News | April 2019

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Biomass Power: EPA Leaving Out Producers

Biomass power producers continue to appeal to the Environmental Protection Agency for inclusion in the Renewable Fuel Standard program, which started up in 2005 and was expanded in 2007. The program was originally geared to requiring increasing volumes of renewable fuel to replace oil-based fuel. However, biomass power producers say that ensuing rules have also recognized electricity generated from biomass feedstock as renewable transportation and thus should be eligible to receive incentive credits called RINs (Renewable Identification Number). But biomass producers say the government has not credited a single RIN to biomass power producers, who say that the continuing growth of electric vehicles lends credence to the importance of biomass power generation toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the purpose of RFS to begin with.

Some discussion suggests that EPA may have backed off because of issues with supply chain verification—that it’s too difficult to verify which biomass electricity is contributing to renewable fuel. However biomass power producers say, at least in the case of electric vehicles, that proportional tabulations could be used whereby all power producers “split the pot” based on annual power consumption of electric vehicles, and EPA would give out RINs on a fractional basis, including to biomass-based power producers.

Given the expected growth of the electric vehicle industry, an EPA-recognized incentives program would be a major boost for the biomass power producer industry that has struggled against natural gas cost efficiency.

Biomass Power Assn. has suggested that not only should EPA implement the program for biomass power producers, but that EPA is negligent for not having done so yet.

Several biomass power producers have written letters to EPA, including Brad Worsley, president and CEO of Novo Power, in Snowflake, Ariz., which has been featured in the pages of Wood Bioenegy. Worsley has also spoken at the Wood Bioenergy Conference & Expo hosted by Wood Bioenergy magazine.

Contacted by Wood Bioenergy, Worsley comments that a RIN is a credit that Novo Power would generate based on kWh that are translated to gasoline gallon equivalents that the EPA uses to measure fuel in the RFS program. “Under the RFS,” Worsley states, “obligated parties like refiners are required to either blend their fuel with renewable fuel or purchase RINs that companies like Novo Power generate. The value of that credit depends on a few factors, including the targeted amount of fuel in the D3 category that the EPA sets each year for the following year in what is known as the Renewable Volume Obligation (RVO). So if Novo Power is able to participate in the program we would register with the government to generate RINs and then receive payment based on output.” 

Aemetis Advances On Ethanol Facility

Aemetis, Inc.  reports that the USDA has issued a Conditional Commitment under the 9003 Biorefinery Assistance Program to guarantee a $125 million, 20-year loan to the Aemetis cellulosic ethanol plant to be built in Riverbank, Calif.  The Riverbank plant is designed to convert orchard, forest and other biomass waste into cellulosic ethanol with below zero carbon emissions.

Following Phase I approval for a loan guarantee from the USDA in late 2016, Aemetis invested more than $10 million to build and operate an integrated demonstration plant, obtained an independent engineering review, secured the Riverbank site, signed an ethanol offtake agreement, entered into a 20-year fixed-price feedstock supply agreement, completed preliminary engineering, and obtained necessary environmental approvals in order to complete the requirements for the issuance of the USDA Conditional Commitment.

“The Aemetis Riverbank project is needed to meet the mandates set forth in the federal Renewable Fuel Standard and California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard to improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, expand domestic employment, reduce dependence on imported crude oil and attract investment into U.S. industrial projects,” says Eric McAfee, Chairman and CEO of Aemetis. “This USDA loan guarantee supports the conversion of waste orchard, forest and other biomass in California into clean, low carbon biofuels, launching the first phase of four Aemetis cellulosic biofuels plants planned in the Central Valley.”

The Conditional Commitment of the $125 million USDA loan guarantee is in addition to the recently granted $12 million California state tax waiver and the $5 million California Energy Commission Notice of Proposed Award for the Riverbank project. Preliminary engineering has been completed and construction of the Riverbank plant is expected to begin in mid-2019.

 Headquartered in Cupertino, Calif., Aemetis is an advanced renewable fuels and biochemicals company focused on the acquisition, development and commercialization of innovative technologies that replace traditional petroleum-based products by the conversion of ethanol and biodiesel plants into advanced biorefineries. Founded in 2006, Aemetis owns and operates a 60 million gallon per year ethanol production facility in California’s Central Valley, near Modesto. Aemetis also owns and operates a 50 million gallon per year renewable chemical and advanced fuel production facility on the East Coast of India producing high quality distilled biodiesel and refined glycerin for customers in India, the U.S. and Europe.

