile hemp dryer on a standard flatbed trailer.

HEMP AS AN ENERGY CROP: DRYING CONSIDERATIONS There is much to determine when drying hemp for pellets or other energy purposes. BY BECKY LONG


egardless of the numerous conspiracy theories surrounding hemp and marijuana on the internet, by 1920, industrial hemp had been on its way out for decades, due to technological advancement using other materials for the products hemp was most known for: paper, fabric and rope. Industrial hemp’s associa-

tion with marijuana was its death sentence in the U.S., and then, nearly the whole world. THC was not discovered until the 1990s, which meant there was no way for governments, police or drug enforcement personnel to distinguish between industrial hemp and marijuana before then. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, drug enforcement policies

of the 1950s, and the war on drugs nearly ensured that China was the sole provider of industrial hemp in the world for 70 years. Once THC was discovered, European and Canadian markets began opening for growing industrial hemp, which was then defined as having lower than 3% (typical) THC content, as opposed to the 15 to 30%

CONTRIBUTION: The claims and statements made in this article belong exclusively to the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Biomass Magazine or its advertisers. All questions pertaining to this article should be directed to the author(s).



THC content of recreational or medical increase the amount of hemp that can be of the plant? Drying the flower for CBD production is significantly different than use marijuana. The U.S. has slowly come dried in a given footprint. At a certain acreage, a hemp grower drying the straw, which is significantly difon board, beginning with the 2014 Farm Bill, which allowed states to have their own should consider mechanical drying. Of all ferent than drying the fiber after it has been laws regarding hemp and marijuana. Then the processing and infrastructure, drying separated from the hurd, which is significame the 2018 Farm Bill, which changed equipment will be the most affordable and cantly different than drying the seeds. The the definition of industrial hemp to con- quickest equipment to procure. There could flower is extremely delicate, and the oils can taining less than 0.3% THC, thereby legally still be lead times of six to 12 months, plus be damaged by heat, whereas the straw and separating industrial hemp from marijuana. hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is hurd can be dried similarly to wood chips or Each state develops its own program, and marginally lower than the years and millions oriented strands for oriented strand board, growers must purchase licenses and test for of dollars expected for more downstream depending on end use. Other considerTHC before harvest. Individuals will want processing. If the crop is dry, it can sit for ations include the following. to check with the laws in their state before a while awaiting processing capabilities to open. Lest some growers believe they can Safety attempting to grow any industrial hemp. %LRPDVV0DJD]LQHSDJHLVODQG& The current surge of hemp produc- go get a used dryer, almost all have been Is this item on OSHA’s combustible snatched up by other hemp growers and the tion is mostly due to the recent legalization dust list? Not yet. It will very likely be added and high market value of CBD oil. Many frac sand industry. in time, as hemp has a similar Btu content What are the considerations for dry- to wood. Depending on dryer type, method new growers have been lured into growing specialty female clones that are quite finicky, ing hemp? The first question is: What part and temperature of the drying medium, with the promise of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The infrastructure needed to process the quantity of industrial hemp that was grown in 2019 wasn’t available, and quite a few crops were ruined. Similar trends were seen in Canada when industrial hemp was first legalized—there were huge upticks in production in 1999 and 2008, both followed by significant crashes. The U.S. will likely go through the same boom and bust cycle while industry tries to catch up to the market. Now that industrial hemp is legal and people have learned how to grow and harvest it again, the next hurdle will be processing and infrastructure. The first line of defense against losing the entire crop will be quick, efficient and effective drying. Many 2019 crops were lost to mold. They were properly grown, tested for low THC, harvested and then not dried properly. Based on reports from the field, many growers attempted to dry their hemp Call for a in a barn, similar to tobacco. Climate and free brochure humidity levels have a huge impact on barndrying capacities. Adding fans and auxiliary Pelletizing | CHP | Cellulosic | Ethanol ol heat sources to the barn can potentially

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drying in a low-oxygen environment will be the safest option. A very simple way to create a low oxygen environment is to recycle the exhaust gases.

