Innovation Yields Evolution

Biomass is a unique, widely varying fuel that offers different complexities depending on type and intended use.
By Anna Simet | January 03, 2019

One of the stories I chose for this month’s theme of “Plant O&M, Efficiency and Innovation,” is a little unconventional compared to other stories we have done in the past. I even tagged it as a policy story, but I think it's still very relevant, as each of these theme components yields the next in line—i.e., sufficient O&M leads to efficiency, strides in efficiency and related technology equates to innovation, and finally, innovation yields evolution. This is where I went in my page-10 feature, “A Rightful Place in the RFS,” as the program has advanced over the years, and—soon, hopefully—will  be a catalyst for exciting evolution in the biomass power sector.

This topic of biomass-based electricity renewable identification numbers (eRINs) has been on our radar for quite some time, but this is the first instance we have dug way into the details. Carrie Annand, vice president of the Biomass Power Association, spoke about it on stage at the International Biomass Conference & Expo in April, and at the time, I think the concept was just beginning to gain momentum. Now, it’s a pressing topic. A complicated matter indeed, but in just a few words, biomass electricity producers who meet set criteria are eligible to earn eRINs under the Renewable Fuel Standard. The problem is that the EPA has not yet acted on a growing pile of pathway approval applications, and when it finally will is anyone’s guess. Bob Cleaves, president of the BPA, said this could be a game-changer for the industry, especially plants that are struggling to compete with cheap fossil fuels and other subsidized forms of energy, but he emphasized that the industry needs to work closely with the agency to help devise solutions to challenges with implementing eRINs, such as fraud and double counting prevention.

On top of these two features, on page 16, you’ll find “High-Tech Inspections,” by staff writer Patrick C. Miller, detailing some exciting innovation in plant O&M and inspections, through the use of drones and robotics. These technologies have numerous potential benefits, particularly cutting down drastically on man-hours needed during inspections and outages.

Also in this issue, we have included contributions detailing strategic maintenance and downtime prevention—one on corrosion management in anaerobic digestion and sludge tanks, and another discussing potential issues with refractory linings in boilers and heaters when switching to biomass.

Biomass is a unique, widely varying fuel that offers different complexities depending on type and intended use. It was challenging to narrow this month’s theme down to just a handful of stories, but we’re confident you’ll draw some value from them.