Our Ever-Present Danger

As the biomass and wood pellet industries grow, so too must our commitment to better understand and manage combustible dust hazards.
By Tim Portz | July 11, 2017

After a relatively quiet year regarding fires and explosions, our team learned of three separate incidents while producing this issue of Biomass Magazine, which, a year ago, we decided would focus largely on dust management and fire detection and suppression. One, a tragic incident at a Wisconsin corn-milling facility, claimed three lives. The explosion occurred between two interviews I conducted with Guy Colonna, a division director at the National Fire Protection Association. I interviewed Colonna to better understand the motivations behind, and the development of, NFPA Standard 652 (Standard on the Fundamentals of Combustible Dust). While the explosion in Wisconsin fell outside the purview of my page-30 story, it added a certain gravity to our conversations. For Colonna, that tragedy underscored the vital importance of what the NFPA was trying to accomplish when it moved to develop the comprehensive, all-things-dust standard, beginning in 2014.

During my interviews with Colonna, I learned how the NFPA engages a broad committee of stakeholders for the development and maintenance of each of its roughly 300 standards. Colonna shared with me that each committee member brings with them their own motivations for volunteering their time. In some instances, committee members are representatives from insurance companies, who know full well the financial cost of a fire or explosion. Others are representatives from detection, suppression or deflagration technology providers who use the standard development process as a means of sense-checking the relevance of their own products and services. Finally, there are committee members who have felt the impact of a fire or explosion event in a very personal way, and have vowed to do everything they can to ensure that their industry colleagues never have to experience a loss-of-life event firsthand.

As our industry grows, so too must our commitment to better understand and manage combustible dust hazards. Ron Kotrba’s page-24 story on Dong Energy’s efforts to eliminate coal from its generation portfolio, “Changing of the Guard: Coal-Free by 2023,” finds the utility amending its dust management protocols at its converted facilities to account for the different challenge presented by wood dust. Of course, this risk is not limited to the boundaries of Dong’s recently converted stations. Increased biomass consumption will bring increased throughput across the sector, and the industry’s job now is to decouple this increased production from risk. Simply and solemnly put, our lives depend upon it.

Author: Tim Portz
Vice President of Content  & Executive Editor