Digging into Combustible Dust

Wood dust. It’s the lifeblood of a pellet plant, but it can be the force behind an operation’s demise, if not properly managed.
By Anna Simet | July 23, 2018

Wood dust. It’s the lifeblood of a pellet plant, but it can be the force behind an operation’s demise, if not properly managed. This is well-known across both the domestic and industrial segments, but still, incidents continue to occur at a rate that I've heard some industry stakeholders describe as too frequent. As one plant manager told me, a bad incident at one plant reflects on the industry as a whole; the impact extends far beyond that particular facility and the surrounding community. This rings true for sectors of all kinds, but it’s particularly detrimental to a young industry working to expand and compete in today’s energy market.

I continue to hear both of the following arguments from a range of stakeholders. Stance one: The pellet industry should be as cautious and proactive as possible, but it has a predisposition to accidents, and they are inevitable, given the material and circumstances under which these facilities operate. And stance two: One accident is too many, and they are all preventable.

Regardless of which side you agree with, it’s up to personnel at every pellet operation to keep things as safe as possible, and up to code. As Industrial Fire Protection LLC’s Jeffrey Nichols points out in the page-32 piece he authored on fire and explosion protection, if conditions at your plant aren’t aligned with best practices just because it’s what you have always done, it doesn’t mean you won’t have an incident. It will be what you have always done, up until it isn’t anymore.

Other stories in our dust management, fire and explosion protection issue include, on page 10, discussion of a relevant case study by IEP Technologies’ Geff Mitchell, and, on page 14, a Q&A with CV Technologies’ Jason Krbec, who discusses dust hazard analyses. Had one before? It may be time for another. Pellet plants change over the years—new equipment, modifications, expansions, etc., so these analyses may bring to light some previously unidentified or new risks.

Expanding outside plant safety and into regulatory compliance, I dove into California’s Proposition 65 law, in our page-20 feature, “Seller Beware.” Simply because they were unaware of its requirements, there are many in the industry who have faced steep penalties for product sold into California, due to an unfortunate loophole and bountyhunter-type lawsuits that have become commonplace under Prop 65. There are some upcoming changes to the law, so if you’re selling any product into California—not just pellets, but wood chips, animal bedding, and other wood products—you need to know about them.

Our final feature, written by Senior Editor Ron Kotrba, provides an in-depth overview of the Pellet Fuel Institute’s annual conference, which took place in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, end of June. Lots of honest, critical, thought-provoking and hopeful conversations took place, and Kotrba expertly captured the topics of real significance and brought them to our pages—enjoy.  

Author: Anna Simet