Ohio Edison opts for 100 percent biomass power

By Anna Austin
Posted August 13, 2009, at 3:32 p.m. CST

Four years after being issued an ultimatum to shut down, install a scrubber or repower with natural gas, First Energy Corp. a subsidiary Ohio Edison has negotiated with the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. EPA to repower one of its coal-fired power plants with at least 80 percent biomass, 100 percent if all goes as planned.

If Ohio Edison had not elected to repower with cleaner technologies, it would have been required to shut down R.E. Burger units 4 and 5 near Shadyside, Ohio, by Dec. 31, 2010.

According to the agreement, Ohio Edison will repower the two units with biomass beginning no later than Dec. 21, 2012. The consent decree modifies a 2005-issued consent decree requiring Ohio Edison to reduce sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions at several of its coal-fired plants. The modified decree is expected to reduce Berger's current SO2, NOx and carbon dioxide emission levels by more than 1.3 million tons per year.

At the end of the first 180 days of operation following project completion, if Ohio Edison is able to achieve and maintain specified emission rates, it will be considered in compliance, according to the decree. If it is unable to meet the rates, it will be granted another 180-day period for optimization, and must make upgrades or modifications to do so.

The plant is intended to be powered by wood from waste tree trimmings and dedicated nurseries, energy crops, grasses and vegetation waste, initially with up to 20 percent low-sulfur coal.

Spokesman Mark Durbin said the plan is to use energy crops such as fast- growing cottonwood tree that do not have any other value, or leftover corn stalks. "They emit carbon when burned, but when they are grown again they pull the carbon right back out of the air," he explained. "The nice thing about that type of crop is that it can be grown in areas that typically don't have a lot of value for agriculture so you're not using arable crop land for energy."

Retrofitting design engineering has already begun. "The goal is to be operating on 100 percent biomass by the end of 2012," Durbin said. "We'll start out more as a co-firing operation, but we'll add more biomass as time goes on to reach 100 percent."

The biomass will be directly combusted through a process fairly similar to one currently used for coal, according to Durbin. "The biomass fuel will come in a cube-like form, will be crushed up like coal is, blown into the boiler and burned," he said. The amount of biomass that will be required has not been determined yet, but Durbin described the amount as sizeable.

He said preliminary project cost estimates are $200 million.