Preventing pellet plant design errors

By Anna Austin | April 26, 2011

First-time biomass plant developers commonly use the trial and error method, but the road to success doesn’t always have to be littered with mistakes, according to Karl-Heinz Schulz, vice president of technology and engineering at BiEnergy Group. That is particularly true when designing/operating a pellet plant, he said.

Some of the biggest mistakes made at pellet manufacturing operations involve design shortcomings and erroneous project assumptions, which can cause catastrophic failures resulting in explosions, higher operation costs, equipment damage and personnel injuries, according to Schulz.

“For example, in the U.S. you see many pellet plants using belt conveyors because they run much faster, but that can cause high friction of the belt touching dust,” Schulz said. “That creates high temperature areas where dust can ignite, starting a fire or even an explosion.”

Another common mistake involves inaccurate assumptions regarding feedstock. “For example, the moisture content of feedstock is sometimes miscalculated, and instead of 200,000 tons of production, you’re only producing 150,000 or 100,000 tons of production,” Schulz said. “Then you’re not able to fulfill your contractual obligations or even worse, your financial model doesn’t make sense anymore.”  

At the International Biomass Conference & Expo being held May 2-5 in St. Louis, Schulz will discuss these mistakes in further detail, as well as other common missteps that occur in commercial, logistic and technical aspects of the pellet manufacturing process.

BiEnergy Group, which has been in the biomass plant design/engineering business for more than 35 years, does not have any ties to equipment companies and is often called in as an expert witness for lawsuits related to plant malfunctions, Schulz said. During his presentation titled Paying Dearly for Pelletizing Plant Design Errors, he will provide numerous examples of fatal malfunctions and how they could have been avoided with thorough project planning.

Joining Schulz on the panel will be Troy Enright, project manager for Natural Resource Group LLC, David Bissen, manager of mechanical engineering for Zachary Engineering and Adonis Neblett, shareholder at Fredrickson & Byron PA.

For more information about the International Biomass Conference & Expo, go to