Plenty of biomass for Wisconsin plant

By Lisa Gibson
Posted June 8, 2010, at 3:30 p.m. CST

More than enough biomass is available surrounding the Charter Street Heating Plant on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus to provide a supply if the coal plant converts, according to the Wisconsin Bioenergy Initiative. The WBI issued a request for information (RFI) from biomass producers, aggregators, equipment producers and transportation companies, the results of which look promising.

The 59 respondents to the RFI identified more than 3.4 million tons annually of available biomass for the plant's requirement of 0.25 million tons, according to the WBI, which was formed in 2007 by the university's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. The respondents were split into four biomass categories: woody biomass; agricultural biomass; mixed woody and agricultural biomass; and industrial waste and residuals biomass. The woody biomass group is the largest, with 26 respondents able to supply more than 1.8 million tons annually. The agricultural biomass group of eight respondents is able to supply 631,000 tons per year; the seven members of the woody and agricultural biomass mixed group identified 245,000 tons per year; and the residual materials group of 10 is able to supply 675,000 tons, according to the RFI results.

Respondents did not provide enough information to determine expected transportation costs or distances, but the majority of the supply would come from Wisconsin locations: forest products from central Wisconsin and agricultural products from the south-central and southwestern portions of the state, according to the WBI. The biomass fuel would be delivered by rail and the majority of producers would provide for continuous delivery of material.

For the $250 million conversion, the coal plant would require a new building to house the new 350,000 pound-per-hour biomass boiler, which equates to about 3,000 Btu per year, along with necessary distribution systems. The project would include updating the rail delivery system at the site and providing a biomass fuel handling system and on-site storage capacity, according to WBI. The plant, which will also use natural gas, will be upgraded in phases and should be ready for biomass fuel by late 2013.

The WBI project team will use the RFI results to guide biomass specifications and business types in its request for purchase to solicit two to four biomass producers and/or aggregators to supply the facility. "In order to develop the market, it would be desired to have aggregators that can represent biomass fuels created from forest, agricultural and waste biomass," according to the results summary. The project team recommends preference be given beyond price to producers that can provide a high energy density fuel close to the plant to minimize transportation costs and logistical issues.