2017 September/October Biomass Magazine

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September/October 2017


MOMENTUM California Dead Tree Crisis Fuels Old, New Plants PAGE 18

PLUS: Innovations in Wood Pellet Storage PAGE 12

AND: Frozen Feedstock Management PAGE 24



: 2 2 ' 3 ( / / ( 7 3 / $ 1 7 6





04 EDITOR’S NOTE California's Best Bet By Tim Portz

¦ADVERTISER INDEX 2018 International Biomass Conference & Expo AMANDUS KAHL GmbH & Co. KG Andritz Feed & Biofuel A/S Astec, Inc. Biomass Industry Directory Biomass Engineering & Equipment BRUKS Rockwood CPM Global Biomass Group Evergreen Engineering Hermann Sewerin GmbH Hurst Boiler & Welding Co. Inc. Idaho National Laboratory KEITH Manufacturing Company Mole Master Services Corporation ProcessBarron Varco Pruden Buildings Vecoplan LLC Williams Crusher

06 COLUMN Emphasizing Biomass Benefits on State Levels By Bob Cleaves

07 COLUMN Solar Panels, Electric Cars and Yes—Pellet Stoves By John Ackerly

08 COLUMN Proposed Appropriations Could Set Back Ag Energy By Lloyd Ritter

09 COLUMN Risk on the Horizon for RFS Advanced Pool? By Michael McAdams

10 BUSINESS BRIEFS 12 FEATURE The Changing Pellet Storage Landscape

36 11 21 2 35 17 29 20 14 5 16 15 10 28 24 22 23 25

Conventional steel bins and concrete silos have and continue to dominate pellet storage, but a relatively new design is becoming increasingly popular. By Ron Kotrba

18 FEATURE From High Hazard to Bioenergy Boost

Two different programs based on high-hazard forest material are breathing life into the state’s bioenergy industry, but also pose some challenges for new and existing plants. By Anna Simet

26 FEATURE Fire and Ice

The plunging temperatures that create demand for biomass also bring handling challenges that suppliers have learned to manage through decades of trial and error. By Tim Portz

30 CONTRIBUTION Fuel Prep Technology: Speed vs. Throughput Debate

Concentrating too much on wood shredding speed puts a facility at risk for negative consequences. By Peter Streinik

32 CONTRIBUTION Fuel Blending: Maximizing Benefits for Biogas Operations

Fuel blending allows users to capitalize on the use of biogas, maximizing its use and value in today’s energy market. By Eva Garmendia


Well over 100 million dead and dying trees—pine beetled-killed and droughtstricken—pose a multitude of hazards across California, including forest fires and infrastructure damage. A State of Emergency Proclamation issued in early 2014 is focused on getting some of that material out of the woods and to bioenergy plants, and some progress is being made. PHOTO: U.S. FOREST SERVICE REGIONAL 5

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California’s Best Bet Biomass Magazine’s cover story this month, Anna Simet’s page-18 feature “High Hazard to Bioenergy Boost,” thoroughly explains how a massive forest health epidemic in California is—temporarily, at least—rekindling the fires at a number of California’s TIM PORTZ VICE PRESIDENT OF CONTENT biomass power plants that were either already or soon& EXECUTIVE EDITOR tportz@bbiinternational.com to-be idled. On its surface, the relationship between the problem (vast stands of dead and dying trees) and the solution (a number of underutilized biomass power plants) feels too good to be true. Simet’s reporting makes it clear, however, that for the seemingly simple solution to perhaps California’s largest fuel-loading epidemic ever to come to pass, a number of entities that haven’t historically had to collaborate, will. What’s more, while it is clear who will have to pay the enormous cost for an uncontrolled wildfire (the U.S. Forest Service), no one is displaying much appetite to subsidize this fuel’s removal from forests to bring the costs down to a level where they can make sense in a biomass power station’s pro forma. The good news is that the common-sense potential of the role biomass can play in hazardous fuel abatement has rekindled discussions in California about the value of our industry in a way that growing piles of urban wood waste and orchard prunings, right or wrong, just haven’t. While my feature, “Fire and Ice” is principally devoted to technical prowess of handling biomass fuels in winter accumulated by two veteran biomass aggregators in the Northeast, I’d be remiss if I didn’t convey the passion both Curt Richmond and Jamie Damman both have for the broader forestry sector. Throughout my interviews with both of them, I was struck by the responsibility they felt to play their very important role in driving economic value into the region’s wood and wood fiber supply chain. Underpinning everything they do is the steadfast belief that robust markets are key to forest health and sound forest management in the Northeast. It is this belief that tethers my story to Simet’s. For Richmond, the correlation between forest health and strong markets for forest products is crystal clear, but is it for policymakers in California trying to manage the specter of massive wildfires? If there is a better option to manage the millions of acres of dead and dying trees in California, it has yet to emerge. I’m hopeful that all of the stakeholders involved in managing this problem recognize that and get to work on sorting out a fair and sensible approach for making the economics of consuming it in the state’s biomass power assets work.

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

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

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

EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBERS Stacy Cook, Koda Energy Justin Price, Evergreen Engineering Adam Sherman, Biomass Energy Resource Center



Christianson PLLP Biofuels Financial Conference SEPTEMBER 27-28, 2017

Radisson Blu Minneapolis Downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota Produced by Christianson PLLP and organized by BBI International, this year’s Biofuels Financial Conference is focused on the best ways to explore new options in today’s changing ethanol and biodiesel industries. By understanding risks associated with various technology and marketing initiatives, and by exploring various options for making the best use of capital and resources, attendees will learn how to create a well-managed plan for growth and change—a plan that maximizes profitability while ensuring future stability and meeting the expectations of all stakeholders. (866)746-8385 www.biofuelsfinancialconference.com

2018 International Biomass Conference & Expo APRIL 16-18, 2018 Cobb Galleria Centre Atlanta, Georgia Organized by BBI International and produced by Biomass Magazine, this event brings current and future producers of bioenergy and biobased products together with waste generators, energy crop growers, municipal leaders, utility executives, technology providers, equipment manufacturers, project developers, investors and policy makers. It’s a true one-stop shop––the world’s premier educational and networking junction for all biomass industries. (866) 746-8385 www.biomassconference.com

National Advanced Biofuels Conference & Expo JUNE 11-13, 2018

CenturyLink Center Omaha Omaha, Nebraska With a vertically integrated program and audience, the National Advanced Biofuels Conference & Expo is tailored for industry professionals engaged in producing, developing and deploying advanced biofuels including cellulosic ethanol, biobased platform chemicals, polymers and other renewable molecules that have the potential to meet or exceed the performance of petroleum-derived products. www.advancedbiofuelsconference.com | 866-746-8385


Emphasizing Biomass Benefits on State Levels BY BOB CLEAVES

Typically, the Biomass Power Association is focused on federal government activities that have the potential to affect the biomass industry. Congress and federal agencies like the U.S. EPA, USDA, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. DOE can develop policies that have an enormous impact on biomass facilities across the country. Tax, carbon and electricity market regulation are just a few of the issues that we engage on in Washington. Even though the Clean Power Plan’s future is very much in doubt, it required every state to design its own carbon reduction plan to meet specific targets. Prior to the Clean Power Plan, many states had already established renewable portfolio standards (RPS) designed to incentivize renewable energy generation. State activity on biomass has been mixed, although mostly supportive of biomass, and cognizant of the benefits that a strong biomass industry can bring. A few years ago, under its previous administration led by Gov. Deval Patrick, Massachusetts implemented new regulations under its RPS, requiring efficiency standards for biomass facilities far beyond what is possible without making use of a facility’s steam heat. The new standards basically disqualify biomass facilities from participating in the Commonwealth’s renewable energy credit program, dealing a blow not only to the biomass facility in Massachusetts, but also to the dozen or so other New England biomass facilities that supply electricity on the region’s shared grid. There is also state activity aiming to promote biomass and recognize its benefits. In 2015, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill, overwhelmingly approved by the state assembly, that recognizes biomass’s carbon neutrality. And last year, after California legislature ap-


proval, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the BioRAM proposal, which requires utilities to purchase power from certain biomass facilities that take in hazardous fuel from California’s forests. This legislation is especially critical, because it recognizes the benefits of biomass beyond supplying power to the grid—in this case, the role biomass can play in helping California and the U.S. Forest Service address its tree mortality crisis and avoid catastrophic forest fires. Massachusetts and New Hampshire have also recently enacted legislation to support the biomass industry, during a time of stiff market competition due to low power prices. As always, we in the industry must remain alert for state changes that can negatively—or positively—affect our businesses. Consistently reminding state legislators and regulators of the benefits of biomass is a good way to ensure that they will seek our input when considering changes. Monitoring the media, engaging with reporters and insisting on factual characterizations of our industry is also essential, as activists step up efforts to spread misinformation. The Biomass Power Association is always here to help facilitate these interactions or advise on messaging. Bioenergy Day is coming up on Oct. 18, and it’s a great time to consider inviting media and elected officials to meet you at your facility to learn more about the benefits of biomass. Author: Bob Cleaves President, Biomass Power Association bob@usabiomass.org www.usabiomass.org

