Fibrowatt fields emissions questions

By Susanne Retka Schill
Posted May 6, 2009, at 4:12 p.m. CST

Fibrowatt LLC's plans for three poultry-litter fueled power plants in North Carolina are raising questions about the environmental impact. The three plants include a 40 megawatt (MW) facility near Elkin in Surry County, a 55 MW plant near Biscoe in Montgomery County and a 55 MW plant near Faison in Sampson County.

Fibrowatt, a Pennsylvania-based development company, brought its first plant online in 2007 in Benson, Minn. Fibrominn LLC uses more than 500,000 tons of poultry litter annually as feedstock for the 55 MW power plant. Fibrowatt, owned by Homeland Renewable Energy Inc., was founded by the management team that built the world's first three poultry-litter-fueled power plants in the U.K. in the 1990s.

Terry Walmsley, vice president of environmental and public affairs for Fibrowatt, doesn't consider the recent citizen concerns as opposition. "What we've worked very hard on is being out there and answering any questions," he said. "You can characterize it as opposition, but what we've found is that in many cases it is a need to further communicate and better understand and explain the situation than anything." The company has been doing just that by holding open houses to answer questions, and posing common questions and answers on its Web site.

One of the questions was whether the Fibrowatt poultry-fired plant would be dirtier than coal-fired power plants. It is difficult to compare Fibrowatt's biomass-fired plant with the new coal-fired plant being proposed for the state, Walmsley said, partly because of the difference in scale and the inherent difference in fuels, and their impacts on emissions.

In Minnesota, the startup optimization took longer than what the company would have liked, he added, "and it's been reflected in the emission profiles." It took nearly a year to fine-tune two technologies that had never been used at that scale with poultry-litter-biomass fuel-a unique, high-nitrogen fuel. It was the first use of selective noncatalytic reduction for nitrogen oxide (NOx) control. "As we started the plant up we had instances as we were going fully commercial, where we did have elevated NOx emissions. It wasn't where we would have liked to be, but it's not unusual for the start up of a new plant. We also have the first application of a spray dryer absorber for a biomass plant. We took some knocks as we started, but it's been operating very well for the past year or so as we learned our way into it."

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency refused to comment for this story, but the North Carolina Division of Air Quality commented on its preliminary analysis. "We've not received a permit application yet, so we can't really comment on Fibrowatt's plan," said Tom Mather, spokesman for the North Carolina Division of Air Quality. "We have looked at an existing facility in Minnesota and other facilities in North Carolina using wood waste." In the agency's preliminary analysis, they found that arsenic emissions may exceed permissible levels in North Carolina. "It doesn't mean they wouldn't get a permit, but they might need additional controls or other measures," Mather said. Under the North Carolina toxics rules, proposed plants provide information in the permitting process that is used to evaluate 100 potential air toxins. Modeling is done on any that appear to exceed limits, which Mather said often amounts to just a half-dozen compounds. The modeling is used to determine required controls, permitted production levels, types of fuels or other requirements.

With locations selected for the three North Carolina plants, Fibrowatt is now negotiating power supply agreements. The company is also laying the groundwork for the permitting process which will be initiated once the power supply agreements are in place.

The state's Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard passed in 2007 phases in a 12.5 percent renewables requirement by 2021, starting with 3 percent of North Carolina retail sales in 2011. As the standard is phased in, utilities can meet up to one-quarter of the standard through efficiency savings, and up to 40 percent after 2021 through efficiency. The statute also specified portions be met from solar, swine waste and poultry waste. The REPS calls for 170,000 MW hours to be generated from poultry waste by 2012, 700,000 MW by 2013 and 900,000 MW by 2014. The statute requires facilities to use the best available control technology for emissions.

To learn more about the Fibrominn plant in Benson, Minn., see "Generating Poultry Power" in the July 2007 issue of Biomass Magazine at