Pacific BioEnergy Buys Skeena Pellets Outputs

Skeena Sawmills Ltd. and Pacific BioEnergy Corp. (PacBio) have entered into a long-term off-take agreement for wood pellets. PacBio will purchase all of the pellets produced at Skeena Sawmills’ new pellet plant in support of PacBio’s long-term supply agreements with power producers in Japan. Skeena’s pellet plant is built adjacent its sawmill in Terrace, British Columbia and is commencing production.

“Skeena’s pellet plant provides a critical outlet for residual fiber from the sawmill and builds on our commitment to maximizing value from the forest resource and generating local jobs from local logs in Northwestern British Columbia,” comments Rick Harris, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Skeena Sawmills. “Our $20 million investment to build a pellet plant, combined with this long-term strategic partnership with PacBio to serve international markets for bioenergy, supports the sustainability of both our business model and the regional forest economy.”

Previously Pacific BioEnergy announced it has entered into two new long-term pellet supply contracts with Japanese power producers. Commencing in 2020 and 2022, respectively, PacBio will be supplying a combined 170,000 tonnes per year by 2022.

In July 2017 Sumitomo Corp. of Japan acquired a 48% equity interest in PBEC. Sumitomo owns several power generation plants in Japan and has been importing wood pellets for power generation since 2008.

Oregon State Study Will Focus On Fire

On the heels of Oregon’s most expensive wildfire season ever in 2018, researchers at Oregon State University are ramping up efforts to better predict how the blazes behave, including how they generate fire-spreading embers.

A team led by David Blunck of OSU’s College of Engineering has been chosen by the U.S. Dept. of Defense to spearhead a new $2.1 million effort to study the burning of live fuels. OSU will partner with the U.S. Forest Service on a four-year grant awarded through the DOD’s Strategic Environmental Research Development Program (SERDP).

“The DOD is interested in this because they have a lot of land, and it burns,” says Blunck, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “Live fuels are basically trees that are green and living. These trees are often what torches, but historically, dead fuels have primarily been studied.”

The work will be built around the theory that there are likely just a handful of factors—such as pyrolysis, the decomposition that results from high temperatures, and the products of that decomposition—that cause differences in burning behavior when live fuels burn.

“Most live fuel studies tend to be fuel specific, controlling for variation in burning behavior based on time of year and moisture content, but with those results, it’s hard to know how new fuels will burn, or even how the same fuel will burn outside the conditions that have been studied,” Blunck says. “So it’s really better to understand what’s driving the sensitivity when you have different fuels. Our theory is that it’s just a few processes that cause the differences when you burn different live fuels, and if we can understand what they are, we can better predict how new species would burn.”

The group display that the North Rhine-Westphalia Forestry Service is staging in one of the pavilions beneath EXPO canopy will explore innovations for sustainable forest management and focus on the further development and digital integration of work processes across the entire primary wood industry value chain. The main topic highlights include resource efficiency in the use of forestry machines and the development of new digital training systems for operators of forestry machinery.

The research will provide Dept. of Defense managers with fire models that can predict ignition, burning rate and fuel consumption for mixtures of live and dead fuels, allowing them to more effectively plan prescribed burning as well as wildfire responses. It will involve a mix of lab work, modeling and field studies.

In recent months, Blunck’s group has examined the burning behavior of more than 100 trees representing four different species—Douglas fir, grand fir, western juniper and ponderosa pine—in the range of 10 to 15 feet tall.

“That height is not very large for a forest perspective, but for testing for wildfire purposes this is typically not done, and never for the number of trees that we have burned,” he says.

“With trees that are about 10 feet tall, we can bridge the scales between the laboratory and prescribed burns. We can look at many species and start to vary the parameters we think are important.”

In addition, last December Blunck and other researchers studied the effect of fire retardant on ember generation and found that under some conditions, trees coated in the retardant sent off fewer embers that contained enough energy to start a new fire. This effort was in partnership with an industry sponsor, P N Solutions.

Techniques for studying embers include infrared videography, collecting embers in trays of water and measuring scorch marks on squares of fire-resistant fabric placed on the ground at varying distances from the fire. 

