General registration is now available for a woody biomass to energy field tour on November 17 2010.
This field tour is the follow up to the Woody Biomass to Energy Workshop held in Oroville in September 2010. Places on the field tour will be prioritized towards those attended the workshop.
We will visit the following woody biomass to energy conversion facilities in the Davis area.
- Sierra Pacific Industries sawmill and power plant, Lincoln
- West Biofuels, Woodland
- Dixon Ridge Farms, near Winters
The tour will start in the Lincoln area where we will board a motor coach. Lunch will be provided. The registration fee is $20.00 payable in advance.
The focus is on showing you some practical examples of a number of the technologies discussed at the workshop. Representatives from each site will show you the technology – questions and discussion are encouraged. Rob Williams (UC Davis), John Shelly and Gareth Mayhead (UC Berkeley) will facilitate the tour and will also be available to answer questions.
Advance registration is essential for this tour – no walk-ins. Attendees of the Oroville workshop will receive priority for this field tour so long as you register before November 1st 2010. Please register before November 12 2010.
9.00 am Assemble at car pool location in the Lincoln area (TBA prior to tour)
9.15 am Board motor coach
9.30 am Arrive at the Sierra Pacific Industries sawmill in Lincoln. Tour of sawmill and cogeneration facility (sawmill provides fuel for power plant and waste steam is used to dry lumber). http://www.spi-ind.com
11.30 am Board motor coach. Depart for Woodland. Comfort break at rest area en-route. Bag lunches and drinks available
1.00 pm Arrive at West Biofuels site near Woodland. This is a biomass gasification to liquid fuels project. http://www.westbiofuels.com/Main.html
2.00 pm Board motor coach. Depart for Winters area.
2.30 pm Arrive at Dixon Ridge Farms near Winters. Tour Community Power Corporation Biomax 50 biomass to energy unit. http://www.dixonridgefarms.com/farmingandprocessing/sustainability.html http://www.gocpc.com
3.30 pm Board motor coach and return to Lincoln
4.50 pm Arrive at Lincoln
5.00 pm Close
Sixty five people attended our Woody Biomass to Energy Workshop that was held in Eureka last Thursday. We have posted the presentations here.The aim of the workshop was to help attendees to understand the basics of different conversion technologies including scale, cost, raw material specification and whether they are proven or emerging technologies. We started by looking at some of the basics regarding biomass feedstock sources, the potential use of this material as an energy source, competing uses for the material and an introduction to conversion pathways. It can make sense to convert biomass to energy but there are many other uses out there that may add more value.
Next we looked at proven technologies including heat applications, electricity and cogeneration (or combined heat and power). The use of woody biomass for heat is a proven technology at scales ranging from a single stove to systems providing heat to larger buildings. These “institutional” systems can make financial sense if oil, propane or electricity is replaced by biomass as a fuel (generally chip or pellets). The technology used is well proven in Europe and elsewhere in the States. It is an extremely efficient way to capture the energy in wood – some systems are 90% efficient. Generally systems may make sense in buildings that have a floor area over 10,000ft2 that use a reasonable amount of heat. It is relatively easy to identify simple payback period if you assume the replacement of an existing heat system.
Eric Almquist of Almquist Lumber discusses his cordwood boiler
Electricity generation is also a proven technology and California has approximately 30 existing biomass power plants. Typical power plants are around 20 MW in size and consume up to 200,000 bone dry tons of fuel per year. Smaller scale (down to 5 MW) facilities generally cost more per kW to build and operate. The use of biomass in a stand alone power plant is about 25% efficient because much of the heat energy is wasted in the process. If the heat is captured and used (for example to heat dry kilns) the efficiency increases to around 70%.
Glen Zane of Blue Lake Power explains electrical generation
We then investigated emerging technologies including gasification, pyrolysis and the production of liquid fuels. Both gasification and pyrolysis have been around for decades (and longer) but for the most part they are still emerging technologies due to costs, reliability and lack of markets for the products produced. Gasification of biomass has the potential to produce electricity on a small scale and there are a number of demonstration projects in California. Currently the cost of producing this electricity is expensive and would only be applicable to off-grid areas. Various forms of pyrolysis are used to produce solids (char), liquid (bio-oil) and gas. Pyrolysis can be an energy intensive process and may have future potential to produce chemical feedstocks from wood.
Greg Chapman of the Schatz Lab discusses their Ankur gasifier
The final presentation on technologies identified the three biomass to liquid fuels pathways. It then focused on starch conversion, cellulosic conversion, traditional biodiesel and synthetic diesel production. Most technologies are still emerging and the costs are challenging at present.
We wrapped up the morning session with an update on the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) which is currently on hold. A comment period on the proposed new rule for the program is open until April 9 2010. We also discussed some of the unintended consequences that the program has created since it began in August 2009.
In summary heat and electricity production are proven technologies that can make sense. If you are looking for a relatively small community-scaled operation then heat can be cheaper than fossil fuel alternatives. Electricity generally makes economic sense at a larger scale. All of the emerging technologies will develop further and are likely to play some part in future energy product production. However, we warned that if a story about a technology sounds too good to be true then it generally is. For anyone interested in woody biomass to energy projects undertaking due diligence and asking the right questions is vital.
After lunch at the Samoa Cookhouse we embarked on a very wet field tour to three locations to look at a simple heat installation, a power plant and a demonstration gasifier.
Lunch at the Samoa Cookhouse
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.