Heart of the Process

Feedstock can make or break an operation—whether it is too far a distance to be economical, insufficient quality, too wet or dirty, or inconsistently fed into the system.
By Anna Simet | April 10, 2019

When the team at Biomass Magazine was deciding which stories we would pursue for this fiber-focused issue, any single one of these topics—sourcing, storing, sizing, drying, handling and more—has enough influence on pellet manufacturing to serve as a lone feature topic. However, we were able to cover many of these angles in just a few stories, as many of them are highly correlated and have ripple effects on the next preparation step.

For example, for my page-12 feature, “The Value of Experience,” I spoke with several industry experts about a range of topics surrounding pellet plant development. In each instance, the conversation navigated toward fiber. I asked questions about siting facilities, plant design, assembling a team, operations challenges and more, and it all boiled down to really having an in-depth understanding of forestry and fiber characteristics—not only how these characteristics impact each component of pellet production, but also how they change during the  process and influence pellet quality. As wood pellet industry veteran Les Otten told me, “Some assume that any fiber will do, that during the process it will straighten itself out, but it’s not the case. If it’s garbage in, it’s garbage out.” I also visited with Mid-South Engineering’s Scott Stamey and Evergreen Engineering’s Justin Price, who went into detail about how important it is to send a consistent “recipe” of fiber into the process, particularly when it comes to size and moisture content.

Also in this edition, you’ll find our page-18 feature, “A New Wave of Drying Techniques,” by staff writer Patrick C. Miller, which focuses on cutting-edge drying technologies in development around the world. Drying can have a significant impact on plant efficiency, and while these technologies are new and not in widespread use, they very well may be in the future. Developers are eager to get to that point.  “We are open and ready for any cooperation with industry,” says Siegfried Egner of Fraunhofer IGB, which headed up SteamBio, a recently completed project that uses super-heated steam to dry fiber.

There is plenty more in this issue, but what’s clear in the wake of reading all of these stories is that feedstock can make or break an operation—whether it is too far a distance to be economical, insufficient quality, too wet or dirty,  or inconsistently fed into the system. Excluding expertise drawn from many years of work in the wood pellet industry, it’s truly the heart of the process. 

Author: Anna Simet