Page 1

November 2016

BOTTOM LINE BOOST Biochar’s Value as Bioenergy Coproduct Page 8


Pellet Plants Probe New Markets Page 14


Digestate a Biogas Bonus Page 24


03 EDITOR’S NOTE A Shot in the Arm By Tim Portz





07 COLUMN The United Kingdom’s New Path By Frank Aaskov

08 FEATURE Bioenergy Byproduct to Soil Savior A small but growing biochar market is putting more dollars in the pockets of bioenergy producers. By Anna Simet


12 COLUMN Upcoming Biomass Politics By Bill Bell

13 COLUMN CHP from Biomass: the Next Generation


By Ben Bell-Walker and Aaron Aber

14 FEATURE Cooking Up Higher Margins In the wake of a soft market, fuel pellet producers are increasingly looking into barbecue and absorbent markets. By Tim Portz


18 FEATURE The Ins and Outs of Heat Exchangers Heat exchangers are essential to biomass plant operational efficiency and effectiveness. By Ron Kotrba




23 COLUMN RNG in California: Leadership, Market Certainty By Marcus Gillette

24 DEPARTMENT Green Garbage to Black Gold Creating value-added end products from digestate can provide additional revenue to a biogas plant. By Katie Fletcher


Biochar is made and sold on-site at a Phoenix Energy biomass gasification plant. PHOTO: PHOENIX ENERGY



A Shot in the Arm



Herb Seeger has a zeal for barbecue wood pellets. When he discusses what the product has meant for Great Lakes Renewable Energy, it’s easy to understand why. Seeger was the spark that led to Biomass Magazine committing an entire issue to the role that coproducts play within the biomass energy sector. Seeger’s enthusiasm was compelling, but ultimately, it was the make-or-break nature of his and GLRE’s story, combined with historically low energy prices, that ultimately hooked our team. To accompany the page-14 story I wrote about GLRE, “Cooking Up Higher Margins,” we conducted a survey of pellet producers to better understand how many were engaged in the manufacture of coproducts, and what it meant to their operations. The survey revealed that GLRE is not unique because it manufactures coproducts, but that its success might not be as widely enjoyed by its industry peers. For Seeger, coproducts offer everything that pellets for home heating markets do not—a global marketplace, higher margins, year-round demand, and insulation from fluctuations in temperature and the prices of competing commodities. The glaring omission, of course, is volume. During our interview, Seeger admitted that serving the barbecue market required a completely different production and marketing paradigm that other producers may not be ready to fully embrace. Still, the dramatic difference these alternative markets make for GLRE render it impossible to ignore what robust market development activities these categories might be able to do for the pellet industry.

Associate Editor Katie Fletcher’s page-24 feature, “Green Garbage to Black Gold,” explores how the biogas segment is hoping that the development and deployment of a digestate standard will simultaneously bolster marketplace confidence and regulatory acceptance of this important coproduct. Fletcher spoke with Clarke Pauley, vice president of the organics and biogas division at CR&R, who summed it up this way: “We see the success of anaerobic digestion of organic wastes directly tied to the ability to generate usable soil products on the back end.” Directly tied, he said. Not important, and not a contributing factor, but directly tied. With energy prices where they are, it is certainly hard to argue. Beyond that, one of biomass’s greatest values is its zero-waste story. In that way, a digestate standard and efforts to aggressively grow the digestate market should serve as an ongoing reminder of the efficiency of the technology. This issue is rounded out with stories on biochar and heat exchangers and their role in buttressing the economics of the producers savvy enough to engage in their production or use. Energy revenues alone are not enough right now. The open question is whether or not coproduct markets can grow enough to make the kind of difference they’ve made for Seeger.



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Business Briefs


USDA names researcher to hall of fame T h e U S D A recently Kurtzman named Cletus P. Kurtzman to the Agricultural Research Service Science Hall of Fame. Kurtzman, a research microbiologist at the ARS Mycotoxin Prevention and Applied Microbiology Research Unit in Peoria, Illinois, helped pioneer molecular techniques to identify yeast microorganisms. These discoveries enable scientists to accurately predict the biological properties of yeasts. This knowledge led to innovations in converting crop biomass into fuel, in producing biodegradable ingredients for detergents, and in food safety, crop production, and human and animal health advancements. Solegear awarded patent Solegear Bioplastic Technologies Inc. has been granted US Patent 9,416,255, titled “Compositions Comprising Polylactic Acid, Bentonite, and Gum Arabic.� The patent broadly covers the synthesis of biobased additives along with polylactic acid to deliver a number of key performance characteristics required for rigid packaging and durable goods applications. Snow Timber Pellets qualified into PFI Standards Program The Pellet Fuels Institute recently announced the qualification of Snow Timber Pellets of Hurley, Wisconsin, into the PFI Standards Program. The PFI Standards Pro-

gram is a third-party accreditation program providing specifications for residential and commercialgrade pellet fuel, now representing 14 pellet manufacturing companies with a combined 28 facilities. Virent establishes strategic consortium Virent recently announced that it has established a strategic consortium with Tesoro, Toray, Johnson Matthey and The CocaCola Co. focused on completing the development and scale-up of its BioForming technology to produce low-carbon biobased fuels and bio-paraxylene. The consortium members will work together to finalize technical developments and commercial arrangements, with the objective of delivering a commercial facility to produce cost-effective, biobased fuels and bio-paraxylene. CBD to supply fuel conveying system to Lynemouth Clyde Bergemann (CBD) has been chosen to deliver the pneumatic conveying system to the Lynemouth biomass conversion. CBD has been supporting the conversion project with customers Sir Robert Alpine and end-user Lynemouth Power Ltd. since late 2011. The system utilizes state-ofthe-art Clyde Bergemann Screw Injector and loss-in-weight technology, and conveys the wood pellets from each of the three new day silos to the inlet of the fuel mills.


PowerNews New California law benefits biomass power On Sept. 14, California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed a bill, SB 859, that will support biomass plants within the state by calling on electricity retailers to enter into five-year contracts for 125 MW of biomass capacity with facilities that generate energy from wood harvested from certain high-firehazard zones. The bill is part of a package of legislation signed by Brown that directs $900 million in cap-and-trade funds to greenhouse gas reducing programs that benefit disadvantaged communities, support clean transportation and protect natural ecosystems. “We commend Gov. Jerry Brown for signing Senate Bill 859,” said Julee Malinowski-Ball. “The governor understands the importance of the biomass industry as it pertains to the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard and the eradication of dead and dying trees from high-hazard fire zones.” “This law will provide some certainty to the biomass industry, which has struggled due to antiquated contracts,” Malinowski-Ball continued, noting it will also protect hundreds of jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote long-term forest management goals.

Advanced bioenergy plant opens in New York Lockheed Martin held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 21, to celebrate the opening of its bioenergy facility in Owego, New York. The facility utilizes Concord Blue’s advanced gasification technology to convert waste into renewable energy. Prior to the ribbon cutting, Lockheed Martin successfully demonstrated the endto-end capability of the new system. The demonstration validated its ability to convert waste material into energy for the company’s Owego operations, where it designs and builds space-flight hardware, military helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. The plant will initially take in wood waste as feedstock, with plans to transition to municipal, commercial or industrial waste in the future. Following collection, metal, glass and other materials are removed from the feedstock. The remaining material is then dried to specification. To generate the gas, proprietary heat carrier spheres are heated and mixed with the organic waste. Once a certain temperature is reached, the solid turns to gas. That gas then travels to a reforming vessel where it is turned into syn-


Celebrating Success: Lockheed Martin is completing commissioning of a bioenergy plant in Owego, New York, that features Concord Blue’s advanced gasification technology. PHOTO: LOCKHEED MARTIN

thesis gas, also known as syngas. The syngas is then used to fuel a combustion engine, generating electricity. The technology could also be used to produce hydrogen or biofuels.











