In late October I was fortunate to visit with the team behind the upcoming restart of the Ultrapower power plant located in Blue Lake, just off Highway 299, in Humboldt County.
Blue Lake Power overview: fuel conveyors in front, boiler on left, emissions control in middle, cooling system to right
Blue Lake Power purchased the facility, which has stood idle since 2001, from the previous owner North American Power Group (NAPG) in January 2008. NAPG maintained the equipment in operating condition through regular maintenance and care in how the facility was left (for example a dehumidifier was used to keep the turbine completely moisture free and the generator was turned monthly to ensure operational potential). Currently the facility is undergoing an extensive maintenance and refit operation including replacement of many of the boiler tubes. Operating and air quality permits are in place. They have a power purchase agreement with San Diego Gas and Electric.
The power plant is rated at 11 MW and will require 95,000 BDT of wood fuel. Sourcing will include chips (mill residuals and forest chips) and also other material that can be chipped on site. Pricing, of course, varies according to market conditions and material specification. They have been stockpiling fuel for a number of months. A pre-dryer will remove some moisture prior to combustion.
Fuel pile: note the colors and textures of the different fuels
They also have plans for a post and pole facility on an adjacent site which will complement the power plant by adding value to small logs with the residuals providing up to 25% of the fuel for the power plant. I will provide an update on this aspect of the project in the future.
The facility is scheduled to fire up in December 2008. This will be a welcome boost to the north coast woody biomass market after the curtailment of operations at Evergreen Pulp in October.
Close-up of the fuel pile, secondary processing residues to the left (consistent size, clean and low MC), forest sourced chips to the right (hetergeneous particle size, dirtier, higher MC)
This is a video of the flare from a Fluidyne Andes class gasifier running at about 1.2 million BTU/hr. The flare is after cooling and bag filtration of the gas produced from wood chips. It is shown flaring at night and also during the day (it is harder to see the flare during daylight).
This project is located in California and will demonstrate electricity generation from the gas using an internal combustion engine. The system will be connected to the electricity grid. It will also prove the concept of using the gas in place of propane in a commercial greenhouse heating system.
Wood chips produced using a conical screw chipper are the fuel source
Large wood chips are used as the feedstock for the downdraft gasifier. The process reacts the woodchips at high temperatures with a controlled amount of oxygen (and steam from the moisture in the chip) to produce a synthesis gas. The three main stages of the process are distillation, oxidation and reduction of the feedstock. You can see on the video that the gas burns with a blue flame (almost like natural gas) showing that it is clean and pure which means that it may be combusted in an internal combustion engine to generate electricity. The Fluidyne website has more detailed information on the process and synthesis gas produced.
The project is exciting as it is exploring the opporuntity for rural businesses to reduce their fuel costs and provide a market for material from fuels reduction projects. Watch this space for further updates.
Last week, on the way to Mammoth Lakes for Sierra Solutions, I visited the biomass fueled cogeneration plant at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center, at Carson City, with Dave Atkins (Fuels for Schools) and Marcus Kauffman (Resource Innovations). The facility is in the red/brown building in the middle right of the above picture. We met with Jason Perock from the Nevada Division of Forestry and Ken Lyngar the plant manager. The facility is designed to produce 1 MW of electricity and to heat over 400,000 square foot of space. It can produce up to 30 MMBTU/hr heat.
The $8.5m plant opened in 2007 but has been plagued by operating problems and issues with sourcing fuel. However, it appears that the team has finally overcome these barriers and the system has run without problem for a couple of months producing 650 kW of electricity and heating most of the prison complex. Ken estimated that they are currently saving over $3500 per day compared to using the original natural gas system.
Inside the firebox of the Hurst Boiler
The system uses approximately 32 BDT of woody biomass every 24 hours (approximately 12,000 BDT/yr. Previously there was a reliance on construction and demolition (C & D) wood that was often being hauled long distances. Recently they have managed to develop local supplies from forestry contractors based in the Lake Tahoe area. The use of forestry chips results in a lower ash content compared to the C & D material – this is because there is less dirt and other contaminants in the material sourced from the forest. The forestry chip also handles better in the augers, conveyors and on the grate itself, whereas the C & D material was prone to bridging (or bird nesting) due to the fact that it is generally processed in grinders which give it a stringy structure. They intend to stockpile logs which they will chip throughout the winter season.
Forest sourced chips (L) vs ground C & D material (R)
The experiences associated with this project are invaluable and point to some key elements to consider before installing a biomass fueled system:
Technology – take care selecting the right technology for your energy need and appropriate to the available fuel supply. It may be better to buy a turnkey system rather than buying different components from different suppliers.
Fuel supply – consider where it will come from, at what price and in what form (chips, logs etc).
Involve the operators and maintenance people who will run the facility on a daily basis in the planning process – their insight and experience are invaluable.
Community and political support – consider issues such as air quality, truck movements, the impacts of forest management in addition to the potential costs savings.
Experience - An end user (heat or electricity customer) does not typically have biomass handling or logging experience; they just want to be able to flick a switch. You need to consider the supply chain in addition to the changed operations and maintenance routine. An Energy Savings Performance Contract with an Energy Services Company (ESCO) removes some of this responsibility but still offers cost savings. Ensure that performance contracts are appropriate and enforceable.
First cost consciousness is a big barrier in the public sector especially in today’s funding environment. You need to build a strong case to demonstrate the savings and societal benefits in switching to a biomass based fuel source.
It is great to see the project start to yield some of its potential. If they keep running with no problems they could have paid back the initial investment in 7 years or less with the additional benefit of providing a market for thousands of tons of woody biomass from fuels reduction projects on National Forest System lands in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
The steam turbine (generator is to the left)
Dave, Marcus and Jason discussing fuel specification