The Wide Umbrella of Bioenergy

The versatility and wide umbrella of biomass fuel and technologies are some of my favorite things about the industry.
By Anna Simet | January 09, 2020

If a journalist chases a story long enough, they’ll probably get it. It’s just a matter of wearing down the person who keeps kicking the can down the road. That’s the case for a story I have been after for a while, and I’m thrilled it’s in our project design, engineering and construction issue.

On page 16, you’ll find the feature I wrote on the first commercial-scale torrefaction plant to be built in the U.S., “Shouldering Risk for Forest Restoration.” I was thrilled to chat with Restoration Fuels CEO Matt Krumenauer and plant manager Joe Koerner about the project in John Day, Oregon, construction of which has been underway for about six months. I have been interested in the story for quite some time now, but Krumenauer and the development team wanted to wait until the project was further down the road to do an interview like this one—and that’s understandable. So often in this industry, preliminary hype ends up being for nothing. That’s not to say all failed projects are fluff—it’s very difficult to put together all the pieces of a bioenergy project puzzle. And even then, a whole new challenge begins—producing a consistent, quality and cost-efficient end product. That said, Restoration Fuels has been very transparent in everything it has been doing, just much quieter than your average developer of something totally new. The company was fortunate to have the resources to build without an end customer (yet), which relieves some pressure, allowing the team to really focus on optimizing operations and product quality, rather than churning it out and beating the clock to meet a looming customer contract.     

More on development and construction, Biomass Magazine freelance writer Matt Merritt’s feature, “Northern Ambition,” on page 32, discusses the steady growth of Canada’s wood pellet industry, along with strategy and drivers. Gordon Murray, Wood Pellet Association of Canada’s executive director, says there is a combination of things driving the consistent development of several new plants each year, most having an average capacity ranging from 100,000 to 300,000 metric tons. A lot of it is the desire to make use of residual products, he says. “And then they’re just looking at the opportunities in Europe and being able to fill that … companies in western Canada have their eyes on Asia. Japan is probably the most appealing market, just because of the way they do business there.”

Speaking of Japan and Asia, on page 48, you’ll find a report, written by Rachael Levinson, biomass research manager at Hawkins Wright, which details palm kernel shells’ (PKS) potential and its likely role in Asian utilities’ growing appetite for wood pellets. As Levinson points out, many Japanese biomass power projects under development and operating have circulating fluidized bed boilers, which allow for some flexibility in the biomass fuels they can use. The abundant supply and relatively low cost of PKS in Southeast Asia has made it an attractive fuel to those power plants. Use of PKS does not come without challenges, however, one being some recent changes to Japan’s feed-in tariff sustainability criteria, and how PKS must be certified.

Playing on the engineering angle of this month’s theme, the final story I will touch on is “Commercial and Institutional Biomass Projects: Dos and Don’ts,” by Viessmann’s Bede Wellford, whose advice is based on decades of experience. In the article, he walks readers through the development path, making recommendations and highlighting important factors to consider—everything from fuel, to sizing to hiring contractors. And, he offers an interesting twist at the end that I’ll let you discover.

There’s a much more to read in this issue, and I hope you enjoy the variety of articles we’ve included. The versatility and wide umbrella of biomass fuel and technologies are some of my favorite things about the industry.

Author: Anna Simet