Hard to Handle

If someone were to design an energy input with the sole aim of creating the most difficult material handling challenge imaginable, they would likely end up with something that looks very much like biomass.
By Tim Portz | September 01, 2014

If someone were to design an energy input with the sole aim of creating the most difficult material handling challenge imaginable, they would likely end up with something that looks very much like biomass. Often the byproduct of other industrial processes, biomass arrives at conversion facilities as whole logs, chips, grass clippings, unsorted municipal solid waste, packaged produce and liquid manure. Add to that the propensity biomass has for attracting moisture, producing dust, freezing, bridging and deteriorating, and if you don’t have the most challenging energy input to handle, then you’ve certainly got a front-runner.


Fortunately, the biomass conversion industry is supported by a comprehensive material handling sector dedicated to making the handling and eventual conversion of even the peskiest feedstocks practical. This issue of Biomass Magazine takes a comprehensive look at the array of screens, sifters, air knifes, Eddy current machines, shredders, reshredders, conveyors, hoppers, day bins, and storage domes that project engineers piece together to make a multitude of biomass streams viable as energy inputs.


The enormity of this ongoing challenge is well articulated in Katie Fletcher’s page 42-feature “Balancing Digester Diets.” In the story, Bryan Heiss, plant manager at Novi Energy’s Fremont Community Digester, reports that the facility is capable of receiving nearly 100 different types of feedstock including brewing waste, spoiled baby food, fast food waste and manure streams. This feedstock flexibility is central to the value the facility brings to the surrounding community, but this increase in value correlates with an increase in the complexity of the material handling solution.


Another challenge that emerges within this month’s stories is the variety of conditions in which biomass to energy facilities are deployed. Large biomass power facilities require vast quantities of biomass to operate, but typically have the luxury of adequate space to site the requisite woodyard and material handling infrastructure. But what about smaller facilities like hospitals, colleges and county courthouses that are increasingly turning to biomass to deliver facility heat loads? For a transition to biomass to be approved and funded, project engineers must figure out how to store, handle and move biomass without creating dust, while often working with less than a thousand square feet.


So far, at every turn and with every new feedstock challenge, this industry’s material handling experts have delivered cost-effective solutions that have kept biomass deployment moving steadily forward.