The United Kingdom's New Path BY FRANK AASKOV

Over the past six months, the political landscape in the United Kingdom has changed significantly. Following the results of the EU referendum, where 52 percent voted to leave the European Union, we have seen the prime minister resign, a change in direction of the new Conservative government, the new Department for Exiting the EU take the first steps to negotiate the U.K. leaving, and a departmental shuffle has meant that the Department of Energy & Climate Change has been absorbed by the new Department for Business, Energy, & Industrial Strategy. There remains a lot of uncertainty over what Brexit— Britain exiting the European Union—means, as the government is holding its cards very close to its chest. It even seems likely that the British population won't know the terms of the divorce settlement from the EU until after the negotiations have ended. In these uncertain times, some political commitments are still standing strong: The long-term decarbonizations of the U.K. energy supply and wider economy. Days after the referendum, the government confirmed the fifth carbon budget, and parliament has subsequently formally approved the targets, which commit the U.K. to cutting emissions by 57 percent against 1990 levels by 2032. This is a huge step, which boosts investor confidence by setting out a legal commitment to decarbonization and the overall political direction. When DECC was cut, many green organizations protested, as it could be seen as deprioritizing climate change and leaving it on a lone civil servant's desk in an obscure basement office within the business department. However, the new department has been filled with environmentally friendly ministers who have historically been supportive of renewables, led by Secretary of State Greg Clark MP, previously the opposition energy and climate change spokesperson, and author of reports on climate change, sustainability and environment. Other ministers include Nick Hurd MP, who is part of a Conservative environmental group, led solar in Africa projects as development minister, and chaired a parliamentary environmental group; and Baroness NevilleRolfe, who previously worked at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and was a director at the U.K.’s biggest supermarket, Tesco. It is still early, however, and we have yet to see new policies from the new BEIS team. In the coming

months, we will start to understand the department's priorities and how they wish to deal with energy and decarbonization. In the U.K., biomass has never had an easy time, with strong opposition from NGOs, who have been campaigning vigorously against any bioenergy. There is still some mistrust of the use of wood residues for the production of energy, despite rigorous external scrutiny of greenhouse gas savings and forest practices. There is still no support under the Contract for Difference subsidy scheme for dedicated biomass power, and a cap remains on biomass power under the Renewables Obligation subsidy scheme, but there is support for biomass combined heat and power. We saw the previous Conservative government propose lower support for biomass heat and refocus away from smaller systems toward larger, industrial biomass heat plants, but the outcome of the government's consultation will be published later this year. The previous Conservative government questioned the availability of sustainable biomass, which restricted policy proposals, but as new ministers have entered the departments, we have been engaging with them to inform and help them see the potential of biomass. Despite it still being a Conservative government, we have a new prime minister and almost the entire ministerial team has been replaced or reshuffled. It is therefore an excellent opportunity to take a more positive stance toward biomass energy generation. Not since World War II has the U.K. seen such tumultuous political times, with changes to how we deal with our neighboring countries, legislative procedures, trade relations, and immigration, to name a few. But some things haven't changed: The U.K. is still strongly committed to decarbonizing its energy system and economy. New ministers are seen as green conservatives, and the newly created department could bring decarbonization even further. As we work and engage with the new ministers and political leadership, we could potentially also see a change in attitude toward the great potential of biomass energy, which could lower the cost of decarbonization, bring flexible, baseload energy, and benefit our undermanaged forests. The U.K. is on a new path. Author: Frank Aaskov Policy Analyst, Renewable Energy Association 020-7925-3570




Bioenergy Byproduct to



reg Stangl is a power guy. Selfproclaimed and readily apparent to others, that title has been earned by the CEO of Phoenix Energy after a decade-plus of developing and building small-scale biomass electricity projects. While there may be hundreds of companies working in the smaller-scale bioenergy project space, Stangl has something that most of them don’t: biochar. And, he knows how to use it. Perhaps more accurately, he knows its worth. But that’s not to say he always did. “We used to give our biochar away at two cents per pound, when we built our first facility in Europe,” Stangl says. “Our plans then were 8 BIOMASS MAGAZINE | NOVEMBER 2016

Production and sale of biochar at biomassusing plants can result in significant financial gains, but the industry is still working at building its myriad of potential markets. BY ANNA SIMET

all about electricity—we sold that biochar to people using coal furnaces.” Partnered up with GE Energy for numerous projects in various stages of development, including a 2-MW plant in North Fork, California, that will break ground in early November, it wasn’t until Phoenix Energy began working in the U.S. that a much different market began knocking on the company’s door to purchase biochar. “Farmers started contacting us for it,” Stangl says. “Now, if someone buys a bulk truckload, we charge 79 cents per pound, and people pay it. It’s an expensive product, but if you have high-value specialty crops with a high capex investment and it has to provide to you for 20 years, it’s well worth the investment.”

Based in California, where a once-thriving biomass power industry has plummeted the past few years, Phoenix Energy’s business model would look substantially different if it weren’t for the sale of biochar, Stangl says. And by different, he means unfeasible. “Imagine if you took 40 percent of our revenue away. If prices stay where they are in California, we will likely make more money from biochar than power in the next several years—it’s insane.” That reality creates an interesting dynamic when it comes to plant financing. “We didn’t get a bank loan because we have a biochar machine—we got a loan because I walked in with a power purchase agreement from a Triple A-rated, publically owned utility,” Stangl says.

POWER¦ “The banks don’t know about biochar, they don’t want to hear about it, and there aren’t forward contracts for it. We did sell our first forward contract this year, but that’s just one. It doesn’t suddenly make biochar financeable.” But how much biochar can a small-scale plant actually produce? For Phoenix Energy’s 2-MW plants, it’s about 10 percent of the fuel intake. “Around 300 pounds per hour, per megawatt, of softwood,” Stangl says, adding that there’s roughly 44 yards of biochar in a standard truckload. Weight varies by the feedstock used—a truckload holds 22 supersacks of biochar; when it’s made from hardwood it weighs in around 900 pounds, and when made from softwood, around 550 pounds. “We’ve built a plant based on peach pits—that stuff is very heavy, a supersack weighs more like 1,300 pounds, it’s much denser,” Stangl says. While well aware of biochar’s capabilities and potential—evidenced or proven in thousands of research papers, field trials and real-world application by a growing market— Stangl admits he isn’t an expert on biochar best practices or application rates in the soil as a fertilizer, storm water remediate, odor controller, carbon sequestration tool, and the list goes on. But what he does know is that the farmers and others who are repeat-purchasing in bulk continue to benefit from its “amazing properties.” And, the word is spreading. “For example, someone has come back to us and said, ‘My neighbors trees died when there was a zero water allocation, but mine survived, because I put biochar in when I planted them two years ago,” he says. “Words like that get around, and then suddenly it’s hard to keep up with demand, which leads to a challenge. It doesn’t pay to make the stuff if you don’t know it’s leaving in a timely fashion. Pellet guys, for example, might have two years’ worth of pellets in bags out back. But with our small-sized plants, we can’t afford to sit on inventory.” And biochar may be just the right fit a certain pellet plants, such as Confluence Energy in Kremmling, Colorado, which alongside several different wood pellet lines, manufacturers biochar, kitty litter, animal bedding, absorbents and other products. If conditions are right, offering up a byproduct like biochar could benefit some mills that have struggled to stay afloat during recent soft winters.

