Every Last Drop

One of the most common deterrents to investment in equipment and technology that will ultimately save bioenergy plants money is exactly that—money.
By Anna Simet | January 04, 2018

One of the most common deterrents to investment in equipment and technology that will ultimately save bioenergy plants money is exactly that—money. Steep up-front capital investments can, and often do, deter adaptation of the most efficient, reliable and environmentally sound options. If a developer can find a way to make them pencil out, however, the benefits often have positive multiplier effects, and result in much quicker paybacks. That’s exactly what is about to ensue at Dalhousie University Agricultural Campus, which is in the midst of a full replacement of its thermal plant.

The components of this month’s theme—operations, maintenance and efficiency—all go hand-in-hand. For Dalhousie, the story of which is featured in this quarter’s Biomass Construction Update, operating and maintaining the decades-old heating system was cumbersome, increasingly inefficient and, at the brink of failure, it needed a major overhaul. On a mission to ensure the system was as efficient as possible, Dalhousie first downsized the system that was initially planned, and discovered that changing from steam to hot water—again straying from the initial plan—would make the system more efficient in the long run. 

One example of the multiplier effects I mentioned above is the fact that Dalhousie is going out of its way to source willow as a portion of its feedstock. It is doing this, said Dalhousie’s Rochelle Owen, simply because the university wants to try to help the grower bring down the cost, and potentially expand the market. Therefore, the university is paying more for the willow than the sawmill waste it’s using, even it could easily use sawmill waste alone.

Finally, adding an electrical component—an Organic Rankine Cycle turbine—will allow the university to enjoy an extra revenue stream from the waste heat that is captured and turned into power, a component that without, Owen told me, the project as it is would not have been financially feasible for the school.

Due to their ability to maximize process efficiency, ORCs seem to be trending at a variety of bioenergy installations, whether a university like Dalhousie, a small-scale cogeneration project, or even a wood pellet plant. Ron Kotrba’s page-16 feature explores the functionality of ORCs, as well as the challenges and opportunities they have to offer bioenergy developers who seek to squeeze every last drop of efficiency out of their operation.

Other stories in this issue include a piece on the resounding benefits that switching out aging transformers had on a Kettle Falls, Washington, biomass power plant, and how a new method of boiler component laser cladding could prove worthy of the investment in not only MSW plants, but wood-using plants as well.

Smart operations, strategic maintenance and maximum efficiency are the cornerstones of every successful bioenergy installation, but, on top of a lot of determination and heart, it’s continued innovation that is truly the pulse of this industry.