Northeast Biomass Conference & Expo panel to address conversion case studies

By Lisa Gibson
Posted June 15, 2010, at 8:31 a.m. CST

The conversion of an old mill complex in Biddeford, Maine, to biomass feedstock will be the topic of William Strauss' presentation during From Drawing Board to Deployment: Real World Biomass Projects in the Northeast, a case studies panel at the Northeast Biomass Conference & Expo Aug. 4-6 in Boston. Strauss, president of financial and economic modeling firm FutureMetrics, can barely contain his excitement when he talks about the 14-building complex, already housing condos, apartments, small businesses, a gym, a dance studio and other developments. "It's like its own little village," he said.

The complex, once used by WestPoint Stevens to make blankets, was built in the 1930s and the boilers were made in Nazi Germany, evidenced by piping still emblazoned with swastikas, Strauss said. Even so, the buildings are in pristine condition, making for a much easier conversion to wood chip feedstock from natural gas. The new system will be a combined-heat-and-power facility that will use piping already in place for an existing district heating network in the complex, Strauss said, adding that no timeline is in place yet for operation of the biomass CHP plant.

As many old mills sit uninhabited in the northeast, conversion is a hot topic, but Strauss emphasizes that this complex is in much better shape than most. "It's just such an amazing find," he said.

Presentations like Strauss's could still come in handy for other companies looking into converting, as experience and examples can go a long way. "The best place to learn is from people who have already cut their teeth doing these kinds of projects," said Eric Epner, panelist and vice president of Fuss & O'Neill Inc. During his presentation titled Case Study-Real World Experience with a Renewable Biomass Energy Project, Epner will discuss his company's hand in the conversion of a commercial greenhouse from fuel oil to wood chips, replacing about one-half million gallons of fuel oil per year. The conversion was complete and operating in March of 2009. "That was our entrée into the biomass world," he said.

The biomass industry is still young in many ways and regional events such as the Northeast Biomass Conference & Expo can facilitate the transfer of good information and networking, Epner said. "We were intrigued by a regional show. I'm interested to see who comes to this one. It'll be neat to see the more local people."

Fellow panelist Wayne McFarland, principal of Stearns & WhelerGHD, thinks the interest in the event and the case studies panel in particular should be high with the current level of interest in renewable energy, sustainable energy sources and carbon footprint reduction. In his presentation, Cornell University Biomass to Energy, he will talk about several innovative biomass-to-energy technologies including pyrolysis for biochar production and generation of biomass energy from dry fermentation. "Cornell University is leading the efforts to develop and improve several ways to convert biomass to energy while promoting carbon sequestration to reduce production of greenhouse gases," he said. "The main goal is to make the audience aware of potential biomass-to-energy opportunities using anaerobic digestion, pyrolysis and dry fermentation." Recent problems with fossil fuel trade balance, greenhouse gas production and the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico should renew our interest in renewable biomass as a preferred energy source," he said.

Panelist Bill Gabler, project manager for New Hampshire-based Clean Power Development LLC, hopes to spur interest in a new generation of biomass CHP facilities through his presentation titled A 21st Century Combined Heat and Power Project. The facilities have overall efficiencies in excess of 60 percent, he said. The company's project in Berlin, N.H., will have a minimum of 62.5 percent efficiency, he cited, contribute about 17 megawatts (MW) to the grid and supply 10 to 12 MW of thermal output for use in industrial, commercial and greenhouse facilities. In addition, stack exhaust from the wood chip-fed facility will be piped to the greenhouse and algae production facilities.

"I believe that the discussion has value for the Northeast biomass industry because we are dealing with a finite renewable resource that must be managed and utilized to the maximum extent possible," Gabler said. The goal of his presentation is to open the eyes and minds of attendees and stimulate a new thought process to inspire consideration of new possibilities for biomass power, he said. "I would hope that an attendee would be exposed to a range of new ideas and have the opportunity to explore new worlds of possibilities, rather than remain constrained to the methods of the past," he said.

To find out more about the Northeast Biomass Conference & Expo, visit the website at www.BiomassConference.com/northeast.