Strong O&M Programs Scale

Ours is an industry that scales well. Large or small, biomass operations must make a commitment to sound operations and maintenance fundamentals if they are to be successful.
By Tim Portz | January 04, 2017

This month, the operations described in Biomass Magazine Managing Editor Anna Simet’s “North Country Knowhow” (pg. 22) and Associate Editor Katie Fletcher’s “Big Data Pays Big” (pg. 12) couldn’t be more different. Simet’s story outlines a biomass heating operation at a boarding school in the Adirondacks, where the fuel supply chain typically consists of one person and one machine. In contrast, Fletcher’s story looks at a number of much larger operations that employ teams of people, one of them receiving and handling over 1,000 tons of municipal solid waste a day. As different as these facilities are in size, scope and personnel, they share a reliance on first perfecting, and then executing their operational plan on a daily basis.

In Simet’s story, John Culpepper, director of facilities and sustainability at North Country School, has built an elegant operational plan to utilize biomass generated by thinning activities on the school’s and a neighbor’s property. Additionally, Culpepper is constantly refining his plan and experimenting with new approaches. The results have surprised even him. “We’re able to do it with small-scale equipment—just one person with a small tractor and a log loader,” he told Simet.

The facilities described in Fletcher’s feature are anything but small-scale. Her story describes sprawling complexes filled with conveyors, motors, hammermills, turbines and countless other pieces of incredibly expensive capital equipment. Fletcher dug into how the teams at these facilities are increasingly relying on condition monitoring (CM) devices to, before a catastrophic failure occurs, alert them that something may be amiss. Component failure prevention is just one aspect of how facilities are using data collection and analysis in their operations. Through her interviews, Fletcher learned that plants are relying on CM to help them manage boiler efficiency, material handling efficiency, emissions control and the impact of various feedstocks on plant performance. The financial impact of CM is difficult to overstate. One of Fletcher’s sources, Kendric Wait, CEO of Eagle Valley Clean Energy, told Fletcher he believed that maintenance costs on his turbine could very well be cut in half because of a robust CM program they’ve deployed.

Ours is an industry that scales well. Biomass can be deployed to heat homes or boarding schools or contribute massive amounts of baseload electric power. Large or small, biomass operations must make a commitment to sound operations and maintenance fundamentals if they are to be successful. Moreover, like Culpepper, the best operators are constantly on the lookout for new approaches that will deliver even marginal increases in overall plant efficiency.


Author: Tim Portz
Vice President of Content & Executive Editor