All in the Same Boat

The theme of the July/August edition of Pellet Mill Magazine is focused on plant safety—fire and explosion protection, and dust management.
By Anna Simet | August 01, 2019

Last month, I had the pleasure of taking a quick trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania, to the annual Pellet Fuels Institute conference. Not only was I presented with chocolate at every turn, but I walked away from the event with new ideas, knowledge and much enthusiasm for our (relatively) small but growing industry. You can read a summary of what I learned on page 12, in our event review “A Rising Tide Lifts all Boats.” I drew the title from comments made by Charlie Niebling, a wood pellet industry veteran and former general manager of New England Wood Pellet. Several times during the conference, Niebling emphasized how essential it is to work together and be transparent when it comes to sharing information that will benefit the industry as a whole, one example being (uninflated) production capacity numbers. While both Pellet Mill Magazine and the U.S. EIA tracks this data to share with the industry, we occasionally run into skepticism and frustration from some producers who believe the numbers being reported are inaccurate. Neibling also underscored the value in working with other renewable heating groups trying to convince our officials on Capitol Hill that our industry is deserving of an even playing field with other energy sources. We have a common goal, so why not be stronger and louder together?

This mantra of being in it together is just as true when it comes to the theme of this edition, which is focused on plant safety—fire and explosion protection, and dust management. In my decade-plus stint at this magazine, I have heard many times that the impact of one bad incident can spread far beyond that one plant.

Early in this issue, you’ll find some tips on conducting a dust hazard analysis (DHA), a column written by Brian Edwards of Conversion Technology. Not only are DHAs incredibly valuable when it comes to understanding and correcting the risks at your unique facility but, by September 2020, all pellet plants will have to have one done. The time to think about it is now.

And perhaps a lesser-discussed but relevant topic, in his page-18 feature “The High Cost of Low-Grade Grease,” Senior Editor Ron Kotrba discusses the benefits and risks of using higher- and lower-grade greases. In regard to how that relates to safety or incidents, bearing failures—often preventable ignition sources at pellet mills—are typically caused by breakdown of the grease.

Though there is much more in these pages, the final story I will highlight is “Safety Front and Center,” on page 26, authored by Gordon Murray, executive director of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada. Murray heads up WPAC’s Safety Committee, and in the piece outlines the committee’s most pressing safety objectives. If you visit the committee’s website, you’ll see a member responsibility bullet point that drives home the basis of this column—“…be aware that each company’s individual safety performance reflects on the reputation of the entire industry.”

In other words, we’re all in the same boat.

Author: Anna Simet