Solar Panels, Electric Cars and Yes—Pellet Stoves BY JOHN ACKERLY

A decade ago, I barely dreamed about having solar panels on my house and buying an electric car. But technology and energy changed so fast, and last year we put a 5.4-kW solar PV system on our rooftop. This not only made economic sense, it also felt good. And because we produce more electricity than our home uses, we are about to buy a plug-in hybrid vehicle to use our own renewable electricity for our daily driving. How are wood and pellet heating supposed to compete in this day and age, where everything is going electric? Heating with wood or pellets makes even more economic sense for most people, and makes many of us feel plenty good, too. But my neighbors are much more interested in talking about solar and electric cars because they’re new and in the news. The innovation that made wood and pellet stoves work is so 1980s. Not much has changed since then, right? Sort of. Wood and pellet stoves and boilers are getting cleaner and more efficient. They are also becoming more automated and wi-fi connected. In many ways, pellet stoves and boilers fit into our current energy culture better than ever. They should be a core part of the distributed renewable energy movement, and a complement to renewable electricity. The electric car revolution is shaping up to put huge demands on our grids, while more and more homes are going all-electric as heat pump efficiencies rise. But it still makes little sense to use electricity for whole house heating in the coldest parts of the country when we have growing demands for electricity, and are trying to increase the percentage of renewables on grids. If you make your own electricity, installing enough solar panels to power all your household appliances, heating, and car is a tall order. Prioritizing electricity for household needs and electric cars while leaving heat to modern pellet or wood systems still makes sense. If our initiative to promote innovation in wood and pellet stoves works, homes could even start getting 50 to 100 watts of electricity from their stoves during winter. This would help make up for the huge reduction in electricity generated from solar panels during the winter when the sun is low, and dips under the skyline early.

For urban and suburban two-car families, having one plug-in hybrid or electric vehicle is now a no-brainer. They get you where you need to go, are far cheaper to drive and maintain, and not that much more expensive than new, gasoline-powered cars. Pellet stoves and boilers are also well-suited for urban and suburban areas. Suburban families like ours can run on nearly 100 percent renewable energy with a pellet stove, solar PV system and a plug-in hybrid. This assumes you have reduced your energy usage with a rigorous home energy audit and some energy retrofitting first. If we look to Europe as an example of trends that may take root here someday, we see countries starting to announce that they will only allow the sale of electric cars starting in 2035 or 2040. We see an explosion of pellet stove sales in Italy, and pellet boilers in Austria and elsewhere. One futuristic appliance that is already on the market combines solar PV with a pellet boiler, both of which can make electricity. Its computer can decide during the night, or on cloudy days, if it is cheaper to make electricity with pellets or buy it from the grid to charge your car. Back 10 years ago, I didn’t think I’d ever have solar panels that powered my home, or the car in my driveway. Today, I can’t even imagine owning a pellet stove or boiler that makes heat and electricity based on time-ofday pricing and weather patterns. And, once you include home batteries like the Tesla Powerwall, the options get even more interesting, and include local energy sharing. These are all elements of one of the most popular buzzwords of the day: resilience. We want homes and communities that can be resilient in the face of climate change, power outages, etc., and we need to do it all with renewable energy. That is why continual innovation in our community is essential. Author: John Ackerly President, Alliance for Green Heat jackerly@forgreenheat.org 301-204-9562


Proposed Appropriations Could Set Back Ag Energy BY LLOYD RITTER

Farm Bill energy programs have made significant contributions to the U.S. economy, spurring job growth, revitalizing rural economies and leveraging billions of dollars in private investment. Rural America has proven its ability to contribute to energy independence through production of renewable energy and materials, despite challenges across the agricultural sector. From developments in next-generation biofuels to renewable chemicals to biobased products, the biobased economy is poised for massive growth, and Farm Bill energy programs play a significant role in helping rural America capitalize on those opportunities. These programs deserve to be reauthorized in the next Farm Bill, and fully funded in 2018 appropriations. The Rural Energy for America Program is a huge success story. The program provides grants and loan guarantees for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. REAP provides benefits to a broad spectrum of energy technologies, including wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal and bioenergy initiatives. Since the 2008 Farm Bill, nearly 13,000 projects in all 50 states have received awards, leveraging more than $3 billion in private investment. Section 9003, the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program, provides loan guarantees to build cuttingedge biorefineries that produce advanced biofuels and renewable chemicals. This program provides biorefineries access to capital that would otherwise be unavailable in underserved agricultural communities. These facilities create new markets for agriculture, new biobased products and new jobs. The program has helped companies such as Fulcrum, Sapphire Energy, and others secure private financing for biorefinery construction and create jobs in rural areas. The Biomass Crop Assistance Program helps agricultural producers begin planting new, dedicated energy crops for next-generation biorefineries. This assistance is critical to producers simultaneously developing new supply chains and growing new crops. BCAP could also


be used more effectively to remove and utilize forest residues—including hazardous fuels—by clearing out areas at high risk for forest fires. BCAP is the only federal program of its kind, and serves an important purpose in developing new crops dedicated to energy and biomaterial production, and combating forest fires. And yet, House and Senate appropriators have proposed massive cuts to these vital programs for 2018. The House Appropriations Committee’s draft FY2018 Agricultural Appropriations bill, released end of June, proposed to cut mandatory funding for REAP by 82 percent, from $50 million to $9 million. A late manager’s amendment then sought to further cut the program from $9 million to just $1 million—a staggering 98 percent cut. Similarly, the legislation provided Section 9003 $31 million, but the manager’s amendment later sought to cut funding completely. And, the bill proposed to zero out BCAP. The Senate Appropriations Committee took less of a heavy hand. Its bill would keep Section 9003’s unexpended funding from prior years, providing $139 million to the program. However, the Senate bill would also cancel BCAP. At a time when rural America has seen massive challenges—declines in commodity prices have slashed net farm income by 15 percent in 2016, with incomes projected to drop another 9 percent in 2017, according to USDA—the Farm Bill energy programs have supported new investments in rural communities, created jobs and helped boost incomes. Rural America has clearly demonstrated its ability to make major contributions to the biobased and clean energy economy when given the opportunity. Congress’s proposed cuts for 2018 set back progress in ag energy, progress that serves every state and every sector. These programs merit reauthorization and continued, stable funding. Author: Lloyd Ritter Director, Ag Energy Coalition 202-215-5512 www.agenergycoalition.org

Risk on the Horizon for RFS Advanced Pool? BY MICHAEL MCADAMS

On July 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued its ruling in case of Americans for Clean Energy v. EPA. In the decision, the Court stated: “We agree with Americans for Clean Energy and its aligned petitioners…that EPA erred in how it interpreted the ‘inadequate domestic supply’ waiver provision. We hold that the ‘inadequate domestic supply provision’ authorizes EPA to consider supply-side factors affecting the volume of renewable fuel that is available to refiners, blenders, and importers to meet the statutory volume requirements. It does not allow EPA to consider the volume of the renewable fuel that is available to ultimate consumers or the demand-side constraints that affect the consumption of renewable fuel by consumers.” In so finding, the court order vacated the EPA’s decision to reduce the total renewable fuels volume obligation (RVO) for 2016 through the use of the “inadequate domestic supply waiver” authority, remanding the 2014‘16 RVO rule back to EPA for further consideration. This will require EPA to retroactively adjust its 2016 mandate. EPA will likely do this at same time it releases the final 2018 RVO, prior to the statutory Nov. 30 deadline this year. At this point, it is unclear how EPA will accomplish the retroactive adjustment. There are a number of options, and, unsurprisingly, stakeholders have begun advocating for disparate approaches. Refiners, particularly merchant refiners, have claimed that if EPA requires them to make up RINs not granted under the original 2016 RVO, RIN prices will rise, and they will endure economic harm. Some from the corn ethanol industry are arguing that EPA should go back and pick up the shortage in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The Renewable Fuels Association focused in on the 500 million-plus gallons below the statute that they feel were shorted in 2016. Other legal sources argue that using the cellulosic waiver authority to waive down the advanced and overall pools would avoid impacting the market significantly, resulting in less economic damage. The fact of the matter is that in retroactively setting the RVO mandates, there is once again regulatory uncertainty surrounding the RFS program. Comments on the proposed 2018 RVO are due end of August. It