Surface and Bound Moisture

Hemp has potential for both, but most likely will only have bound moisture. The drying medium must not flash the surface dry, but gradually warm the whole particle, driving moisture from the inside out. This can be done with a high-moisture drying atmosphere with high wet bulb temperature, such as created in a recycled exhaust gas system. This particular piece of the puzzle is still under experimentation for drying the flower for CBD extraction. Stay tuned.

Susceptibility to Radiant Energy

As an organic material, hemp straw, flower and seed will be susceptible to get-

ting a “sunburn,� so care should be taken to reduce the presence of a visible flame.

Energy Use

Is natural gas or propane available? Do you need to use electric heat? Can you use waste heat from another process? Are you concerned with energy usage? Recycling exhaust gases will reduce energy use, but the initial system will cost more. Likewise with using waste heat—the system will likely cost more to purchase, but will potentially have a quicker return on investment.

Dryer Material

What material can you use for the fabrication of your dryer? Food-grade typically requires stainless steel. It’s possible the construction of the dryer will be determined by the final use of the hemp and time of year harvested. Harvesting the whole straw for




energy after overwintering in the ground solves many problems, including a lower average moisture content. The hemp will be less corrosive, and the final pellets will have a reduced chance of slagging when used for fuel. Carbon steel should be adequate for this ideal harvest. Overwintering will not be practical in all situations, however, especially if the straw or hurd is a byproduct of seed or CBD production. Stainless steel is required if torrefaction is the end goal.


Any portion of the hemp plant has relatively low density and is capable of being pneumatically conveyed. This opens up the possibility of concurrent-flow, rotary-drum dryers as well as fluid-bed dryers and flash dryers. All dryers perform better with uniform material, but it is crucial to the functioning of the latter two styles. Mechanical














conveying, such as in a belt dryer, is an acceptable dryer as long as the product is uniform and the other drying criteria has been met. Of the “big four” styles of dryers that have the highest hourly capacity, a lowdensity, uniform product is a candidate for being dried in a rotary drum, fluid bed or flash dryer, or on a belt or tray dryer. If the product is not uniform, the best option is a rotary drum dryer. In a well-designed rotary drum dryer, the lighter, drier pieces can exit the drum before heavier, wetter pieces. This prevents the lighter pieces from getting singed or burned and allows heavier pieces to remain in the drum longer to fully dry. Reported straw yields have been coming in between two and six tons per acre. Many of the new growers don’t realize the importance of moisture content on their yields and usable energy. If moisture content is not reported along with yield, it’s very difficult to estimate what is in the final product. With all the misinformation about hemp on the internet, it’s difficult to decipher what reasonable yields should be. It’s also important to note that when hemp is grown to optimize seed or CBD, the straw harvest will be significantly lower than if the same cultivar were planted for straw optimization. Hemp straw bone dry energy density (higher heating value) is testing at 7,912 Btu

per pound for an end-of-growing-season harvest. For comparison, wood species average 8,000 Btu per pound. The usable energy will be determined by the lower heating value, which takes moisture level into account. It’s possible that the hemp straw will contain between 60 and 80% moisture content at end-of-season harvest. Evaporating that much water is costly; however, the straw must get down to 10% moisture in order to pelletize, so it will need to be treated like hay and allowed to dry in the field before being baled, or left uncut in the field until early spring for an average of 30% moisture harvest. The first option requires quite a bit of storage, and the latter requires the field not be used for winter planting. To increase the energy density of a pelletized product, it can be torrefied. The final energy content is determined by dry solids mass reduction. A reasonable mass reduction to aim for is 30%, which will result in a corresponding 10% release of energy in the form of volatile organic compounds. The hypothetical 7,912 Btu per pound would calculate to roughly 10,173 Btu per pound of torrefied product. The desired mass reduction of any particular product will have to be determined experimentally, as some products have more lignin than others. Allowing some lignin to remain aids the pelletizing process; it’s much more likely that a