Pellet Plant Coproduct

Biochar entrepreneur Jonah Levine, development manager at Confluence Energy and cofounder of Biochar Solutions Inc., has seen the industry rapidly progress over the past

eight years, and shift from a heavy emphasis on the concept of using biochar to gain carbon credits toward use as a soil insulator, stabilizer or fertilizer, uses that have quickly gained traction. “From 2009 to ’13, the industry was growing by about three times annually,” Levine says. “It tapered off a bit, but still grows about one and a half times each year, which is still an incredible rate.” At Confluence Energy, which installed a system several years after its initial startup, wood residue is carbonized through a vertical, pyrolytic tube, after which it is sent through a horizontal tube and augured out of the active or hot zone. “At the very edge of the hot zone, it’s hit with hot steam, then with ambient water,” Levine explains. “The water quenches the material, and then that material is moved pneumatically through another tube, and into a packaging system that includes screens and size-adjustment capabilities, and then it’s sent into bulk totes. Once it’s in bulk totes, it goes into storage for a two-week holding period, and then at the end of the hold, before it goes to the market, we test with either or both a temperature measurement or carbon monoxide test, which is a good combustion test for safety.” Not only does biochar diversify a pellet plant’s offering, but heat produced as a result of its production can be captured and reused at the mill. A pellet mill like Confluence Energy might use around 1 MW thermal per hour, and process around 200 tons of wood pellets in a 24-hour period. “During the same time, we can coproduce biochar, as well as about 1 MW of heat energy that fuel switches from the other MW thermal going into the plant,” Levine says. “So that biochar is producing a consistent head load.” And, existing assets are another benefit to add to the list. “You’re getting char, coproducing, which is good, and you’re getting heat value, which is really good, and at the same time, your administration and staff is the same, your forklift driver is the same, and the trucks loading and unloading are the same,” Levine says, adding that the existing packaging system allows the company to sell its product to Big Box retailers including Home Depot, Lowes, and Tractor Supply. “All of these shared assets change the economics. It fits into the framework—integrated production should be the future of the space. By putting char inside of integrated pellet manufacturing, or a coproduction of electricity and char, you start to look like a legitimate producer in the biomass industry. In my opinion, biochar only isn’t the

most cost-effective approach toward an industry.” And those working in the space since biochar began to gain momentum just under a decade ago have grown productive capabilities and brought down the cost per unit of material, Levine notes. “In 2009, we were producing [biochar] for 10 times the cost shipped in a barrel that was dry and dusty and couldn’t be handled—the cost of a barrel used was $32.50,” he says. “Now, the cost of a bulk tote is $12, and you can get four barrels’ material in it. This is just an example of the simple but critical changes the market has to go through to become an industry.” What’s the going price of biochar? That varies with each producer, and it also varies by the quality of char and intended end-use. “The market range is between $500 per yard, being the high end, and $100 per yard. But the question is, what is the char doing, where is it going, how is it created in preparation for that use? An example of high end is activated carbon pricing, which can be anywhere from $1 and $5 per pound. The low end is $100 per yard, and there might be a wide range of ash present, of fixed carbon, and it’s sold via bulk truck delivery.” One example of high-end, or upgraded, engineered biocarbon, is Google Venturesbacked Cool Planet Energy Systems, which currently has a production facility in California, and a Louisiana site it plans to build an additional plant on, potentially in 2017. Dubbed “Cool Terra,” it is a carbon-sequestering soil amendment that is engineered to enhance soil health by nurturing microbial life in the soil, and enhancing its water and nutrient-holding capacity, according to Jim Loar, Cool Planet president and CEO. The model is set up differently than most biochar producers today—Cool Planet actually buys biochar in its raw state and puts it through an additional, patented process, but Wes Bolsen, head of global business development, says there is a market for this kind of high-quality, upgraded biochar. And the company has partnered with ag distributor giant JR Simplot to get the product into the market and in front of customers, the kind of agreement that Bolsen says will be key in growing the industry. “The distribution channel has the critical aspect driving this market, and that’s what we’re bringing,” he says. “We put consistency behind it—customers will know what they’re getting when they buy engineered biocarbon. Through distributor channels, we can reach out to thousands of growers. Individual power plants have some NOVEMBER 2016 | BIOMASS MAGAZINE 9


growers who buy it [directly], but thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s not an industry.â&#x20AC;? So what does the U.S. and global industry look like today? According to Tom Miles, owner of T. R. Miles Technical Consultants Inc. and board member of both the International Biochar Initiative and the U.S. Biochar Initiative, trade groups focused on exploring cost-effective ways of converting biomass into biochar and ways of using it, right nowâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;in most casesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;an energy component is needed. Though production in the U.S. is on the rise, on a global level, China dominates in both production and use.

Domestic, Global Markets

â&#x20AC;&#x153;In the U.S., producers are small from an industrial point of view, but thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a wide spectrum, anything from making it in a coffee can and using it strategically as a carrier for biopesticides and biofertilizersâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;you donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t need much, a little bit goes a very long wayâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;to 10-ton truckloads of biochar going into horticultural activities,â&#x20AC;? Miles says. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Much of it is small, commercial producers making less than a dry ton per hour, but they arenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t necessarily small companiesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;wood pel-

let producers making a variety of products, companies combining biochar with nutrients and deformulated products, and some small power plants turning wood gas into electricity as byproducts. Biochar has the potential to help make these very small, 3- or 5-MW or less biomass plants feasible. China uses a reported 500,000 tons of biochar a year, Miles says, and the industry there is growing at such a rate that the IBI is opening an Asian branch. â&#x20AC;&#x153;In the case of China, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s being used it to remediate soils that have been damaged by pollution from their coalburning power plants,â&#x20AC;? Miles says. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve also been making granulated biochar products used in mainstream agriculture, a point that we havenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t gotten to in any significant quantity yet in the U.S.â&#x20AC;? In fact, the U.S. only producer and uses a fraction of what China does, says Miles, who estimates production in the country likely being no more than 20,000 tons per year. But, surprisingly, the number of companies involved in making biochar or technologies is upward of 300, he says, and many that are making it are capable of producing much more. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The challenge here is an energy mar-

ket in which nobody will pay you enough for electricity or heat to use biomass, and we know there is excess biomass in places like California and the Northeast, where [paid biomass power] prices are very low. So the challenge is how do we do this, how do we integrate this smaller wood products companies and see the benefit of making biochar and using the offgas from its production in their existing boilers as a form of fuel?â&#x20AC;? For companies like Terrachar, which is targeting roughly 40,000-ton biomass plants for the installation of biochar technologies of companies such as Karr Group, those high-value electrical markets such as in California and New Hampshire are an area of focus. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Cogeneration does very well with this process,â&#x20AC;? explains Terracharâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Phil Blom. â&#x20AC;&#x153;If youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re using propane or natural gas for heating, thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s an expense we can help cut back on.â&#x20AC;? But smaller companies are often capital constrained, and need to see the benefit of an installation that wonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t cost a few million dollars. And the only thing that will fix that is maturation of the market. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Everyoneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s kind of waiting for the market to develop, but somebodyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s got to develop the market,â&#x20AC;? Miles















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says. “We need more participation from the organics recycling businesses, and more participation from the agronomics side, the soils people, more people need to discover how biochar can be used in particular situations to be able to gain value…people have been really good at developing the technology to make the black stuff, but they have very little experience in the marketplace and direct market applications. We also have to work with dairy and other animal waste folks to find out best use of chars made from animal waste.” Miles reiterates that’s not to say the market hasn’t made great strides. “What we’ve learned over the past 10 years is that there are a lot of different qualities of chars that we can use in different ways in agriculture, forestry itself, and storm water and soil remediation— we’ve found a lot uses for the material, and the challenge now is sort of balancing that with where the char come from, what its properties and best uses, and what a company can afford to make.” The other thing the industry has accomplished is an official definition accepted by the American Association of Plant Food Control Officials, which controls labeling and regula-

tion of fertilizers and soil amendments for the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. That took about three years to accomplish. “Now, everybody in every state and province has a reference point,” Miles says. Biochar has gone from ‘What’s biochar?’ to a buzz, and this year it’s, ‘What quality of biochar do you have available and how much?’” For Stangl and Phoenix Energy, the quality of biochar it produces is likely to remain as it has, but the quantity has potential to septuple over the next two years at its plants in development. “I do worry about demand—we should really be raising our prices because it is all leaving,” he says. At conferences, others are talking about biochar research and application rates…but farmers are already buying this by the truckload, and they have been for years. People are out there using it now.” But growing the market at the rate of plant development could be challenging, Stangl says, as the company is working to respond to California’s push toward small-scale, forestry- and ag-based plants. “We’ve got to grow [the market] fast enough to keep up with the expanded capacity out there, and that’s why I see the opportunity to go beyond ag and into