is unclear what EPA will do for the 2018 RVO at this point, though EPA will need to take a different approach than what was attempted in the original 2014-‘16 rule, given that method was rejected by the court. Therefore, we must be engaged more than ever to impress upon EPA’s leaders that the success of advanced and cellulosic fuels was among Congress’s major objectives for the RFS2. Indeed, this is why Congress specifically called for 36 billion gallons—21 billion gallons over and above the 15 billion gallon mandate they granted to conventional fuels. Despite this mandate, it would be too easy for EPA, in response to this case, to simply waive down the 2016 advanced pool mandate from 3.6 billion to 3 billion. That would more than account for the difference between the statutory mandate and the original RVO mandate in 2016. Another option for EPA to consider, which was endorsed by the court in this decision, is using the number of actual gallons produced during the 2016 compliance year in each pool. The court supported this option, as it limits damage by tying actual RIN generation to the RVO mandate. The decisions on both the 2016 and 2018 RVOs, which will most likely be issued in November, are crucial signals for the industry. In their structure, they will reveal EPA’s stance on advanced and cellulosic biofuels. Moreover, this set of circumstances has already led to increased conversation about possibly resetting the RFS as early as 2020. If we are to have jet, diesel, drop-in, and other advanced fuels beyond the first generation, EPA’s approach must not undercut the original intent of Congress to promote innovative technologies that produce advanced biofuels. EPA cannot walk away from the intent of the statute by simply tweaking a few numbers. The time is now to make sure policymakers in Washington, D.C., understand the importance of staying the course on these fuels of the future. Author: Michael McAdams President, Advanced Biofuels Association michael.mcadams@hklaw.com www.advancedbiofuelsassociation.com



RNG Coalition hires Kapoor

The Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas has added Nina Kapoor as manager of legislative and regulatory affairs in SacraKapoor mento, California. The addition of Kapoor will further bolster the RNG Coalition's advocacy and education efforts on behalf of the North American RNG industry in California and on the West Coast. Before joining the RNG Coalition, Kapoor provided strategic planning and public affairs consulting as principal of Kapoor Consulting. Prior to that, she served as vice president of legislative affairs at the California Forestry Association, as well as the Cali-

fornia state capitol as a senate fellow and as legislative staff to prominent members of the state Senate and the assembly, including the chair of the Assembly Committee on Utilities and Commerce. Kapoor holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Economics with Highest Distinction from University of California, San Diego.

Seth Walker joins FutureMetrics

Seth Walker has joined FutureMetrics as senior economist and director of business development. In addiWalker tion to bringing a fresh analytical perspective, Walker will be devel-


oping new reports and products to enhance FutureMetrics' offerings to the wood pellet sector. Walker has extensive knowledge and experience in the bioenergy and forest products sectors, and global wood pellet markets. Prior to joining FutureMetrics, Walker spent seven years at RISI Inc., most recently as senior bioenergy economist. While at RISI, Walker conducted due diligence, fiber supply, and policy analysis studies for the forest products and bioenergy industries. He also held roles covering the North American and international timber markets. Walker holds a Bachelor of Science in Resource Economics and Commerce and a Master of Science in Environmental and Natural Resource Economics from the University of Rhode Island.


Stanners appointed BC Bioenergy Network executive director

The BC Bioenergy Stanners Network Board of Directors has announced the appointment of Scott Stanners as executive director. Stanners brings almost a decade of experience with BCBN, previously holding roles of director of research, director of business development, technology and innovation, and acting executive director. Prior to joining BC Bioenergy Network, Stanners held key advisory positions in the biotechnology sector in Canada and Australia with government, private organizations

and industry associations. Stanners has a Bachelor of Science from University of Calgary and a Ph.D. and Graduate Certificate in Innovation and Enterprise from The University of Sydney, Australia.

BTEC to begin biomass boiler efficiency validation testing

The Biomass Thermal Energy Council announced that validation testing of its biomass boiler efficiency protocol will begin in September at ClearStak LLC, a Connecticutbased testing laboratory. In late 2016, BTEC released the first draft of an American test method for the thermal efficiency of commercial-sized biomass boilers, including boilers that use pellets, chips, briquettes and cordwood. The test procedure was built upon European standards, past efforts in the U.S. to develop standards for biomass-fired


heating equipment, and U.S. standards for oil- and gas-fired boilers. The test method will facilitate the evaluation of the benefits of properly sized biomass boilers, and closely examine boiler performance at partial load points. Once validation testing is complete, and recommended changes to the test method are considered, the test procedure will be published as a voluntary industry document. BTEC will subsequently pursue formal acceptance of the protocol by an accredited national standards organization. The project is supported by the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, the West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund, and the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.

AMANDUS KAHL USA Corp. 105 Hembree Park Drive, Suite L Roswell, GA 30076, USA 001-770-521-1021 sales@amanduskahlusa.com akahl.us AMANDUS KAHL GmbH & Co. KG SARJ Equipment Corp. 29 Golfview Blvd Bradford, Ontario L3Z 2A6, CANADA 001-905-778-0073 rbmacarthur@sympatico.ca



The Changing

Pellet Storage Landscape Structural design, dust management and fire safety features are making domes a popular choice for large-scale wood pellet storage. BY RON KOTRBA


ike any combustible fuel, large-scale storage of wood pellets can be a dangerous proposition. Matters of dust, moisture, temperatures, deflagrations, density, structural integrity, location and public safety must all be thoroughly considered well before a single stake goes into the ground. “The storage of large amounts of wood pellets is something that’s come on fairly recently,” says Eric Lapointe, director of engineering with Quebec Stevedoring Ltd., a terminal operator and stevedore present in 30 North American ports. “The industry is very young. We are more and more aware of the different risks associated with large-scale pellet storage—off-gassing, heating. And we are well aware of fires in the storage of pellets, both in Europe and in the southern U.S.”

Conventional storage vessels for grain and oilseeds—and more recently for wood pellets—are typically either concrete silos or corrugated steel bins. Chief Agri/Industrial Group has been around since 1961 and builds steel bins all over the world, mostly for grain storage, but more recently, for wood pellets, too. “We are currently using Chief storage silos at the Highland Pellet project in Pine Bluff, Arkansas,” says Jody Bruning, regional sales manager for pellet mill builder Astec Inc. Chief has also done a few projects for German Pellets, including building the silos in Port Arthur, Texas, that made headlines this year when pellets in one of the silos smoldered for months as extraction, extinguishing and debris cleanup efforts unfolded from April to July. The bin collapsed in June after on-site teams


worked for a month to remove the contents. The incident remains under investigation, says Bradly Jorgenson, vice president of engineering at Chief. When designing a corrugated steel bin, Jorgenson says knowing product density is critical. “Pellets weigh less per cubic foot than grain,” he says. The foundation must be capable of withstanding the vertical load. “We use external stiffeners that help carry vertical loads,” Jorgenson says. “As the product pushes up against the side wall of the silo, that helps push the force down.” Then there is horizontal load to consider. “As product goes into the bin, it creates hoop stress if the product is heavier than what the bin is designed for,” he says. The thickness of the steel on the bottom, where more force exerts pressure on the

FILL 'ER UP: The Rentech domes at Quebec Stevedoring Ltd.’s terminal in Port of Quebec are sized to load Post-Panamax vessels, ships too large to navigate the locks of Panama Canal. PHOTO: DANY MANNING

sidewalls, is also typically thicker than the bin’s sidewalls on top. “Like grain, it’s important to keep wood pellets well-conditioned,” Jorgenson says. “If the aeration fans aren’t matched with your silo, you will not get the performance needed to keep the product properly conditioned.” He says if product starts to heat slightly, fans can aerate and bring it back into condition. “But wood pellets are very combustible,” Jorgenson says, “and feeding air after the temperature reaches a certain point is just feeding oxygen to it, so you have to be careful.”