final energy content of 9,500 Btu per pound will be desirable for ease of pelleting. For individuals seeking to enter the industrial hemp market to produce pellets, some reasonable potential production per acre can be seen in the chart above. Don’t be lulled into the belief that six tons of straw per acre will equate to six tons of pellets, unless that straw was specifically reported in bone dry solids, or, as is occasionally seen, 15% moisture. There will still be a bit of math required, but those numbers will be much closer to final yields. While hemp produces a high energy yield per acre, it is not the highest yielding energy crop out there. However, we will likely be seeing more and more straw and hurd as byproducts from seed, fiber and CBD production. There are also benefits in using hemp in a regular rotation with conventional crops. Now that hemp has found its way back to the American farmer, it’s likely here to stay, though there will be ups and downs as processing capacities catch up to growing capacities. Author: Becky Long Dryer Design Engineer, Thompson Dryers beckyl@thompsondryers.com 785-272-7722


ID fans can be customized based on application. This fan shows three access doors, making it easier to maintain and clean inside components of debris.



Power plants using coal or cofiring with biomass should replace their equipment with newer, higher-efficiency industrial fans. BY DOUG JONES


s new sources of renewable energy have emerged, coal-fired power generation has decreased. However, coal plants—including plants cofiring coal with biomass fuels—have prevailed as a major source of energy worldwide. According to the U.S. Energy Infor-

mation Administration, despite ongoing retirements of coal-fired electric generation units, coal still represents approximately a 32 percent share of the total U.S. electricity generation, surpassed only by natural gas. In addition, according to the International Energy Agency, parts of Asia have seen the

use of coal-fired power generation increase in recent years. While investment in new coal plants has been limited, existing facilities have faced an increased need to modernize their outdated equipment and retrofit their applications with robust, high-performance,

CONTRIBUTION: The claims and statements made in this article belong exclusively to the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Biomass Magazine or its advertisers. All questions pertaining to this article should be directed to the author(s).


SPOTLIGHT: MAINTENANCEŒ and high-efficiency industrial fans in order to remain viable in an increasingly competitive market. In addition, coal and biomass cofired plants require ongoing maintenance and upgrades for existing fans to keep them running smoothly. A heavy-lifter in the fuel-firing process, induced draft (ID) fans are a common area where solid fuel power plants are replacing existing solutions with new, high-efficiency equipment. The following information explains how ID fans impact the fuel-firing process and describes key considerations for choosing new fans, or upgrading existing equipment to increase efficiency while withstanding conditions—ultimately saving long-term operating and maintenance costs.

through the ductwork and stack. To achieve such rigorous performance specifications, these ID fans are enormous and often run on 10,000-plus horsepower motors.

Energy Efficiency and Operating Costs

Energy efficiency is a major factor in equipment selection for power generation applications because an inefficient fan detracts from the power that is being generated. A centrifugal fan constructed with airfoil blades—blades that are shaped like an airplane wing—provides the highest efficiency, consumes minimal power, and re-

duces operating costs. Airfoil fans are the most common for this application due to their efficiency; however, a backward curved fan may be used occasionally, depending on the application requirements.

Harsh Environmental Conditions

Fly ash and hot flue gases create a hot and dirty environment for air moving equipment—and the ID fan is right in the middle of this process. To withstand conditions, ID fans should be constructed with wear-resistant materials like heavy-duty carbon steel, with surfaces most susceptible to

Induced Draft (ID) Fans in the Fuel-Firing Process

Coal-fired plants generate power by burning coal—either alone or in combination with a biomass fuel like wood or wood waste—in a boiler to produce steam. The steam produced flows into a turbine, which spins a generator to create electricity. The steam is then cooled, condensed back into water, and returned to the boiler to start the process over. Fans that are used to evacuate a space or create negative air pressure in a system are referred to as induced draft fans. In these applications, ID fans are positioned downstream of the boiler to draw gases and fly ash out of the boilers and through a dust collection system. The airstream is then directed up a stack downstream of the fan. Below are five major factors to consider when specifying or upgrading ID fans for coal/biomass-firing applications. Note that this is not an exhaustive list and does not replace partnering with a trusted fan manufacturer that can help match the right technology to your application.