Biomass to Energy

other markets like activated carbon—it’s a $2 billion industry and we bring it all over from Asia in the form of coconut shell. The city of Los Angeles buys over 800,000 pounds of activated coconut shell at about 99 cents a pound, so that we can build houses right next to the wastewater treatment plant and nobody smells anything. Why can’t our municipalities buy it from our own citizens who are using California forest and ag residues?” For Phoenix Energy, it all comes down to being a biomass plant developer with very valuable byproduct, Stangl adds. “We’re not soils guys—we’re an energy plus biochar company, and it doesn’t work one or the other. I’m not ashamed to admit, we wouldn’t be doing what we are doing today if biochar were not valuable.” Author: Anna Simet Managing Editor, Biomass Magazine 701-738-4961

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ProcessBarron is with you every step of the way! | 205-663-5330 NOVEMBER 2016 | BIOMASS MAGAZINE 11


Upcoming Biomass Politics BY BILL BELL

“Clowns to the left of me, jokers on the right; here I am, stuck in the middle with you.” (Stealers Wheel, 1972) Biomass Magazine has previously reported the visit of Maine’s Biomass Study Commission to major biomass generating sites in Maine (Bob Cleaves, Biomass Power Association, October column.) One objective of the commission will be to propose legislation enabling such sites to sell electricity not only to the grid, but also to sell directly to adjacent customers. In one unique instance, ReEnergy is able to supply neighboring Stratton Lumber. In another case, however, ReEnergy has been unable to sell directly to fellow occupants in the Ashland industrial park, including Northeast Pellets. These firms are now confronted with a major electric rate hike at the hands of their regional grid supplier. Current Maine law, adhering to the “regulated monopoly” principle governing many utilities, generally forbids a small energy generator to sell other than to the grid. The utility firms serving Maine are paying close attention to the work of the Biomass Study Commission, and without doubt, are already thinking ahead to the post-election membership of the legislature’s Energy and Public Utilities Committee. The Biomass Study Commission consists largely of supporters of Maine’s forestry industry. The legislative committee deciding upon the commission’s recommendations will, to put it mildly, have a very different composition. The foremost objective of our Maine Pellet Fuels Association is creating a thermal class in Maine’s Renewable Portfolio Standard. Renewable “standards” created about 10 years ago—at the same time that many states sought to decrease reliance on fossil fuels—carved out special incentives for electricity generated by tidal, solar, wind, and hydro power. No provision was made for renewable generation of heat. In the past three years, New Hampshire, followed by Massachusetts, added biomass heat to its incentivized portfolios, creating a potentially large growth market for our pellet and wood chip producers and heating equipment firms. The Biomass Study Commission recognizes the potential here. In fact, this proposal is listed as Issue I-A on the commission’s current work sheet. As is the case with creating the biomass electric microgrids described above, however, the commission’s recommendations on biomass thermal incentives will need legislative enactment. And here’s where the going probably gets tough. 12 BIOMASS MAGAZINE | NOVEMBER 2016

In 2013, on the heels of New Hampshire’s passage of renewable energy credits for thermal biomass, our association worked with a logger/state senator from the northern tip of Maine to introduce a bill patterned on New Hampshire’s new law. BTEC leader Charlie Niebling was accorded considerable attention by our legislature’s Energy and Utilities Committee as he explained the New Hampshire bill. The complexity of the subject became daunting, however. And our bill sponsor, Sen. Troy Jackson, became the target of our governor’s most egregious rant of the (last) year. (Political footnote: Sen. Jackson has since run for Congress in 2014, lost in the Democratic primary, been named Democratic National Committeeman from Maine, been an outspoken “Bernie” leader, is now likely to regain his former state Senate seat, and could emerge in 2017 as president of the Maine Senate.) With complexity being the obstacle to passage of our thermal biomass bill, we agreed to reduce the legislation to a simple requirement that Maine’s Public Utilities Commission study the subject. Our governor, however, vetoed even this measure at a time—now long gone—that his vetoes were being sustained. The outcome of the Biomass Study Commission’s work depends on politics. Northern Forest Center, a very savvy nonprofit working in support of the rural economies of the northern tier of the Northeast, coauthored and generated a long list of community and industry supporters of our letter in support of thermal biomass credits. The commission must report to the Maine Legislature by Dec. 5. By that date, it is likely that Democrats will be in the majority in our state Senate as well in in the House. The cochair of the Biomass Study Commission may well be elected to one of these Senate seats. But will our governor, who has refused to allow officials of his administration to participate in the commission’s work, veto any legislation incorporating the commission’s recommendations, no matter how important to our state’s rural economy? Stay tuned, fingers crossed. Author: Bill Bell Executive Director, Maine Pellet Fuels Association Tel.207-752-1392


CHP from Biomass: The Next Generation BY BEN BELL-WALKER AND AARON ABER

All electric generation should be cogeneration. That may seem like an extreme statement, but in a world where energy usage, environmental impact, and costs are increasingly important, and the movement toward renewable energy resources is accelerating, we cannot throw away “waste energy,” (waste heat in this case) so profligately. The annual 2015 U.S. energy usage flow chart from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory estimates that of 97.5 quadrillion British thermal units of energy used for transportation, heating and electricity, almost 60 percent was “rejected energy.” Policymakers at both the state and federal levels are beginning to recognize this. Combined heat and power (CHP) can utilize all kinds of fuels, and, because it makes better use of existing resources, it allows for building and community resiliency, and can garner bipartisan support in ways that other initiatives within the energy efficiency and sustainable energy space do not. The Pew Charitable Trusts, for example, have long championed CHP within the policy sphere. Supporters like Pew fought for a CHP renewable energy investment tax credit that is set to expire at the end of 2016. There are a number of issues with the treatment of biomass in the existing credit. Its arbitrary requirement of a minimum 20 percent electrical efficiency excludes biomass systems that have an 80 percent overall efficiency—higher than the most efficient natural gas CHP plants, which peak out at 75 percent overall efficiency—

simply because some of those systems have an electrical efficiency less than 20 percent. Biomass CHP advocates have an obligation to address these types of barriers in future state and federal actions, or they risk being left out once again. Unfortunately, action has stalled on the POWER Act, which would extend a 30 percent energy tax credit for CHP through 2018. At the state level, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority has incentivized CHP through a program that offers up to $2.5 million for installing CHP systems. However, the organization’s regulation-heavy approach to biomass technologies, a source of debate in the biomass industry, leaves biomass at risk of being excluded from the program’s full benefits. BTEC has taken a lead in promoting biomass CHP. The organization’s CHP Working Group is preparing to release a factsheet and whitepaper on the topic. BTEC also recognizes that the buzz around CHP often focuses on natural gas, which does not address carbon emissions or the issue of local heating. Biomass CHP, by contract, addresses both problems. We have encouraged industry and universities to work together on projects that drive the technology forward. Author: Ben Bell-Walker Technical Program Manager Aaron Aber



Cooking Up


As another heating season approaches, low heat market margins have pellet producers looking toward other end uses for greater market stability and increased profits. BY TIM PORTZ


erb Seeger, president of Great Lakes Renewable Energy Inc., recently went to an auction at a distressed wood pellet facility. Recalling meeting the owner of the facility, Seeger says, “My mood isn't the same as his mood.” For Seeger and his team at GLRE, business is strong. In fact, Seeger is shipping wood pellets in containers to countries all over the world, including Japan and Taiwan. On the heels of a soft market for heating pellets, Seeger’s business is healthy, predominantly because he’s aggressively targeting markets beyond home heating users. After a particularly warm winter in the upper Midwest in 2010, Seeger convinced his ownership group to recast its facility as a diversified pellet producer, and began aggressively building expertise and customers in the barbecue and absorbent markets. Without this change in operating philosophy, Seeger doubts that GLRE would be operating today.