While conventional steel bins and concrete silos have served their purpose over the years and continue to dominate pellet storage,

a relatively new design—domes and DomeSilos—is changing the landscape, both figuratively and literally. “When we decided to build pellet storage in our terminal in the Port of Quebec, our client Rentech wanted us to load Post-Panamax vessels,” or very large ships unable to fit in Panama Canal’s locks, Lapointe says. “There aren’t too many places that can load ships this size. In order to load these, we needed fairly large storage.” He says the rule of thumb is to build port storage sized at one-and-a-half times the vessel load weight. The average PostPanamax vessel can hold 50,000 metric tons, but QSL would need to be prepared to load up to 68,000 tons. “To store 75,000 tons, we would have needed to build eight steel bins right next to the port community,” Lapointe

says. After visiting Enviva’s port storage in Chesapeake, Virginia, and Wilmington, North Carolina, and Georgia Biomass’ port storage in Savannah, Georgia, QSL contracted with Dome Technology and its partner company Engineering System Solutions (ES2) to design, engineer and construct two large domes, each capable of storing 37,500 tons of pellets. “Dome Technology and ES2 have been working together as strategic partners for close to 20 years,” says Douglas Weber, a professional and structural engineer, and CEO of ES2. “ES2 designs the storages that Dome Technology constructs, and the two groups bring design concepts to a reality. Together, both companies have innovated to pioneer new uses for domes and construction techniques that allow a large variety of products


¦PELLETS to be stored and reclaimed from domes and DomeSilos.”

Dome Structure

NOVEL DESIGN: Round explosion vents and a central filling tube with dust collection, seen here during construction, help make the domes in Port of Quebec state of the art. PHOTO: JOHN ARSENAULT, QUEBEC WOOD EXPORT BUREAU

Jason Miller, Dome Technology’s vice president of marketing, says the company, founded by Barry South, started building domes in 1975. “We’re the original steel-reinforced concrete dome builder,” Miller says. “Our method of building has been perfected over the years. Barry had the idea in the ‘70s that the best way to build these is through the inflation of a polyvinylchloride (PVC) membrane.” Miller likens the construction process to paper mache, but rather than inflating a balloon and coating the outside with paper soaked in a water-flour mixture, the membrane is inflated and intricate work is performed on the inside. A thin layer of polyurethane foam is first used to coat inside the PVC membrane, followed by placement of rebar and concrete. “When completed” Miller says, “you have an incredibly strong, steel-reinforced structure with a thin layer of polyurethane foam and a waterproof PVC membrane on the outside.” Two reasons domes are safer than concrete silos or steel bins, according to Miller, are strength of design and construction, and their ability to keep temperatures stable. He adds that domes and DomeSilos can be engineered to allow for some limited ground settlement. “If a concrete silo leans, that’s a major problem,” Miller says. “But our domes have a larger footprint as compared to their height and, as a result, they can deal with some differential


movement. Since the dome or DomeSilo is one continuous shell, without joints or seams, it has tremendous ability to transfer loads from one part of the structure to another. Consequently, less expensive foundation systems have been installed as compared to other storage types.” Lapointe says one of QSL’s concerns in deciding which pellet storage design to choose for the Port of Quebec was temperature control. “We wanted to make sure there was no heating of the pellets,” he says. “We went with concrete domes to better control temperature.” Miller says the temperature inside the dome remains relatively stable, thanks to the concrete and layer of polyurethane foam. “When pellets are loaded, they can be warm,” he says, “while the ambient air temperature in Quebec can be quite cool. The dome composition allows the wood pellets to retain much more of their heat, leading to less condensation and product degradation.” With portside property at a premium, domes can also be advantageous because more product can be stored in a smaller footprint. “It’s important to maximize that land as best they can,” Miller says. Given QSL’s port terminal location in a community, Lapointe adds that the structures also had to be visually appealing. “Not just for the short term,” he says, “but for the long term. Concrete holds up nicer than steel silos over time.” Dome construction at QSL’s terminal in Port of Quebec began in fall 2013 and was completed by the end of 2015.

Dome Dust, Fire Safety

QSL could have chosen a flat, A-frame storage facility, “but because we are right here in Quebec City where a lot of tourists visit, we had to make sure there was no dust flying around—absolutely none, zero,” Lapointe says. “So all our conveyors are enclosed, the domes are sealed, and aeration inside makes sure the exhaust is filtered so there’s no dust flying out.” Lapointe says instead of choosing a design like Drax’s domes in the U.K., which have large openings on top, QSL wanted a filling tube installed through the dome’s center that utilizes a dust-collection device. “It’s like a manifold, so when the pellets fall inside, it collects dust before it starts flying around inside the dome,” Lapointe says. This reduces the concentration of explosive dust inside the dome to less than 0.28 grams per cubic meter (g/m³) during filling, Lapointe says, adding that the limit is 70 g/ m³. “We tested dust concentration in a worstcase scenario of dropping pellets in when the dome is completely empty,” Lapointe says. “During four full hours, we tested three different elevations inside the dome and maximum concentration never reached 0.28 g/m3. The system is very efficient.” Weber says there are several opinions about what safety measures should be part of dome storage. “We believe that the greatest improvement to pellet storage is the central filling tube,” he says. “It has shown to decrease the amount of airborne dust to levels lower than that necessary for a self-igniting deflagra-

DUST CONTROL: While the safe limit of explosive dust inside a dome is 70 grams per cubic meter, the filling tube design in Quebec keeps concentration well below this. PHOTO: DANY MANNING

tion event. Also, it reduces fines generation during the reclaiming process, allowing operators to supply a better quality product to their customers.” The domes at QSL’s terminals also feature smaller explosion vents in the unlikely event of deflagration from the very low concentrations of explosive dust. Explosion panels are used to allow pressure expansion without cracking the structure. “The size of the vent opening is critical,” Weber says. “The greater the open area, the more venting is possible and the less pressure build-up inside the storage.” But with the dust-collecting filling tube, Lapointe says the size of the vents needed were much smaller than would otherwise be required. “We take pride in our innovation and safety,” Miller says. “Dome Technology, along with ES2, recently pioneered smaller, round explosion panels, which we built into the

QSL domes as an optional feature.” He says it is harder to predict how rectangle explosion panels will react to a deflagration event. “But with round panels,” Miller says, “there’s a much more even hit, which would minimize damage to the structure if an event occurred.” Weber adds that a round opening has better performance characteristics structurally, since there are no corners, thereby eliminating stress concentrations. Not only are round explosion vents safer, according to Miller, but Lapointe says QSL saved a lot of money coupling the newly designed explosion vents with the dust-collecting filling tube. “We currently have four 8-meter diameter openings,” Lapointe says. “According to the computational fluid dynamics model used, the size of a vent to keep the overpressure below 0.6 bars during a 500 g/m³ dust cloud deflagration would be one-third of the

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SAFETY FIRST: To put out fires, the domes at the Quebec Stevedoring terminal feature a 15,000-gallon nitrogen extinction system, which has yet to be needed. PHOTO: QUEBEC STEVEDORING LTD.


entire dome surface. The filling tube reduces the dust concentration and the volume of the cloud.” Each of the two domes at QSL’s terminal also contains 47 cable temperature probes. “We are monitoring the temperature all the time,” Lapointe says. “We’ve never reached a temperature higher than 48 degrees Celsius—even with pellets stored over six months.” Other features built into the structures include aeration and nitrogen pacification. “Aeration has been shown to help moderate the temperature within the DomeSilos, but its effectiveness is limited,” Weber says. The domes in Port of Quebec each feature two fans capable of moving 40,000 cubic feet per minute (cfm) of air, totaling 80,000 cfm per dome, Lapointe says. “They are equipped with variable speed drives to reduce the amount of air when it’s not needed, to save energy,” he adds. Because the domes are so big, separate vents are included with the ability to concentrate venting in certain areas if there’s a hot spot. “One thing we found out,” Lapointe says, “is aeration doesn’t have a short-term impact. It won’t produce a change in the pellet temperature overnight if it starts to heat—80,000 cfm is not enough to do that. So it’s not a drying or cooling ventilation system, just an aeration system. When used steadily long-term though, it helps keep temperatures regulated. It will slow down the heating vs. keeping the pellets cool.” While QSL has never had to use it, its domes are also equipped with a 15,000-gallon nitrogen extinction system. The system features a top manifold to put a fire out on the surface of the pellets if needed, and the floor piping is divided into four quadrants with a manifold outside the dome to pinpoint nitrogen delivery inside. “The system has a capacity of 7,500 cubic meters per hour and is able to inert the dome head spaces within four hours,” Lapointe says. To keep dust down in conveyance, QSL employed a French company to build enclosed tube conveyors. “The belt slides inside a tube,” Lapointe says. “There are no support idlers for the loaded belt, only the return belt.” One side is canvas to make it slide easier inside the tube, and the other is rubber. “With no idlers there’s less tension and the belt doesn’t need to be as thick,” he says. “Therefore, it needs less power.” Lapointe says additional features at QSL’s port terminal include a gas analyzing system present in the head space of the domes to alert in case of combustion well before any smoke

PELLETS¦ is visible. “Furthermore,” he adds, “to reduce off-gassing and heating related to the moisture content, we have a moisture analyzer on the rail car receiving conveyor. Any pellets above 10 percent moisture are automatically diverted to a reject bin before entering the domes.”

