A Matter of Scale

Though the completion dates of two projects featured in the March issue of Biomass Magazine were critical for vastly different reasons, despite the massive difference in scale, the construction approaches to hit each deadline had a lot in common.
By Tim Portz | February 24, 2017

The biomass heating system at the North Central Area junior and senior high school in Powers, Michigan, profiled on page 28, can be mostly viewed from one spot. Standing in the open doorway of the building that serves as the fuel receiving, fuel handling and boiler house, a person could easily mistake it for a large bus garage. Conversely, the new Highland Pellets pellet production plant in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, featured on page 18, would take the better part of a day to see.

As different in size as the two facilities are, they share a number of common traits that help illustrate the current state of best practices in construction of biomass conversion facilities. When I spoke with Jeremy Mortl, president of Messersmith Manufacturing Inc., the system’s fabricator and installer, about its success in meeting the aggressive construction schedule, he stressed the importance of fabricating the major system components at the company’s local facility. The North Central Area school district wanted to minimize construction activity and its associated noise while classes were in session, so construction activities were forbidden until school dismissed for the summer. Without getting a head start on fabrication, having a system installed and ready to deliver heat that winter would have been a stretch.

For Highland Pellets, the decision to utilize off-site fabrication was driven entirely by a desire to get a plant built and generating revenue as quickly as possible. Highland Pellets was the second commercial-scale effort for Astec Inc., a Chattanooga, Tennessee-based manufacturer hoping to leverage decades of experience in asphalt and aggregate processing to gain a strong presence in the wood pellet sector. Our team has been covering the development of this project since it was announced in 2014, and the story in this issue of Biomass Magazine was our first opportunity to get some opinions on Astec’s unique modular approach. Ben Hubbard, president of Nexus PMG, an independent engineering consultant hired by Highland Pellets, told Associate Editor Katie Fletcher, “We’re excited to be a part of a project that could potentially deliver pellets to the market much faster than any that we’ve seen in our experience, and we’ve seen quite a few.”

The completion date for each of these projects was critical for vastly different reasons, and despite the massive difference in project scale, the construction approaches to hit each deadline had a lot in common.

Tim Portz
Vice President of Content  & Executive Editor