Biomass Magazineâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Coproduct Survey All questions pertain to the 66 percent of respondents who engage in coproduct production/sale. Answers rounded to nearest percent.

What percentage of your annual revenue is generated by the sale of nonthermal pellet products? Less than 5% Between 5-10% Between 10-20% More than 20%




Which of the following products are you currently manufacturing and marketing? Animal Bedding (Pellets) Absorbents Barbecue Pellets Animal Bedding (Shavings) Briquettes/Logs/Pucks Garden Mulch Briquettes/Logs/Pucks (with accelerants/repellants)

63% 52% 44% 30% 15% 15% 4%

15% How would you describe the profitability of these products when compared the pellets you produce for thermal markets? 70.0% 60.0% 50.0% 40.0% 30.0% 20.0% 10.0% 0.0%

About the same level

Slightly more

Significantly more

Slightly less

Not profitable

What percentage of your annual production time is committed to the manufacture of nonthermal pellet products? Less than 5% Between 5-10% Between 10-20% More than 20%

15% 56%

11% 19%



A recent Biomass Magazine survey, partial results of which are shown on page 15, suggests that while Seeger may be an early adopter of the idea of market diversification, he and GLRE are certainly not alone. Exactly two-thirds of survey respondents reported that they are engaged in the manufacture and sale of wood fiber products for uses other than home heating. While the majority of the industry is engaged in the manufacture of these coproducts, survey results indicate that the success and importance of those efforts vary from producer to producer. Seeger’s experience suggests that having success outside of home heating markets requires new thinking in fiber procurement, production, marketing and distribution. For producers who get it right, coproducts can improve cash flow, increase profit margins and reduce the seasonality of the wood pellet business, all issues that have plagued even the savviest of producers for years. “What we learned when we had a warm winter in 2010 was that you can’t survive on a product that has a six-month market unless

you have the ability to store pellets while you make them,” Seeger says. “And you have the working capital to make that happen.” GLRE’s first foray into barbecue pellets wasn’t a story of instant success. Seeger says that the facility struggled with pellets that were too long, too hard and had too many fines. But the biggest hurdle was feedstock procurement. “We’ve spent six years figuring out how to buy the wood species needed to produce 22 different Lumberjack barbecue pellet recipes that we sell,” Seeger says. This means procuring wood in a species specific manner, often in quantities that loggers are reluctant to spend the time isolating and setting aside. It has taken time, but Seeger says he feels like GLRE has finally turned a corner, and its sourcing program is the foundation of their coproduct strategy. “The first nut to crack was to let them [loggers] know there was a need out there,” he says. “Then we have to provide a price that makes it worth their while to do the necessary work to bring us the material.” Any other producer hoping to produce wood pellets for the specialty barbecue mar-

ket must overcome this same fiber procurement challenge if they hope to preserve the promise of higher margins that led them to that market in the first place. Survey responses suggest that for most producers, significantly higher margins continue to elude them. Of the producers engaged in coproduct production, just 10 percent describe those products as significantly more profitable than heating pellets. That same percentage reported that margins on those products are slightly less profitable than their home heating product; 40 percent reported the products were slightly more profitable, and 33 percent report about the same level of profitability. This isn’t surprising to Seeger. “Most producers aren’t comfortable filling orders of 1 to 2 tons,” he says. “It’s too much overhead. Most folks are not set up to do it. We’ve spent six years developing these systems and we’re trying to stay ahead of everyone else.” While Seeger’s competitors may not be achieving the financial success that he and his team have, the survey clearly indicates that producers recognize the potential offered by coproducts to

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their operations. Nearly 90 percent of respondents engaged in coproduct manufacturing say they are important to their operations, and half of those report that the share of their business dedicated to those products as growing. Of survey respondents, 51 percent reported committing less than 5 percent of their annual production time to the manufacture of nonheating products. In this regard, GLRE is well ahead of the curve. Just 40 percent of GLRE’s volumes are heating pellets. “I want that 40 percent number to go down,” he says. Seeger notes that he isn’t running at full capacity and has room within his air permit to run his dryer much more. He says that because of the higher margins he enjoys from his barbecue and absorbent products, his monthly run time requirements to break even on the facility is nearly halved. “We have, with a purpose, looked to make heating pellets something that we fill in with now,” he says. Perhaps by accident, GLRE deployed a press suite well-suited for the day-to-day, and sometimes hour-to-hour, product changes the plant has to make to fill orders and satisfy

customers. GLRE puts three 3-ton-per-hour Munch presses to work, and often changes from one barbecue pellet recipe to another without shutting any of the presses down. “Between the 22 recipes we make for our Lumberjack line and the recipes we make under private labeling contracts, I sometimes make 30 different pellet formulations in a two-and-a-half day span,” Seeger says. “A 10- or 12-ton-per-hour single pellet mill wouldn’t work for us.” The growth in absorbent, animal bedding and barbecue markets has made it necessary for GLRE to move warehousing and distribution to a dedicated facility. All of the facility’s orders that are less than a truckload are filled out of that warehouse, allowing for more complex pick-and-pack, mixed shipments to be received and fulfilled in a more efficient manner. As the 2016-‘17 heating season approaches, North American producers making pellets predominantly for home heating are holding their breath and crossing fingers. For some, another warm winter might be more than their operation can financially withstand. For oth-



ers, this past winter, or the winter of 2010-'11, were enough to move them to explore other markets. Now, the question is, will they be able to leverage those opportunities into the higher margins and operational surety that Seeger and the GLRE team have? “We were looking to change our business model,” Seeger says. “The original business model presented to the bank eight years ago doesn’t look anything like what we are doing today. And if we wouldn’t have done it, we wouldn’t be here.” In these market conditions, he adds, a producer can’t live on heating pellets alone. “Not a little mill like this. Look at the auctions. I feel very fortunate that we did what we did, when we did it and that we’ve become a good company here in northern Wisconsin.” Author: Tim Portz Executive Editor, Biomass Magazine 701-738-4969

The Total U.S. Wood-Burning Appliance Market (including fireplaces, freestanding stoves, and inserts)

13% Market Share Pellet Appliances*

87% Market Share Briquette-Friendly Appliances*


Versati wood and biomass briquettes are quickly becoming Versatile a go g go-to -to biofuel for consumers all over the U.S. They are clean, clea eaan, af affordable, and can be used in any wood-burning device from from fr m fireplaces fireplace and stoves to fire pits. Briquettes will open doors to new fi markets and d growth oppo opportunities for your business, and because they can be made from materials you already process (and then some), it’s simple to get started. Plus, with substantial savings on energy, maintenance, and labor, briquettes are cheaper to make per ton than pellets! What are you waiting for? For more information call 440-779-2747 or visit and catch the market share you’ve been missing! *Source: Hearth, Patio, & Barbecue Association – based on appliance shipments from 1998-2011.



