Over 40 people came to the stewardship contracting and woody biomass utilization workshop at the Heritage Ag Complex in Tulare recently. About one third of the audience came from Sierra and Sequoia National Forests with representatives from local industry and the community also in attendance.
[Left to right] Discussing the handling of mill waste (residuals), chips and bark, processed bark, urban wood waste with power plant in background
On Monday, this week, Governor Schwarzenegger signed Executive Order # S-14-08 that raises California's renewable energy goals to 33% by 2020. The order expands the state's current Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Originally the RPS (SB 1078) required sellers to serve 20% of their load with electricity from renewable sources by 2017. This was modified by SB 107 in 2006 to 20% by 2010. The law covers retail sellers of electricity including the state's Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs), Energy Service Providers (ESPs) and Community Choice Aggregation (CCAs) providers, but does not include local publicly owned electric utilities.
The Executive Order also signals that the California Energy Commission (CEC) and California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) will sign a pair of memorandum of understandings, one between themselves and another with federal agencies to streamline the renewable review process (including a one-stop permitting shop). This is focussed on faciliting development of solar facilities and power line infrastructure in the desert regions. The Governor made his announcment at a photovoltaic solar panel manufacturing facility in Sacramento.
The announcment is potentially good new for biomass energy generation. It already forms a significant part of the state's renewable energy as the chart, from the CEC, shows below.
Currently the state appears to favor solar and wind, possibly because they have a cleaner, more modern image than biomass power plants. The fact is that electricity from biomass is a proven, reliable base load provider - it runs when the wind does not blow and when the sun does not shine so is a critical part of the renewable energy mix.
If we also take into account the fact that fuel for biomass powerplants can come from forest fuels reduction projects which reduces the risk of catastrophic wildfire then biomass energy generation really makes sense. Its a renewable energy source that can provide a market for forest arisings, benefitting communities, reducing fire suppression costs and improving air quality for everyone.
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)
Recently, as I have prepared for various talks at conferences and other gatherings, I have made an effort to compile information on new woody biomass utilization projects in California. It is an interesting exercise to undertake as you might think that due to the financial crisis and unreliable flow of material from public lands that there would be very little activity. However, it appears that we have a number of exciting projects underway in the state. They can be put into three broad categories:
1 – Power plants (electricity generation and in some cases cogeneration)
Investment in power plants is taking place as utilities try to meet California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Additionally energy investors are diversifying their portfolios in order to manage the risk associated with volatile fossil fuel prices and maturing carbon markets.
2 – Densified wood fuel (wood pellets and fire logs)
Densified wood fuels represent a growing market sector throughout the US. Demand for pellets stoves is increasing. There also opportunities in institutional heat systems and in supplying pellets to co-fire in coal power plants (especially in Europe and Asia).
3 – Primary processing (sawmills and other processing)
The main California opportunities for primary processing are in niche chip or shavings markets and in manufacturing post and pole from small diameter logs.
The new projects are summarized in the table, below.
All of these projects are either currently being implemented or will be by 2011. This is not a definitive list but it represents some of the most significant and exciting projects out there. I have more information on most of these projects and I plan to provide more detailed project profiles here in the future – subject of course to the project developers permission.
All of the larger projects are using a variety of feedstock sources (agricultural residues, urban waste, private forest and public forest sources) in order to manage risk. A significant component will come from public lands and of course that component could grow in time.
It is exciting to see projects that could utilize over 1m BDT of woody biomass being implemented throughout California. Watch this space for more information!
Power plant restarts like Blue Lake Power are becoming more common
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.