OkoFEN tour anchors world pellet conference field day

By Tim Portz | February 25, 2014

The European Pellet Conference, co-located with the World Sustainable Energy Days in Wels, Austria kicked off with a field day featuring a handful of stops at some of Austria’s most prominent biomass-to-energy companies and operations.

Attendees packed two buses and the day began with a tour of the Wuhrer Holz GmbH in Kircheim, the largest solar powered biomass drying facility in the world. The 480 square meter solar air collectors deliver heated air to a series of fans which drive the heated air into a drying box which drives moisture out of biomass that is suspended above it with slatted grates. A unique rock-bed heat storage system stores excess solar heat during the day and allows the facility to dry biomass around the clock.

The field day then moved to the Scheuch production facility. Scheuch is a market leader in air cleaning and emissions control equipment for amongst other industries, biomass power generation.

The bulk of the day and the most comprehensive tour was offered by ӦkoFEN, a pellet boiler manufacturer based in Niederkappel, Austria. ӦkoFEN, founded by Herbert Ortner, was established in 1989 and began selling certified pellet boilers in Europe in 1997. The company employs over 300 and is a market leader in Austria pellet boiler manufacturing. About 25 percent of the pellet boilers sold in Europe are manufactured in Austria. A total of 83 percent of ӦkoFEN’s pellet boilers are exported with France consuming just over one-third of its production. Germany buys nearly 30 percent and Austria follows Germany, taking around 15 percent of ӦkoFEN’s annual production. ӦkoFEN’s products are sold in the United States under the Maine Energy Systems name and US sales account for nearly 3 percent of ӦkoFEN’s annual production.

ӦkoFEN places a high premium on innovation and one of their most recent models, the Pelletronic V2.02 uses current weather forecast to drive operation decisions and is able to sense when a homeowner has exited a pre-determined radius and prompts the homeowner to turn down the thermostat.

Tour attendees were treated to a sneak peak of ӦkoFEN’s latest innovation, the Pellematic Smart_e 0.6. This pellet boiler includes the conventional pellet boiler but adds a Stirling engine capable of producing in excess of 600 kW of electric power. The Pellematic Smart_e 0.6 is still in beta testing but early models have been deployed across Europe. The development of this model is a clearly identified by Hortner as a turning point in both the company and pellet energy’s progressing saying, “Now we are talking about producing both heat and electricity.”

The tour attracted a truly global audience with attendees from Kazakhstan, Spain, Austria, Germany, Canada and the United States. The remainder of the European Pellet Conference will unfold tomorrow and Thursday featuring panels on market outlook, sustainability and quality requirements and country specific production updates.