Future Improvements

Weber says that over time, Dome Technology and ES2 have developed innovations for its structures to meet the industry’s needs while utilizing their material-handling experience. “We are using the best practices and have more experience storing wood pellets in domes than anyone else in the world,” Weber says. “We are using the latest technology and practices.” Miller says there’s a reason more and more pellet companies are going with Dome Technology. “They can store more pellets in a smaller footprint, potentially save money on foundation costs and are safer to use,” he says. As far as what the future might hold for further improvements in storage technology, Miller says he’s excited to see what new developments may arise in reclaim systems. “They’re only getting better and better with time,” he says. “We have some customers that use front-end loaders and others that use automated systems that include reclaim screws and vibratory floors, so we’re excited to see innovations in reclaim options. It’s important to keep people and workers outside the structures.” Lapointe notes that the biggest challenge is not storage itself, but the mobile equipment working inside the domes to recover the remaining pellets. “Dust accumulates on hot components and becomes a fire hazard,” he says. “We have to regularly blow the dust accumulation. Manufacturers should address this.” As time goes on, he adds, ocean transport vessels will continue to get larger. “With many weeks of traveling time, this will increase the risk of heating and off-gassing,” Lapointe says. “The shipping business will face the same challenges as large storage facilities.” Ultimately, each storage facility faces different issues and is asked to manage different risks. “For example,” Lapointe says, “we were asked by the city to provide a smoke dispersion simulation in case of a surface fire inside a dome. To my knowledge this was not required elsewhere.” He would like to see a common risk analysis/assessment developed for all large storage facilities, and guidelines produced.

Last, Lapointe says that aerating large storage facilities can be energy-intensive and costly. “It would be good to have efficient algorithms to manage the use of fans based on inside and outside temperature, dew point, residence time and more,” he says. Dome designs for pellet storage have gradually leaned toward taller and more slender DomeSilos, Weber explains. “This is a result of needing a smaller footprint for the storage due to space utilization. In addition, a smaller footprint leads to economical savings, if aeration is desired.”

While Dome Technology has built many pellet storage domes over the past several years—with more builds on the docket—Miller says the biggest obstacle for his company is that the modern concrete dome, along with all of its benefits, is still often unknown to many people. “Even so, the pellet industry looks awfully bright for us,” Miller says. Author: Ron Kotrba Senior Editor, Biomass Magazine 218-745-8347 rkotrba@bbiinternational.com




TO BIOENERGY BOOST In California, several large-scale biomass power plants have new leases on life via five-year power purchase agreements and stipulations to use high-hazard forest material. Meanwhile, a new wave of small-scale plants continues to navigate development hurdles. BY ANNA SIMET


he total number of dead trees in California’s drought-stricken, beetle-kill ravaged forests has surpassed 102 million since 2010, spread across 7.7 million acres. In 2016 alone, according to a recent U.S. Forest Service aerial survey, more than 62 million trees died, a 100 percent-plus increase from 2015. And millions more are expected to die in the coming months and years. Recognizing the crisis and dire need to take action, Gov. Jerry Brown issued a State of Emergency Proclamation in Janu-

ary 2014, addressing the tree mortality crisis and laying out action plan framework that included several components focused on getting the material to bioenergy plants. Though the process hasn’t been as swift as desired, for some older, large-scale plants with expiring power purchase agreements and the inability to compete with cheap natural gas and solar, it came just in time. Now, six large-scale plants that either had, or would soon, shut down have five-year power purchase agreements (PPA) under the program, dubbed BioRAM, and it’s likely two






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more plants will soon join them to fulfill the utilities’ mandates of 125 MW. On the other side of the equation is a small army of new, 3- to 5-MW plants—many of which were in some development stage even prior to the emergency declaration—working tirelessly to get built under the other program driving high-hazard zone bioenergy use. BioMAT, a feed-in tariff program for small bioenergy renewable generators, requires the state’s three major utilities to purchase 50 MW from sustainable forest management, including high-hazard forest material. While these smaller-scale plants have a multitude of challenges to work through to get built–even with the mandate in place—the big guys are taking care of immediate business. However, there may be some challenges in store for them, too.

New PPAs, New Challenges

IHI Power Corp. is the owner of three biomass power plants operating in California—Rio Bravo Rocklin, Rio Bravo Fresno, and Chinese Ultra Pacific Station. All three received new, five-year PPAs with Southern California Edison, says Rick Spurlock, IHI Power west region director of operations. “Chinese Ultra started its contract on March 1, and Fresno and Rocklin will begin theirs on Sept. 1,� he says. “The contracts have mandated a fuel procurement component requiring the use of trees from high-hazard zones designated by CalFire—the bark beetle infestation and the massive tree die-out—and there are two designated tiers—public safety and infrastructure, which are trees in danger of falling on power lines, homes and schools, things like that, and tier two, watershed areas.� The BioRAM contracts require IHI to purchase 50 percent of the biomass


plants’ fuel supply from tier one or two in 2017. From then to the end of the contract, that percentage ramps up. “Next year, it goes to 60 percent, and to 80 percent in 2019 through the end of the contract,� Spurlock says. Right now, next to none of that material is coming from federal lands. Rather, according to Spurlock, it’s been sourced from utility company line clearing, CalTrans roadside clearing, or county clearing. “Probably 95 percent is coming from those—maybe five percent from private land,� he says. That BioRAM fuel procurement model is working—for now. But in the coming years, with the percent of highhazard fuel required increasing, there is cause for concern. “The cost of highhazard fuel is significantly higher than what these plants have traditionally received,� Spurlock says. “Right now, our PPA rates cover that cost, and it works in the first year. But our concern as that, when these three primary sources finish up their jobs, and the largest amount of dead trees are on U.S. Forest Service land, our PPAs won’t allow us to pay cost of removal and transport, so the forest service will have to have additional funding to offset the cost for the biomass plants. It’s a huge problem for them [forest service], and it’s a huge problem for us.� The USFS agrees with Spurlock on the challenges ahead, according to Marcus Taylor, USFS Pacific Southwest Region wood and biomass utilization specialist. “In the first few years, meeting the BioRAM contracts will be more achievable because of the immediate availability of material from hazard mitigation treatments, and it may become increasingly difficult as even greater quantities from high-hazard zones will be required,� he says. “Biomass power plants are an important resource for for-



est health restoration across California. We expect that many projects on national forest system lands will be supplying biomass to BioRAM facilities.� But, as Spurlock says, as forest restoration projects expand beyond those areas easily accessible by highways and community streets, it’s likely that costs for extracting and moving the biomass will increase with the longer haul distance, according to Taylor. “Financial support and incentives for off-setting these higher costs are currently limited, and may impact the amount of material a biomass facility is able to acquire,� he says. “The forest service is developing a biomass utilization strategy that will identify biomass opportunities on the national forests and their proximity to biomass facilities to assist in the industry’s planning process.� Taylor says he hopes that the forest service’s continuing discussions within the State Tree Mortality Task Force’s Bioenergy Working Group will yield solutions to overcome those limitations. The group, in concert with six other segments with different focuses, was formed to address problems such as these as they arise. Made up of a range of stakeholders, from bioenergy plant personnel, developers, utilities, forestry groups, the California Energy Commission, California Public Utilities Commission and more, the Bioenergy Working Group group formally convenes once a month, according to Angie Lottes, group leader. “We’re focused on the things we can do now to use biomass material, mostly from high-hazard zones,� she says. “Another group defines areas that have critical infrastructure impacted by dead and dying trees, and areas that just have a profound amount of dead and dying zones, not near critical infrastructure, but