Capturing and reusing waste heat in biomass plants is paramount to efficient, effective operations. BY RON KOTRBA


eat exchangers play a vital role in the operational efficiency and effectiveness at every processing facility in which heat is essential, whether it is an oil refinery or a biomass power plant. As energy efficiency importance grows, the role of heat exchangers will become even greater, their technologies more advanced. The idea is simple, but the system designs and inner workings of heat exchange are magnificently brilliant. Heat is generated for and in various industrial processes, and were it not for heat exchangers, massive amounts of thermal energy would be wasted. For instance, boilers combust fuels such as biomass to generate heat to produce steam for powering a turbine in producing electricity. Once that steam does its job, it still has a lot of thermal energy, some of which can be transferred via a vapor-to-liquid shell-and-tube heat exchanger to raise the boiler feedwater temperature. This serves multiple purposes, including cooling down the steam to avoid thermal shock on the boiler’s steam drum, and reducing the heat load needed to raise the temperature of the boiler feedwater. This is one of many heat exchanger applications at Koda Energy, a biomass combinedheat-and-power (CHP) plant in Shakopee, Minnesota, says Stacy Cook, general manager. Koda Energy, a partnership between Rahr Malting Co. and Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, began commercial operations in 2009 and produces 500 megawatthours of electricity and 2,500 Btu of thermal energy daily from agriculture waste and wood chips. The plant has only the world’s second power boiler to use wall-mounted burners to


combust biomass in suspension, meaning airborne burning of biomass. About 25 percent of Koda Energy’s total electrical output is provided to Rahr Malting, slightly more than 50 percent is sold to Xcel Energy (i.e., the grid), and the remainder sustains operations at the CHP plant. And 100 percent of its thermal output is provided to Rahr Malting. The electricity and energy is used to malt barley for beer at the largest site producer of malted barley in the world. Common sources of waste heat in industry, according to Kevin McGinnis, sales director for heavy industries and mining at Kelvion—the successor to Germany-based GEA Heat Exchangers Group—include turbines, dryers, kilns, incinerators, boilers and flue gas from heaters or burners, to name a few. “In general, waste heat can be captured with various types of heat exchangers and used for various applications,” McGinnis says, “including combustion air preheating; heating a facility, plant, building or home; boiler feedwater preheating; heating a process fluid for another application; or even for the ORC process.” ORC stands for organic Rankine cycle, the thermodynamic cycle using water as a working fluid that provides 85 percent of the world’s electricity production, according to Turboden. Numerous heat exchanger companies exist, many specializing in particular types. Kelvion offers its customers one of the world’s largest product portfolios in the field of heat exchangers, McGinnis says. “It includes individual solutions for practically all conceivable applications and complex environmental conditions, including plate, shell-and-tube, finned-

tube and refrigeration heat exchangers, and modular cooling tower systems.” Another big name in heat exchange is Alfa Laval. Wes Crozier, product manager, has been with the Sweden-based company for nearly 30 years in various roles. “In the area of heat transfer, we have gasketed plate heat exchangers for liquid-to-liquid and vapor-toliquid, air coolers for air-to-liquid, fully welded heat exchangers for high pressures and temperatures, a specialty spiral heat exchanger for extreme fouling services, as well as more niche products,” Crozier says. Netherlands-based HeatMatrix developed what Paul van Dillen, director of global sales and marketing, calls a new generation air-preheater that enables heat recovery from corrosive or fouling gas streams from biomass boilers, refinery furnaces, heaters, ovens or dryers. “This innovative heat exchanger consists of lightweight, corrosion resistant polymer modules, which can be applied at high


VERSATILE UTILITY: Kelvion, formerly GEA Heat Exchangers Group, manufactures welded plate heat exchangers that can be used as small vacuum condensers or traditional fin/fan technology to serve as air-cooled condensers. SOURCE: KELVION

temperatures and is ideally suited for waste heat recovery from flue gases that are corrosive or have fouling in it,” van Dillen says. HeatMatrix only designs and supplies air-to-air heat exchangers, often used to preheat air from waste heat flue gas streams. At Koda Energy, another shell-and-tube heat exchanger, called a surface condenser, condenses steam flow on the turbine exhaust, Cook says. “The exhaust enters the condenser and puts a vacuum on the exhaust to allow the turbine to run more efficiently,” he says. In addition, a boiler economizer uses combustion gases leaving the boiler to further elevate the feedwater temperature before entering the steam drum on the boiler. “In general, the economizer adds 10 percent efficiency,” Cook says. “We’re taking every opportunity to capture heat.” Kelvion manufactures a welded plate heat exchanger that can be used as a small vacuum condenser or traditional fin/fan technology to

serve as an air-cooled condenser. “With our global footprint, we manufacture steam surface condensers and feedwater heaters, both of which are used in the steam cycle,” McGinnis says. “With waste heat generating steam for a steam turbine, Kelvion has all the exchangers in the steam process.” Alfa Laval’s Niagara Wet Surface Air Cooler can also be used to condense the vacuum exhaust steam from the turbine. “The ability to efficiently condense the turbine exhaust steam at low absolute pressures allows for more power generation,” Crozier says. “This is accomplished by a single approach to the ambient wet bulb temperature for cooling.” The prime heat mover at Koda is a very large plate-and-frame heat exchanger. This uses propylene glycol as thermal fluid to transfer heat via piping to Rahr Malting. Then, a similar but smaller unit takes even more leftover Btu from condensate from the steamed glycol heater to gain another 3 percent ef-

ficiency. “This was sized to capture the available Btu that were being wasted,” Cook says. “We’re capturing those and putting them back into glycol and useful sales.” Crozier says plate heat exchangers can have a heat transfer coefficient up to four times greater than shell and tube. This, along with its construction, means the footprint can be just 20 percent needed for a shell and tube. “The size advantage is achieved through embossing plates with carefully designed patterns, many of which are patented,” Crozier says. “This embossing creates channels for the fluids to ensure maximum turbulence. This results in maximum efficiency in transferring heat from one medium to the other. In addition, many of our designs are fully counter current, which allow temperature crosses where the outlet temperature of the hot side can be cooler than the outlet temperature of the cold side—very difficult to do with other types of heat exchangers.” NOVEMBER 2016 | BIOMASS MAGAZINE 19


Higher temperatures and pressures are being achieved in compact plate heat exchangers, McGinnis says, through new welding technology Kelvion uses, offering alternate designs to traditional shell-and-tube solutions. “Efficiency gains are realized through more effective channel geometries with built-in enhancements,” McGinnis says. Additional plate-and-frame heat exchangers are utilized at Koda for cooling applications, mostly for equipment health. Pumps handle high-temperature liquids, and a portion of these liquids is used in a mechanical shaft seal, so heat is shed to the cooling tower before reaching the pumps so as to not burn up the seals. Another application is to cool the turbine lube oil using circulating water from the cooling tower. “This keeps the turbine lube oil at an acceptable temperature,” Cook says. “We’re running 900-pound steam through the turbine and we need to keep the shaft lubed. If the oil heats up to 900 degrees, it will decompose.” McGinnis says Kelvion has a specialty for cooling the rotating equipment associated with waste heat to energy, manufacturing a range of extended surface shell and tubes and compact plate heat exchangers. Koda also employs a liquid-to-air, radiant air heater using glycol heat to preheat combustion air to avoid acid dew-point corrosion. “If the air temperature drops too low prior to the tubular air heater, it will condense out acid gases on the flue gas side,” Cook says. The plant also uses an air-to-air heat exchanger, called a tubular air heater, which captures waste heat

in flue gas. Van Dillen says the heat transfer properties of HeatMatrix’s air-to-air polymer technology, used to capture flue gas heat, is very good in comparison to other, more conventional technologies because of its compactness, thin tube wall, strong honeycomb structure, and 100 percent counter flow. Kelvion’s finned-tube heat exchanger options for air-to-air or air-to-liquid applications include two major types—compact/plate fin coils and spiral-finned tubes—but also finned elliptical tubes. “A specific difference we offer on our spiral fins is our patented ‘groovy’ fin for our spiral-finned tubes,” McGinnis says. “The ‘groovy’ fin enhances heat transfer by turbulating the air more than a regular spiral fin can, which results in better heat transfer and a smaller coil size, making it ideal for replacement coils or in situations where a smaller footprint is needed.” Just like the medium flowing through heat exchangers, technology advancements in the field continue to move the needle. Van Dillen says he believes HeatMatrix’s polymer bundle technology will be a game changer in the industry. While the company currently only manufactures air-to-air exchangers, he says air-to-liquid polymer designs are now under development. “This will be the next focus for HeatMatrix in this field,” van Dillen says. Alfa Laval’s latest patented design, the CurveFlow, is for asymmetrical ports and features a new fluid distribution pattern that Crozier says lowers pressure drop, or increases efficiency with the same pressure drop. “We

have also introduced a new method to secure gaskets to plates without glue being required,” he says. The company continues to develop new patterns used on various plates to increase efficiency vs. pressure drop, reduction of material thickness while maintaining pressure capabilities, applying new construction materials for plates and gaskets, as well as special unit types for specific applications. “Unlike the traditional shell-and-tube ‘one design type fits all,’ the Alfa Laval frames have been drastically improved,” Crozier says, “with better ways to open and close the units, studded ports that are in-place rather than nozzles, and bearing boxes that reduce resistance during tightening of bolts.” McGinnis says in finned-tube technology, Kelvion continues to produce advancements in dry-air cooling in both fin- and tube-side augmentation, fan efficiency increases, and reduced noise footprint. “The future of dry-aircooled heat exchange is small, incremental improvements that benefit everyone involved,” McGinnis says. “The future of heat exchange is using greater thermal efficiencies through more efficient use of pressure drop, flow distribution, and effective use of proper channel hydraulic diameters based upon application suitability.” Author: Ron Kotrba Senior Editor, Biomass Magazine 218-745-8347