The state in 2018 saw 1,880 fires burn 1,322 square miles—more land area than the state of Rhode Island.

Article written by Steve Lundeberg. E-mail him at [email protected]

Korea's Hanwha Orders Pellet Plant

At the beginning of 2019 IMAL PAL Group signed on to an important project with Korea’s Hanwha for a new pellet plant in South Korea of 40 t/h capacity, a production of approximately 320,000 t/year.

PAL will supply the following machinery and systems (manufactured in Italy):

—screening and cleaning system of the chips feeding stream by Dynascreen and dry cleaning machines;

—wet and dry wood milling system including hammermills of the Falcon type in its high-performance configuration, complete with screw metering, metal and contaminant removing system through magnetic drum and air selection system;

—after the dryer a screening and cleaning system (Superscreen and Wind Sifter) provides for the reduction of energy consumption in the milling area and at the same time ensures the wood quality having removed all residual contaminants in the wood mix. This important implementation will not only guarantee the pellet quality but also avoid the risks of fire and explosion thanks to the removal of all contaminants that would cause ignition during the milling phase;

—a storage silo equipped with the Extracon type extractor for the storage of dry wood after the dryer;

—eight Volumetric metering systems equipped with DB.4 type screws;

—seven Dynapelletpresses high-performance pelletizing presses fab­ricated by the PSP division which ensures longer wear life as well as a lower energy consumption per ton output.

Delivery is scheduled for this October.

Drax Carbon Capture Project Steps Up

The Drax bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) demonstration plant at the power station near Selby in North Yorkshire, UK, is using technology developed by C-Capture to capture a tonne of CO2 a day during the pilot operation. It is the first time carbon dioxide has been captured from the combustion of a 100% biomass feedstock anywhere in the world.

If the pilot can be scaled up to deliver negative emissions, Drax Power Station would be helping to remove the gases that cause global warming from the atmosphere at the same time as electricity is produced.

Engineers began commissioning the pilot plant in November with the first carbon now being captured, proving that the proprietary solvent developed by C-Capture can be used to isolate the carbon dioxide from the flue gases released when biomass is used to generate electricity.

Data being obtained about the CO2 capture process will continue to be analyzed throughout the pilot to fully understand the potential of the technology and how it could be scaled up at Drax. Part of this will include identifying and developing ways to store and use the carbon dioxide being captured.

Drax has invested £400,000 in the pilot, which could be the first of several projects undertaken at the power station.

The Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering have estimated that BECCS could enable Drax to capture 50 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2050—approximately half the nation’s emissions target.

Chris Rayner, founder of C-Capture and Professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of Leeds, comments: “This represents a major milestone on the road to achieving negative emissions through BECCS, which is going to be so important in the future. To see our technology working in a real environment like Drax is a tribute to the fantastic team of chemists and engineers who work on the project.”

Caspar Schoolderman, Director of Engineering at C-Capture, adds: “Working at this scale is really where the engineering gets interesting. The challenge now is to get all the information we need to design and build a capture plant 10,000 times bigger. It’s only really when we get to those sorts of scales that we can start to have an impact on the climate.”

• Meanwhile Drax reported several highlights for 2018:

—successful low cost conversion of its fourth biomass unit in the UK;

—its third U.S. pellet plant, LaSalle Bioenergy, was commissioned, is fully operational and is showing a 10% reduction in cost per tonne;

—the company’s pellet facilities produced 1.31 million tonnes in 2018, an increase of 64% over 2017.

New Pinnacle Facility Has Fire Setback

On February 11 Pinnacle suspended operations at its new Entwistle, Alberta wood pellet facility due to a fire and explosion that occurred at the dryer area. One employee went to the hospital and several employees sustained minor injuries.

“The company’s priority is to look after its employees. The company is investigating the cause of the incident and working with its insurers, suppliers and contractors to evaluate the damage and develop a plan to restart the dryer area,” according to a statement.

The rest of the facility sustained little damage and Pinnacle planned to resume production in March from dry fiber. 

Prior to the incident, the company was successfully ramping up the facility. The storage silo is fully operational and unit train delivery service commenced in Q4 2018. Fiber processing was improving and daily production rates were meeting the company’s previously established ramp-up curve.

 

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