that have large impacts in terms of wildfire—this group focuses more on longterm utilization and product and market development.� So far, says Lottes, the working group has been fairly successful. “We helped facilitate the new contracts for the existing plants with expiring contracts, and we’re also helping facilitate contracts for the new BioMAT power plants—overall, 175 MW of mandated contracts,� she says. “It’s significantly more progress than before—previously, I was under the impression that nothing could be done [for closing biomass plants]. The politics weren’t there. But this has been a big, unexpected win.� For the new plants, it’s been hard, Lottes admits. “Mostly, during our meetings, we are outlining problems and finding subworking groups that can work on them. We have to work pretty closely with the PUC, because most of what is mandated is in their jurisdiction, and they have a lot of procedural requirements— those can take time to move along. Most recently, we’ve been working on the new plants. The PUC has been ordered to facilitate interconnection agreements, and through that order, we’ve been doing a lot to try to lower the cost of interconnection for these plants.� For the renewed contracts, it was mostly a matter of getting them into place, Lottes says. “It was figuring out— legally—what the PUC could tell the utilities to do. Though those contracts are up and running, Lottes, too, mentions the future challenging of forest service funding to get material out of the woods. “They need the staff and the funding to be able to set up a restoration thinning project, or even a timber sale,� she says. “That’s actually a pretty big challenge— the forest service might identify an area that can be thinned, and one year, they








might have the money to do it, but then they lose a staff person and can’t set up a sale or flag trees, or they don’t have a forester available to mark trees or set up a contract.� Many of the steps involved in a thinning project can be impacted, for an organization that gets a budget every year, Lottes points out. “They have a multiyear planning process, and so federal lands can be difficult. But one positive is that, when it’s material from federal lands, they can mandate in contracts that it get moved, but where really depends on market prices, and who has the money to do it. Usually, it’s that we’re trying to cover the cost of fuel in a power contract. The state is trying to subsidize it so we can reach farther into the forest, and in the cap-and-trade bill,

one of the things on the table is putting money in for biomass transport. I don’t know how the mechanism will be set up, but often people talk about BCAP—a way to supplement a sale that’s already going.� The new, much smaller facilities require less fuel, are strategically located near high-hazard zones, and don’t necessarily face the fuel-sourcing challenge that the larger, veteran plants do. But as Lottes mentions, they do have an Achilles’ heel— interconnection, and the accompanying cost. “Not even the PUC foresaw how high the interconnection costs would be,� she says.

Moving Along

For the 2-MW Mariposa Biomass Project, the interconnection process has been

$7+.&+0) 51.76+105






long, arduous and expensive. In late 2016, however, a rule rewrite by the California legislature, guided by the Tree Mortality Task Force, simplified the process, and allows projects to participate in the auction without the previously required interconnection down payment of 30 percent—a hefty chunk of change for a projected $2 million interconnect cost. Since the rule rewrite, the process has been moving along. Not expeditiously, but Stephen Stephen Smallcombe, chief technical officer for the project, says it has made a big difference. “It was a real killer—a $600,000 or so down payment you had to make a year or two before you had any revenue,� he says. “Right after that was done, we had three people in the queue. That’s huge. And then, the price [PPA] started to creep up.� Greg Stangl, president of Phoenix Energy, shares Smallcombe’s optimism about improving power prices. “They’re moving upward, and the group [task force] was really able to make some headway with the interconnection costs, which we feel are capricious and arbitrary,� he says. “We’ve done work in South Africa, Norway, Poland, Japan, and no other place has interconnection costs been what they are in California. But, in partnership with the utility, we’ve really been able to bring costs down. Not for everybody, and not equally, but when interconnection can be anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of the total project cost, saving those kinds of dollars is the difference between moving forward and not.� The Mariposa project has submitted its system impact study and expects it will be complete sometime in September. It will provide an estimate as to what interconnection costs will be, and why. “There have been some very productive discussions, good exchanges of information as to why it’s so expensive in some cases, and not so much in others,� Smallcombe says. “There are a lot of variables—how far away you are from the substation, for


example. “If you’re seven miles away, you under utility power lines, stuff that has to says. “When we started this, the tree morwill expect to spend a couple million on come out, and can’t just be cut down and tality crisis hadn’t happened yet—the game new wire. But if you’re right next door, left. If we can provide a biomass plant that was that you worked with the forest serthat expense is gone. If it’s an old, rural is 15 miles away and not 100, it makes it a vice, you got a stewardship agreement and you found a third-party that would substation that hasn’t been updated in a lot more viable.” The Mariposa project is working to execute this—they would go in and under while, that’s probably going to cost more than one that’s been updated recently. And contract large suppliers who will be re- forest service supervision, and thin trees. another one we’re learning about is how sponsible for ensuring the fuel is high- It might happen again one day if there is much your substation can affect the whole hazard. “When people ask the cost, it just funding, but right now, there’s not.” Stangl says the price of fuel is all over network—if you’re impacting the trans- depends,” Smallcombe says. “If you’re getmission system, you will have to pay to up- ting it off a mountainside and a long way the board. “I continue to be amazed by date some of the other substations. We’re to the road, forget it. Then it’s hundreds of the craziness of fuel prices in California,” he says. “In the same week, I have peohopeful we’re on the right side of all of dollars per bone dry ton.” Fuel brakes—easily accessible strips ple show up offering fuel at prices higher those variables, and that our SIS will come %LRPDVV 0DJD]LQH SDJH LVODQG & of land on which fuel density is reduced than I have ever seen before, and then also fairly reasonable.” Once Mariposa receives its SIS, for fire control—are a major source of people who pay us to take whole trees— which is performed by the utility, it will fuel in the area, Smallcombe adds. “One it’s puzzling. But part of what has caused be reviewed by project team engineers to fuel break being done right now would this is that first there was a substantial deanalyze—and, potentially challenge—con- supply us with nine months of fuel,” he crease in prices, then a massive snapback siderations. Another major milestone the project recently hit was submitting its use permit application to the Mariposa County Planning Department, part of which in3HOOHWL]LQJ cluded various cultural, biological, botanical, noise and traffic studies. &+3 Smallcombe and Stangl say that with rising prices, it’s likely a contract will be &HOOXORVLF struck soon. Once that happens, it takes (WKDQRO five projects in the que to get it moving 5HFHLYLQJ again, opposed to the initial three, and chances are that it could again take a while. 6L]LQJ On fuel, Smallcombe says most of &RQYH\LQJ Mariposa County is currently a high 6FUHHQLQJ hazard zone, and in fact, on July 18, Gov. 6HSDUDWLQJ Brown Jr. issued an emergency proclama 6WRUDJH tion for Mariposa County, due to the effects of the Detwiler Fire, which, as of &DOO IRU D late July at 98 percent contained, burned IUHH EURFKXUH over 80,000 acres, damaged utility infrastructure, threatened homes and prompted evacuations. “We’ll be getting our fuel right here—that’s not a problem for us,” Smallcombe says. “Right now, logging and chip trucks are hauling biomass to Fresno or Senora, where there are biomass plants—we’re talking 100 miles one way. Most of the fuel that we’re going to be using is stuff that has been removed from YHFRSODQOOF FRP around roads, around peoples’ houses,




when the old mainline plants got their new contracts—all of a sudden, these big guys have to come up with it to stay alive. So the pricing for that sort of shot back up.” The North Fork plant is sited in an area where logs are already being decked, and Stangl reiterates the importance of the new, localized plants under development. “They’re looking for places to put them [logs], because they have been unsuccessful in finding a way to use them,” Stangl says. “In the southern part of the state, which lost its power plant, there is nowhere for it to go. We could run a 24-MW plant, but we don’t know what the fuel situation will be 10 or 20 years from now, we don’t know what will grow back, or how many more fires we’ll have. That’s why BioRAM contracts are much shorter—and short-term

solution to this glut of fuel, a sort of a bridge to the BioMAT projects.” Lottes admits there have been many issues—one after another—getting BioMAT moving, but points out that it’s an entirely new generation system, and that, finally, the program is in a seemingly good position. “It does seem like we’re at a place where we might be able to say ‘this is it,’ and stop asking for help,” she says. And probably we’ll see some contracts coming up, so that’s a milestone for the program.” Stangl has mixed feelings on the process thus far, but remains optimistic about biomass energy and BioMAT. “All of this has created an incredible amount of political support for what we’re doing,” he says. “But it does not make it easier to work through the process with the utilities, and

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it doesn’t suddenly give the forest service, which has most of the wood, money to remove it. They have said it’s an emergency, but they haven’t acted consistent with that—all the goodwill in the world doesn’t build a bioenergy plant, a power purchase agreement does. We remain incredibly excited about the space and finally getting to the point of contracts issued, but moderately disappointed that it’s taken so long to get here.”