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BiogasNews California law encourages renewable gas production On Sept. 19, California. Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed legislation that establishes the nationâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s toughest restrictions on destructive super pollutants, including black carbon, fluorinated gases and methane. The bill, SB 1383, reduces the emissions of super pollutants, known as short-lived climate pollutants, and promotes renewable

gas by requiring a 50 percent reduction in black carbon and a 40 percent reduction in methane and hydrofluorocarbon from 2013 levels by 2030. The bill also requires the California Air Resource Board, in consultation with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, to adopt regulations to reduce

methane emission from livestock manure management operations and dairy manure management operations. Under the law, state agencies are directed to consider and, as appropriate, adopt policies and incentives to significantly increase the sustainable production and use of renewable gas.

A Cleaner Alternative: Roeslein Alternative Energy has installed Guild Associates technology to produce renewable natural gas. PHOTO: ROESLEIN ALTERNATIVE ENERGY




On Aug. 24, Roeslein Alternative Energy and Smithfield Hog Production celebrated the production of renewable natural gas (RNG) at the Ruckman farm site in Missiouri for delivery to the national pipeline from its manure-toenergy project. The project began in 2013 when RAE secured an agreement with the Missouri operations of Smithfield Foods Hog Production Division to develop, install, own and operate processing facilities to capture, purify and sell the biogas produced from the anaerobic conversion of manure. The project is broken into two horizons, with the first horizon consisting of two phases. Phase one involved the installation of impermeable covers and flare systems on 88 manure lagoons located on nine hog finishing farms. Phase two of the project involves installation of equipment to remove impurities from the biogas to create pipeline-quality RNG. As of July 1, is being injected into the national pipeline using an interconnect that installed at Ruckman Farm. Biogas cleaning and RNG production will be expanded to the remaining farms over the next two years. Horizon two includes supplementing the manure with biomass harvested from restored prairie grasslands, producing additional RNG.


RNG in California: Leadership, Market Certainty BY MARCUS GILLETTE

Earlier this summer, reports emerged that California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard was at risk of major reform, or even elimination. The RNG Coalition responded, in solidarity with like-minded clean energy, renewable fuels, organized labor and environmental advocates. By the conclusion of California’s 2015-‘16 legislative session at the end of August, amid a flurry of uncertainty and opposition, the state legislature passed SB 32. The bill effectively extends the LCFS and cap-and-trade compliance programs beyond 2020 to 2030. "The LCFS as a compliance program and market driver is here to stay and renewable natural gas will continue to be one of its major success stories,” said Johannes Escudero, RNG Coalition CEO and executive director. “We commend Gov. Brown, Sen. Pavley, Assemblymember E. Garcia, and the California legislature for their leadership to assure clean air, green jobs, and low carbon fuel options throughout California for decades to come.” Ten years ago (to the day, as I write this), California passed Assembly Bill 32, landmark legislation requiring the state to reduce its carbon emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. The law promulgated the state’s current LCFS and cap-and-trade programs. The LCFS program and credit market have effectively driven production, deployment, and utilization of renewable natural gas (RNG) and other biomass and waste-derived clean fuels in the transportation sector. This is especially true for compressed and liquefied forms of RNG, the lowest carbon intensity transportation fuel available. In 2015, 50 percent of all natural gas vehicle fuel used in California was RNG. The value of LCFS credits began dropping this summer, amid speculation that the program’s future was in jeopardy. After peaking at a weekly average above $122 per metric ton in early June, LCFS credit prices dipped to an August average of just $75, according to activity reported to the state’s Air Resources Board. “Above all, the RNG Coalition focused on protecting and promoting RNG in California. We knew that the best thing we could do for the industry was restore LCFS market stability and secure that stability long-term,” said David Cox, operations director and general counsel for the RNG Coalition. Throughout July and August, the RNG Coalition rallied members and industry stakeholders, and coalesced and worked with other clean fuel groups, organized labor, and environmental advocates to defend the LCFS and extend the climate programs beyond 2020 to 2030. On August 24, California’s legislature passed SB 32 (Pavley). The bill builds upon AB 32 and requires the state to reduce its carbon emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

“We are better organized than we’ve ever been, and the results speak for themselves,” said RNG Coalition Chairman Evan Williams, who attended the bill signing on behalf of the RNG Coalition upon invitation from the governor’s office. Creating LCFS market certainty beyond 2020 and passing SB 32 was a priority for the RNG Coalition, the trade association that provides public policy advocacy and education for the RNG industry in North America. RNG Coalition members produced or otherwise serviced 100 percent of the RNG participating in the LCFS program in 2015. “Without the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas, we would not have gotten SB 32/AB 197,” said Martha AcevesGuzman, deputy legislative secretary for Gov. Jerry Brown. “It was excellent to finally have folks we can strategize with on how to work with members (of the Legislature). Next year will be equally critical.” AB 197 (E. Garcia) was double-joined with SB 32 and also passed, creating additional oversight by the ARB legislature to prevent promulgation of regulations that fail to properly balance the needs of the environment with the economy. SB 32 would not have passed without AB 197. “Thank you for your work on the passage of AB 197 and SB 32. This has been a historical accomplishment,” said Carlos Gonzales, policy director for Assemblymember E. Garcia. “Your leadership and guidance during the last couple weeks of session made AB 197 and SB 32 possible.” As a fitting conclusion, on Oct. 5, representatives from the RNG Coalition attended a celebration of AB 32’s extension by SB 32 and AB 197. “On behalf of the RNG industry, suppliers of ultraclean RNG transportation fuel, we recognize Gov. Brown and California’s lawmakers for their dedication to a healthy and robust market for RNG,” Cox added. “Passage of these bills quickly restored stability to LCFS credit prices, and has cemented Gov. Brown’s, Sen. Pavley's, and Assemblymember E. Garcia’s legacies as forward-thinking policy leaders.” Assemblymember E. Garcia has been invited to speak—and attendees may have the opportunity to meet one of California’s rising legislative stars—at the RNG industry’s annual RNG Fuel, Heat, Power & Policy Conference Dec. 5-7, at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, California. Author: Marcus D. Gillette Director of Public & Government Affairs, Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas 916.588.3033



BYPRODUCT UPGRADE: The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh composts its urban anaerobic dry digester (BD1) digestate material, produced from one of the university's three digesters, and sells it as a soil amendment under the brand Titan Gold. PHOTO: AMERICAN BIOGAS COUNCIL

Green Garbage to Black Gold The roll out of a digestate standards program will help assure customers of the value this often-overlooked coproduct of anaerobic digestion possesses. BY KATIE FLETCHER


