Savings and revenue opportunities in gasifying waste bark

By Lisa Gibson | April 20, 2011

Waste bark is a standard component of many wood production processes, and gasifying it would not only reduce disposal issues, but would come with monetary savings and even potential revenue.

Pro-Environmental Inc., a California-based air pollution control equipment supplier, is conducting tests to prove that at a research and development facility, hoping to eventually install a pilot plant at an oriented strand board (OSB) producer. The pilot plant has been held up, however, because of economic hardships that have hit most wood production facilities, according to Robert Cox, eastern regional manager for Pro-Environmental Inc. “It has decent payback, but it costs a couple million dollars for the pilot installation,” he said. Even so, a number of the firm’s customers are interested in such an experiment.

Until a pilot can be installed on-site, Pro-Environmental has been testing bark and other biomass in gasifiers at a Gleason, Tenn., commercial brick kiln facility that also has been hit by the recession and the slump in the housing market. The plant has two kiln lines that utilize gasifiers, but has only one in operation for the next five years or so, Cox said. So the company has established the other half of its facility as a research and development location, of which Pro-Environmental has taken full advantage.

Many manufacturing facilities use process heat for boiler applications, as well as for thermal oxidizers for air pollution control, and oven or kiln drying applications. That represents a primary market for gasification, according to Cox. Specifically, providing energy through gasification to regenerative thermal oxidizers (RTO) is an extremely attractive opportunity for the wood products industry, Cox added. A biomass gasifier can be designed and installed to base load and reduce the natural gas, propane or fuel oil use in an RTO by as much 90 percent. The cost savings associated with this energy offset, even when biomass is purchased off-site, is significant, he said.

Cox will discuss the findings of the bark gasification tests, which he says are positive, at Biomass Power & Thermal’s International Biomass Conference & Expo May 2-5 in St. Louis. “We know that system works well with a whole bunch of different biomasses,” he said.

Cox will be joined by James Guenthoer of Clean Air Engineering Inc., Daniel Theuer, of Pratt & Whitney Power Systems/Turboden and Philip McKenzie of Babcock & Wilcox Co. on the panel Conversion Carnival: Showcasing Innovative Biomass Power and Thermal Technologies. Brad Saville of Mascoma Canada Inc. will be the moderator.

To attend the conference and hear more about the Btu value of gasified waste bark, along with syngas composition and potential uses, click here.