Author: Anna Simet Managing Editor, Biomass Magazine asimet@bbiinternational.com 701-738-4961

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FIRE AND ICE As temperatures fall and the demand for fuel increases, the challenges for biomass aggregators increase. Two industry veterans talk about what it takes to keep material moving, and fires burning. BY TIM PORTZ

BRINGING IN THE RESERVES: When loggers are kept out of the woods by soft, muddy ground stockpiles of whole round logs are chipped to satisfy customer orders. Before putting these logs into the chippers, operators shake and drop them to knock off snow and ice.


uilt into the parking lot of the National Life headquarters in Montpelier, Vermont, are two doors that slide open to reveal a deep bunker where the company receives biomass fuel deliveries, three or four times per week. During winter, the 2,000 employees who work at the facility are warmed by one of Vermont’s largest commercial biomass heating systems, one that, unless replenished with new biomass nearly every other day, will quickly consume all of its fuel and run cold.


Just over 100 miles to the southeast in Henniker, New Hampshire, is Cousineau Forest Products, the company responsible for delivering on-spec woody biomass to those two doors on time, without fail, regardless of what may occur. To complicate matters, no fuel can be delivered to the National Life headquarters between the hours of 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Even further, the route from Cousineau Forest Products to National Life requires trucks to climb and descend Hogback Mountain. On dry roads, the journey takes less than two hours. In winter,


when snow and ice regularly slow or threaten to halt traffic altogether, the journey can be harrowing. It is not uncommon for a delivery driver to stop at the base of Hogback Mountain and wrap chains on the wheels to make the climb. All of this happens against the backdrop of a delivery deadline of 7 a.m., when National Life’s parking lot will begin to fill with workers who expect their offices to be warm and comfortable. For Curt Richmond, general manager at Cousineau Forest Products, the difficult route to, and restrictive delivery schedule at

FROM COVERED TO COVERED: Driver John Trapp from Jewel Transport delivers a load to a customer for Cousineau Forest Products. To keep fuel from being contaminated with snow and ice, material is moved in walking floor trailers and delivered directly into covered, heated storage bunkers. PHOTO: COUSINEAU FOREST PRODUCTS

National Life are a part of a larger package of challenges that are the hallmark of woody biomass collection, handling, storage and delivery during Northeast winters. Cousineau Forest Products is one of five different family-owned businesses built upon a foundation of the region’s abundant wood supply. The company began as a single location sawmill in 1958; the biomass business unit was launched in 1996. Richmond has been acting as the general manager of the operation since it opened. Through 20 winters, Richmond and his small team have

developed a thorough understanding of the challenges and pitfalls associated with handling biomass in winter, mastering the practice keeping the material flowing, regardless of what the weather does. The biomass Richmond and his team receive, whether in round wood or chipped form, arrives between 40 and 45 percent moisture. Cousineau Forest Products’ job is to produce a material that is 30 to 35 percent moisture, screened to 2-inch-minus with no overs or fines. Each year, Richmond and his team receive, size and deliver over 1 million

tons of woody biomass, with the majority of the deliveries occurring during the winter months. Throughout most of the year, and certainly in winter, Cousineau Forest Products accomplishes this without the aid of any significant long-term storage. Accordingly, Richmond operates Cousineau Forest Products in a just-in-time environment. “I can’t screen this winter’s orders and then store it,” Richmond says. “I try to bring biomass in and use it quickly. I can handle 10 or 20 loads of raw product without



sticking it outside, and 10 or 20 loads of my processed product. For the most part, I’m always looking three days ahead.” Operating in a just-in-time environment helps Richmond and his team mitigate the challenges that come with snow and ice. If either enters Cousineau Forest Products’ production environment, the impact is felt relatively quickly. “Snow will mix with sawdust and plug screens up,” he says. Far better, Richmond notes, is to do every-

thing possible to keep snow and ice out of the production process altogether.

Managing Mud Season

Keeping snow and ice out of the production environment aren’t the only challenges that winter brings to Cousineau’s biomass business. Winter in the Northeast is bookended by two mud seasons, when wet conditions keep loggers out of the woods, bringing the production of woody

biomass to a halt. Wet season in the fall is typically four to five weeks, with a longer season, perhaps even eight weeks, in the spring. To meet its delivery obligations to its customers during those months, Cousineau relies upon reserves of woody material that it accumulates intentionally over the later spring and summer months. “We typically build an inventory of between 6,000 and 8,000 tons of roundwood during summer,” Richmond says. “By January, half of that is gone. Around that time, I start worrying about the spring mud season.” During these wet seasons, when the flow of biomass coming directly from the forests slows to a halt, Cousineau turns to these reserve inventories, and begins processing roundwood to meet their daily delivery commitments. Cousineau’s reserves, or roundwood, does not sit under any kind of permanent cover, and as a result, snow and ice often need to be removed from logs at the top of the stacks. “If we’re pulling logs shortly after a snowstorm, we might have six inches of snow or ice on some of our logs,” Richmond says. “If you stick that in the chipper, you’ll blow that snow into your chips. When you get snow or ice into your chippers, it’s going to stick to the sides. We have to go as far as shaking our logs, or dropping them onto the ground, to clear them of snow and ice before we process them.” Eventually, the fall mud season ends, and the ground in the forests freezes, permitting loggers to once again get into the woods to harvest material. The flow of fresh chips begins again, easing the pressure to satisfy orders by chipping stockpiled roundwood. Jamie Damman, a North Country Procurement partner who manages biomass inventories for larger biomass power facilities, echoes the relief felt by Richmond. “Logging is really best when there is frozen ground,” he says. “There is not a lot of dirt on the wood, and the loggers can really go.”

Minding the Piles

North Country Procurement differs from Cousineau both in how it does business financially, and the types of customers



it services. Rather than buy and later resell biomass to a roster of clients, North Country manages inbound biomass for a smaller roster of clients, predominantly large biomass power facilities, collecting a management fee to do so. North Country’s customers often maintain larger inventories of biomass onsite, typically storing it in outdoor piles adjacent to the power station. This arrangement offers some advantages, such as building up larger reserves of biomass inventory on-site, but new challenges are introduced, many specifically connected to the piles themselves. “One of our biggest challenges is pile management, or how piles change over time,” Damman says. “If you build a pile and check on it months later, it can be a surprise.” Damman explains that piles of woody biomass need to breathe and ventilate, or the material will degrade more quickly. He notes that fines tend to accelerate this deterioration. “Fines tend to settle into all of the little crevices within the interior of a pile, making it really difficult for a pile to breathe,” he says. “A crust of snow and ice on a pile just exacerbate this problem. The worst case scenario is that a pile gets so hot in the interior that it spontaneously combusts. Most of the pile fires I’ve witnessed have occurred in the winter months.” For Damman, the name of the game is keep the biomass moving, and avoid flat piles that, in a prolonged period of very cold temperatures, could freeze solid. “Get your loaders on top of your piles to break up any crust of ice that forms,” he says. “This keeps the air moving inside of the pile and allows your operators to access material that has not yet frozen.” While Cousineau and North Country Procurement may approach their business differently, their ultimate goals are the same, maintaining an unobstructed flow of biomass fuel to their customers’ boilers. The onset of winter makes this more critical and more difficult. The flow of material out of the forest is compromised, snow and ice contamination become an issue, and delivery routes are often slowed or altogether closed. All of these challenges are set

against a backdrop of peak demand. When winter is at its coldest, the call for biomass fuel is at its peak. To the credit of Cousineau Forest Products, North Country Procurement or other biomass aggregators, the schools, hospitals and businesses, including National Life, that rely on them are largely unaware of the massive challenges that are overcome to warm and power their operations.

For Richmond, this has become Cousineau Forest Products calling card. “I always tell prospective clients that no one’s fire has ever gone out on our watch.” Author: Tim Portz Executive Editor, Biomass Magazine 701-738-4969 tportz@bbiinternational.com


Global wood shredding activity is on the rise, and though a simple concept in essence, it can be a complex process.. PHOTO: UNTHA

Fuel Prep Technology: Speed vs Throughput Debate When procuring recycling and biomass fuel preparation technology for the future, should operators prioritize speed, or throughput? BY PETER STREINIK


t would be naïve to suggest that biomass fuel preparation facilities exist purely for environmental gain. Of course, their creation of a renewable energy source is strengthening our nations’ commitment to greater resource security. But unless the schemes are community-backed, operators will naturally seek to make a profit from their sites.

In the face of often-fluctuating market opportunities and revenue potential, one way to safeguard these profit levels is by trying to minimize the biomass production cost per ton. But how can the possible margin of the plant’s machinery be boosted? For some operators, this performancedriven mindset homes in on speed. After all, it is logical that the more wood a shredder

can handle, the greater the volume of biomass feedstock that can be produced. And, typically, volume output means increased revenue generation. But however simple the concept in essence, wood shredding is actually a far more complex process. Concentrating too much on speed and the inherent risks of the facility could rise as a consequence.