R&R Environmental Services’ massive Perris, California, anaerobic digestion (AD) project is being built out in four phases, each processing about 83,000 tons of mixed green and food waste annually into 1 million diesel gallon equivalents of renewable natural gas (RNG). While this project was built to upgrade biogas to RNG, it also recognizes the value associated with each phase’s inherent production of some 35,000 tons per year of a compostlike soil product and 10 million gallons of liquid soil amendment. “We see the success of anaerobic digestion of organic wastes directly tied to the ability to generate usable soil products on the back end,” says Clarke Pauley, vice president of the organics and biogas division with CR&R. These soil products are derived from digestate—the nutrient-rich, solid fibrous material fraction and liquid portion left over from the AD process. Digestate is no longer the same as


the input organic material to the digester, nor is it a final fertilizer or compost, but through digestion, the organic material gains desirable qualities that allow CR&R to offer a closedloop recycling solution. “Nothing is wasted and nearly all inputs are either converted into energy or a usable product,” Pauley says. Unlike CR&R, many early biogas systems were developed simply to reduce odor or the volume of waste being dealt with. The benefits of renewable energy generation have now been widely recognized, but what producers can do with their digestate coproduct to get an economic return has been overlooked. “That’s changed lately,” says Patrick Serfass, executive director of the American Biogas Council. Five years ago, it was easier to develop a biogas system because the revenue from the sale of energy, whether in the form of gas or electricity, was more economically attractive. Weak or lacking renewable energy programs

in many states adds to the difficulty of digester project success on energy sales alone, according to Brian Langolf, director of biogas systems and research development at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. “Creating value-added end products from digestate can be an additional revenue source for a project,” he says. Although CR&R’s soil product sales will be dependent on a number of interrelated factors—supply, demand, processing cost and product quality—Pauley acknowledges that they’ve put a great deal of effort into this part of their AD business model. “Organic residual sales will be a big boost to our bottom line; by how much remains to determined,” he says. Until now, digestate from the processing of nonsewage derived organics (such as household organic waste) has been largely unregulated and ill-defined. As a result, selling this product has proved challenging for producers who have encountered both market and regulatory

BIOGAS¦ barriers. Headed by the American Biogas Council, the biogas industry recognized the need to fill gaps in the marketability of digestate and digestate-derived products, and with extensive outreach to industry entities, including the EPA, created the ABC Digestate Standard Testing and Certification Program. This voluntary, industry-led program sets forth testing methods and a quality management system for characterizing digestate-derived products, which will provide some standardization and product quality targets that operators can subscribe to. As an environmental lawyer helping draft the standards, Amy Kessler, cofounder of Turning Earth LLC, sees it as an “unprecedented opportunity for an industry to get together and say this is a reasonable amount of regulation and oversight.” Numerous meetings, conference calls and workshops were held over the two-year period during which a coproducts working group developed the bulk of the program. When developing the program, Kessler says, one model they’ve looked to is the U.S. Composting Council’s. “They’ve recognized that in order for compost to become a household name and a recognized mainstream commodity, there needed to be some standards around it—some accountability and understanding of what’s in it, what makes a good compost and how you might use it,” she says. Kessler’s interest stems from her company Turning Earth, an organics recycling company that is developing a facility in Connecticut to produce biogas as well as compost for a variety of soil products. “Compost is very familiar for folks, and we want to achieve that for digestate as well,” she says. This program also builds upon digestate standards programs in other countries—like the U.K.’s digestate quality protocol—and integrates relevant portions of existing U.S. EPA regulations—like Part 503, 40CFR biosolids rule under the Clean Water Act. “Right now, if you produce digestate from biosolids, you don’t need our program necessarily because EPA Part 503 tells you exactly what should and should not be in your digestate,” Serfass says. This program is to “fill the gap of the nonbiosolids digestate, because there is nothing out there to help improve customer assurance for buying digestate that doesn’t have biosolids in it,” he adds. For digestate subject to specific regulations per EPA Part 503, like digestate derived from waste activated sludge and other sewage products, the producers must still comply with those regulations, but can also participate in ABC’s program to bring additional value to their digestate. “The objective is to create an inclusive program that any digestate producer can participate in,” Serfass says. This program is not replacing Part 503 or any other applicable local, state or federal regula-

tions that producers must comply with outside this voluntary program. The testing conducted through the program measures the beneficial physical and chemical changes resulting from digestion, and defines the physical and agronomic properties of the digestate products. These results will be issued on a summary digestate technical datasheet by certified labs participating in the program. “It is like a nutrition label—here is what’s all in the digestate,” says Kim Busse, laboratory manager with the Environmental Research and Innovation Center at UW Oshkosh. Serfass adds that like a nutritional label, it doesn’t necessarily tell you how much sugar you should have, but keeps it open for the customer’s interpretation while providing some general recommendations. Standardizing digestate allows for the composition and beneficial use of the product to be accurately and appropriately represented by biogas project owners, and understood and accepted by regulators and offtakers. “Our main goal is to assure digestate customers that they are purchasing digestate products that are within nationally established safe pathogen and heavy metals limits,” Pauley says. Beyond that, testing for a variety of parameters of stability and chemical composition will be required. Tests include: feedstocks, moisture content, pathogens, macronutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium), micronutrients, pH, soluble salts, total solids, volatile solids, organic matter content, physical particle size, metals, visible contamination, stability (volatile fatty acids or CO2 respiration), and maturity. According to Busse, the amount of required testing is really dependent on the digestate’s end use. The testing protocol breaks down digestate into three broad end-use classifications: alternative daily cover or landfill or refused-derived fuel, restricted land application, and generally unrestricted bulk sales or land application. Busse’s UW Oshkosh lab is one of a handful that are already planning to become certified under ABC’s Digestate Lab Certification Program. Once certified, these labs will test digestate using the prescribed standardized methods. UW Oshkosh already performs digestate tests for a number of clients, and Busse assumes most digesters are probably being tested at some level, but standardization will ensure everyone is “doing the same testing so that we can compare it to different kinds of digesters across this country,” she says. Labs must meet certain parameters in order to become certified in the program, including paying an annual fee and taking a proficiency test each year. Labs are also required to follow a set of approved quality assurance standards and will occasionally be verified by a third party. “We don’t want it to be difficult to qualify as a

lab,” Busse says. “We want it to be inviting, but we also want standardization, so we need some standards to uphold.” The working group is still fine-tuning some of the requirements for labs to become certified and determining how much testing is necessary, a balancing act between achieving good, accurate test results and making participation economical. According to Pauley, the working group is currently developing the financial model for the program. “The key is to make sure that the investment in participation is worth it for all participants,” he says. “We anticipate a flat fee for company registration, a one-time enrollment fee, plus an annual maintenance fee.” Pauley reiterates that they’re striving to make the program economical for all participating members, but “the bottom line is that participants will need to see the value of their certification to make the digestate certification program work.” Digestate producers who are interested in participating will fill out an application with ABC, and once qualified, will receive access to all of the program details, such as tests needed, how the participant should use the program, which laboratories it can work with and how often testing needs to occur. Instructions and training on proper sample collection will be provided as well, to ensure that test results are representative of production over a given period of time, and adjusted based on size and complexity of the facility. Both the participating producer and ABC will be issued test results. Referred to as a “nutritional label,” this datasheet will not only contain many important parameters users will be interested in, but also explain why the characteristics are important for digestate end users Program participants will be able to use these certified results in the marketing and sale of their products, on product packaging and their websites, etc., as well as for regulatory submissions. Certified producers can use the ABC logo on these documents. Pauley says CR&R plans to have a “diverse marketing plan with a variety of users from agriculture to municipalities for use in their landscapes and parks.” The coproducts working group is also trying to find balance between making the results transparent and allowing the producers autonomy to conduct their own business. “We [ABC] will be in possession of the results, but we’re going to want the digestate producer to be the one interacting with customers,” Serfass says. “It all revolves around customer assurance and helping people to realize the full potential, the full value of digestate.” Author: Katie Fletcher Associate Editor, Biomass Magazine 701-738-4920


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2016 Biomass Magazine  

The Co-Products & Products Diversification Issue

2016 Biomass Magazine  

The Co-Products & Products Diversification Issue