Fan Performance Requirements

The demands for fan performance are high in cofiring applications. At the upper extreme, fans must be able to support high volumetric flow in excess of 1 million actual cubic feet per minute (ACFM) and generate upward of 35 inches H2O (8,710 Pascal) in fan total pressure. Note that the fan creates negative inlet pressure to induce a draft out of the boiler, and positive pressure at the outlet forces the airstream out


VERMEER HG6800 TX HORIZONTAL GRINDERS ARE BUILT TOUGH TO TACKLE LARGE LAND-CLEARING, RIGHT-OF-WAY AND COMPOSTING PROJECTS. Low sidewalls and an infeed design aid in feeding whole trees and large stumps into a useable end product with minimal operator interaction. Remote-controlled and track-driven, HG6800 TX horizontal grinders provide convenient jobsite mobility while the patented duplex drum features reversible hammers and tips that ease maintenance and help extend wear life. Add the optional Damage Defense system to detect metal vibration in the infeed to help prevent machine damage.



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ŒSPOTLIGHT: MAINTENANCE wear covered with liners or overlay material. Common liner materials include A514 for the wheel liners, tungsten carbide over the blade nose, and A36 for the fan housing liners. ID fans must also be able to withstand the high temperatures of the combustion process—from normal operating temperatures to, potentially, short bursts of very high heat in the case of a boiler malfunction. For example, normal operating temperature might require the fan to withstand 300-400 degrees Fahrenheit (150-205 Celsius) for extended periods of time. A design

temperature of least 400-plus is used for stress analysis with ample safety factor; and an excursion temperature specification of 750-plus ensures that the major fan components can survive an unexpected burst of high heat, although the fan should be shut down in the event of a malfunction.

Particulate Buildup and Wear

Another factor to consider when specifying fans is the impact of particulate buildup on the fan, which can reduce performance, efficiency and reliability. It is important to note that the buildup of fly ash

on the fan is not uniformly distributed and can fall off the blades in uneven patterns, resulting in rotor imbalance and subsequent increased vibration that can cause unexpected downtime. A reputable fan manufacturer will select the appropriate blade geometry to limit particulate buildup, and recommend preventative maintenance procedures to extend the life of the fan.

Bearings and Instrumentation

Due to the size of this fan type, hydrodynamic bearings are used almost exclusively. It is not uncommon to see journal diameters up to 14 inches. Circulating oil via a lubrication skid is required to properly lubricate and cool the bearings. In addition, any fan deployment should include bearing instrumentation to help monitor the health of the rotor and bearings. For example, dual prox probes are placed 90 degrees apart, in an X and Y configuration, and measure relative location of the shaft within the bearing journal. Velometers are used to measure vibration of bearing housing (typically in X, Y and Z directions). Dual thermocouples provide redundancy and, if mounted on opposite sides of the bearing thrust surfaces, an indication of the direction fan is thrusting. The fan vendor should dictate acceptable limits of vibration and temperature for safe operation.


When specifying or upgrading ID fans, it is important to carefully consider the application requirements and constraints. Selecting equipment that can withstand the precise demands of the application will keep operations running smoothly, ensure efficiency and reduce costly unexpected downtime. Partnering with a knowledgeable and experienced industrial fan manufacturer can help you customize the right solution for your application. Author: Doug Jones Staff Engineer, New York Blower Company www.nyb.com djones@nyb.com



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2020 March/April Biomass Magazine  

The Coproducts, Byproducts and Secondary Markets Issue.

2020 March/April Biomass Magazine  

The Coproducts, Byproducts and Secondary Markets Issue.