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).



The target speed for a wood shredder should be no higher than 60 rpm. Above this, the machine will generate a significant level of dust, which not only makes for a dirty process, it also poses a significant fire hazard. If a slower rotor speed is balanced with a high torque, the technology can maintain target throughputs of up to 40 metric tons per hour, whilst generating less dust and thus reducing the risk of a spark. In tackling this speed criteria, operators are often—albeit subconsciously—considering their throughput strategies at the same time. Capacity is not just governed by how many tons a shredder can process in a shift, for example. If the true capacity of a plant is measured in terms of output, there are other important factors at play such as particle homogeneity. The biomass market demands a fuel manufactured to a defined specification, for utmost energy value. Operators should strive to maximize the proportion of onspecification feedstock that they can manufacture, if they are to optimize their revenues. Dust-like, nonspecification material (fines) represents nothing but a cost. Studies have shown that high-speed wood shredders can produce up to 25 percent of fines, whereas with slower speed equivalents this figure will drop to as little as 5 percent. As a result, choosing the right machine can yield up to 20 percent more material per ton, reduce the disposal costs associated with nonbiomass specification outputs and protect the fire safety of the plant. Other fire safety mechanisms can uphold throughput levels too—not to mention the long-term integrity of the facility. If the shredder is manufactured with an in-built fire suppression system, with extinguishing nozzles and heat sensors located throughout the machine’s hopper, cutting chamber and discharge conveyor, for ex-

Choosing the right wood shredding machine can yield up to 20 percent more material per ton, reduce the disposal costs associated with nonbiomass specification outputs and protect the fire safety of the plant. PHOTO: UNTHA

ample, this will prevent hot, glowing or lit material from exiting the machine. Not only does this containment method significantly reduce the risk of fire, it also maintains the likelihood of a continuous shredding operation. Even a simple, daily plant cleansing regime can help in this respect. Of course, other seemingly simple modifications to a plant’s design can enhance its commercial viability. If the shredder has integrated foreign object protection, for example, the machine will automatically stop so that the problematic material can be extracted with ease, for minimal downtime. Additionally, if the wood can be shredded without the need for post treatment, such as a screen, this further streamlines the process and negates the need for additional capital expenditure. Furthermore, if the shredder is flexible and able to handle different input materials, to satisfy varied end-product requirements, the plant has a greater degree of operational versatility. This may provide much-needed commercial protection during periods of market volatility. Few organizations stand still now in terms of the wastes they produce, which means recyclers and alternative fuel producers need to adapt.

These speed vs. throughput considerations aside, what must categorically be prioritized above all else, is safety—no machinery should ever jeopardize the wellbeing of operatives and wider stakeholders. However, as is hopefully becoming apparent, in opting for safe processing equipment, biomass fuel producers do not have to sacrifice the performance criteria already outlined. On the contrary, thanks to technological innovation it is possible to improve safety, by design, without compromising a plant’s bottom line. Continued research, development and engineering is enabling biomass fuel preparation technologists and their customers to tread new boundaries when it comes to machinery performance. So, why not strive for optimum capacity and greater process security, too? Author: Peter Streinik Head of Business Unit Waste, UNTHA +43 6244 7016 65 www.untha.com



PERFECT FIT: Wastewater treatment plants are an ideal application for fuel blending systems. IMAGE: SIEMENS

Fuel Blending: Maximizing Benefits for Biogas Operations Cost-conscious energy asset managers should look to a natural gas blend to maximize market opportunities afforded by biogas.


s an organic process, biogas production is inherently variable, dependent not only on feedstock, but also on ambient conditions such as temperature. For energy asset owners who want to deliver dependable heat and power in commercial or industrial energy supply applications, this inherent variability potentially represents a significant challenge. One solution for spark ignition reciprocating engines is fuel blending, which effectively supplements and precisely matches the variations in biogas availability with additional natural gas. Maintaining a constant output from the engine, irrespective of variations in biogas availability, ensures consistent en-


ergy supply even if biogas production falls to zero. Ensuring constant energy availability from the gas engine can boost biogas production economics. For instance, consistent temperatures are required to optimize biogas production in commercial biomass digester applications. Falling temperatures within the digester require additional boilers to be ignited. In these instances, supplementing digester gas with natural gas to maintain the engine at full power may save money, and enable more flexible operation without having to fire additional boilers to heat the digester and ramp their output up or down.

Similarly, supplementing biogas with natural gas to keep the engine at full power and avoid sourcing electrical supplies from the grid may be an equally valid economic approach.

Maximizing Bioenergy Use, Operating Flexibly

The key benefit of a fuel-blending system is that it allows operators to maximize their bioenergy usage while maintaining consistent power output. Alternatively, asset owners may require maximum use of all the available biogas to produce an associated amount of energy. A fuel-blending system provides the flexibility to either match

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).


CONTRIBUTION¦ and follow the required load profile, or use the available biogas fuel to maximize the amount of energy they can produce. Key to this adaptability is the engine management system. Using an on-engine solution that is integrated into the engine controls and automates the fuel-blending process, Siemens has the ability to dynamically blend natural gas and biogas as a standard, factory-designed and supplied option for gas engines. This design avoids the use of an off-engine system, and the associated complexity and space that this type of system would require. This approach uses a twin gas-feed system on the engine, one for each fuel, which reduces the need for mechanical and control integration and saves space. Blending is then completed using a standard carburetor and intake, a common fuel/air delivery method for large, spark-ignition gas engines. The controls are incorporated into the gen-set and/or cogeneration management system, which allows the engine to react and adjust characteristics, such as ignition timing, in response to the changing fuels. The engine management system’s sophisticated mapping technology continuously extrapolates, constantly changing biogas and natural gas parameters. It does this to meet set performance criteria, and, moment-by-moment, automatically adjusts the amount of each fuel introduced into the combustion chamber to deliver the correct yield rate, as determined by the user. Proprietary valve technology ensures fuel supplies are maintained from zero to 100 percent of either fuel. In addition, although the supplied fuels must be within certain broad parameters and standards, the system is able to cope with some natural variation in the quality of biogas. Different kinds of biomass entering the digester might result in biogas of different qualities. By dialing in preset outputs, the fuel blending system is able to accommodate some variation in the energy value in the fuel. From an end-user perspective, the system will automatically call for a blend of the available fuels to achieve certain preset goals, depending on the parameters programmed into the system, seamlessly delivering the energy required without user input. From a control perspective, the system offers the end user limitless control options.

The graph illustrates how the power (green) and emissions (purple) remain stable, while the fuel ratio changes from 0 to 100 (turquois). IMAGE: SIEMENS

The mix ratio can be controlled directly by using the customer’s own algorithm and a programmable logic controller, or by Siemens’ control logic to provide either poweroptimized or fuel-optimized operation, or another desired mode. One unique characteristic of this solution is the ability to seamlessly switch from 100 percent of one fuel to 100 percent of another or any combination in between, while maintaining 100 percent power output.

Fuel Flexibility: Business Agility

The fuel-blending system was developed for Siemens SGE-SL (SFGLD) and SGE-HM (HGM) engines with outputs from 250 to 1067 kWe and 520 to 1350 kWe, respectively, running at 1,200 rpm, 1,500 rpm and 1,800 rpm. These engine platforms are fuel-flexible and robust, as it was originally developed for use with more challenging fuels. It is manufactured by Siemens’ engine business at the Zumaia Operations Center in Spain. The system is capable of starting the engine on either fuel, and can then rapidly transition to any combination of fuel mix, from zero to 100 percent of either. However, the system is able to achieve this while maintaining the as-designed emission levels and engine performance, in terms of ef-

ficiency and energy output. For example, NOx levels are consistently low across all operational modes, while power delivery can be maintained at maximum levels. Service intervals are also unchanged from a standard biogas-fueled unit. Maintaining the predictability and the consistency of the engine performance, while being able to blend two fuels, increases user flexibility in engine operation and optimization. This allows the engine to operate independently of any restriction that may apply to the primary fuel. Fuel blending serves as a complementary system, and offers end users a means to manage their operations more effectively, and react to changing conditions at the site, irrespective of fuel production and the economic environment. Ultimately, fuel blending allows users to capitalize on the use of biogas and maximize its use and value in today’s competitive and environmentally sensitive energy market. Author: Eva Garmendia Product Line Manager, Siemens Engine Business www.siemens.com eva.garmendia@siemens.com


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