Froling Energy awaits funding to begin facility expansion plans

By Katie Fletcher | January 25, 2016

Late last year, Froling Energy responded to a request for proposals (RFP) from the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission in the hopes of receiving funding to expand and automate its precision wood chip (PDC) manufacturing facility in Peterborough, New Hampshire. The company expects to hear back within the next few weeks so it can begin implementing its plans no later than March.

The RFP issued by New Hampshire’s PUC closed Nov. 13, and those who are selected for the RFP will receive a grant for their renewable energy generation project in the commercial and industrial (non-residential) sector. In the RFP it states, the PUC seeks to increase the supply of New Hampshire certified Renewable Energy Certificates. This RFP seeks project proposals which will increase the supply of RECs from thermal renewable energy. Froling Energy hopes to receive a portion of the $750,000 available for distribution in this particular round.

Jim Van Valkenburgh, vice president of sales and marketing at Froling Energy, said the project will not only be able to generate RECs itself, but, once complete, multiply the availability of RECs. “We will be offering this fuel to our customers and new customers in larger quantities, so they’ll be able to generate RECs themselves,” he said.

Froling Energy has been running a small plant in Peterborough since August of 2014, producing precision dry chips for its customers, or what it refers to as PDCs. “We wanted to ensure our boiler customers a steady supply of chips that will burn well in their boilers,” Van Valkenburgh said. “The boilers that burn PDCs can also burn wood pellets, but we’ve installed them with heavier augers and sweeper arm bins to be able to facilitate the use of the PDCs.” He adds that pellets and PDCs can be cofired in the boilers with some reprogramming.

Van Valkenburgh said the company’s typical customer for its PDC fuel is someone who is burning oil in the range of 20,000 to 30,000 gallons per year or more, smaller than that it’s hard to justify the cost of the fuel and needed infrastructure. Froling Energy currently has three projects its serving with its PDC biomass fuel. One customer is Xylogen’s thermal system at High Mowing School in Wilton, New Hampshire. PDCs are also delivered to Whelen Engineering’s manufacturing building in Charlestown. The combined dry wood chip and wood pellet installation at Whelen utilizes, in total, eight Froling TX Model 150 biomass boilers with a 4,000 gallon buffer tank in two boiler rooms. Each boiler has an output of 500,000 Btu, and the installation includes interior storage bins with capacities of 144 tons of pellets or 250 tons of dry wood chips. A third PDC customer is Stevens High School in Claremont. The large school building was built in the 1920s and has had many additions over the years. Van Valkenburgh said the school just underwent a major renovation where many energy issues were addressed from insulation to the installation of new biomass boilers to replace the school’s old oil boilers. The improvements have dropped heating energy consumption by 30 percent. The use of PDCs are still less costly than fuel oil even at the most recent price lows for fuel oil, Van Valkenburgh said. “It’s an in-between fuel,” he said. “It’s 25 percent less costly than what pellets are on an ongoing fuel cost basis. The other thing is that it’s a much less costly infrastructure for a client to purchase compared to green chips.”

Van Valkenburgh said there is an increasing market for the fuel, but Froling Energy plans to sell to its own customers for the foreseeable future. “It’s a chicken and egg thing—who has the fuel, who has the boilers, back and forth—we’re fostering this for ourselves,” he said. Van Valkenburgh adds that the company anticipates a few customers coming on in the next year, but expects a slow growth pattern due to certain limitations.

Even so, the company hopes to increase its PDC production in the next year or so, eventually changing over from a furnace to a boiler system and implementing a belt-driven dryer system. The facility currently produces just around 2,000 tons of PDCs per year, and at the maximum capacity the plant is now arranged to produce 3,000 tons. “We see that being exceeded next winter,” Van Valkenburgh said. “We are busy making this change of the facility to do a continuous-feed operation instead of the batch method of drying.”

Trucks deliver green wood chips to the plant, which are then processed down to a size not much bigger than an old-fashioned matchbook, according to Van Valkenburgh. All the chips delivered to the facility are screened and re-chipped to the right size. These chips are currently processed in a batch furnace which takes around 48 hours to get to the desired 25 to 30 percent moisture content. Froling Energy hopes the grant from the New Hampshire PUC will assist the company in converting this batch process to a continuous-feed method of drying. Van Valkenburgh said without the funding it will be difficult to proceed. He hopes they can begin construction by March and complete the upgrades by June of next year.