Conference panel addresses project aspects, technologies

By Lisa Gibson | November 03, 2010

Beyond conversion technology, other key variables will determine the success of a biomass project, according to Matthew Markee, president of Recast Energy, a project operating firm. Markee outlined several aspects of a well-planned project during the panel The Right Tool: Biomass Technology Solutions for Unique Industrial and Commercial Applications at the Southeast Biomass Conference & Trade Show Nov. 2-4 in Atlanta.

“One of the biggest challenges we see is people don’t focus on the system,” Markee said, listing conversion equipment, emission control and means of getting fuel to the boiler. The fuel supply is another crucial project element not to be overlooked and is riddled with intricacies. “Think local, act local,” read one of Markee’s presentation slides. Managing relationships appropriately is important in securing a supply, as well as understanding a project’s fit in the area, local market and community. “You have to be on the ground, getting to know how your project fits,” he said. Partnering with others who are “long” on their own supply is beneficial for a new project, which led into Markee’s next crucial supply element: creating options.

The cost of that fuel is another huge consideration not likely forgotten by developers, but there are ways to manage the inevitable risk, including focusing on the most at-risk variables.

Permitting is another aspect of project development Markee outlined that brings unexpected challenges and delays to first-time developers. “Do not treat permitting as an afterthought,” he cautioned.

Markee’s fellow panelists focused more on specific technologies, including Nexterra’s gasification technology and an Organic Rankine Cycle system for combined heat and power (CHP) and waste heat recovery applications. Speaker Daniel Theuer, who specializes in business development for Italy-based Turboden s.r.l., said the innovative ORC system is advantageous because it has low mechanical stress, high turbine efficiency, and no corrosion or blade erosion because it uses a type of oil instead of water. Unlike steam turbines, the ORC technology needs no steam boiler, making it easier to operate, Theuer said.

The system can take multiple feedstocks, such as woody biomass, straw and sewage sludge, among others. Potential heat consumers could include district heating networks or greenhouses, he said. “Needless to say, when you have a heat user, you want to do CHP because it’s the most efficient use of your biomass,” he added.

The system’s waste heat recovery capabilities can generate renewable energy from exhaust gas, hot thermal oil, pressurized hot water and other waste streams, Theuer cited. “It’s basically free energy,” he said.

Turboden’s major markets are in Europe, where 85 to 90 percent of its applications are in biomass CHP. But the company is working on two plants for waste heat recovery in the U.S. “We’re still looking for biomass CHP in North America,” Theuer said, adding that he hopes the conference will present some business opportunities in the states.

ORC technology in distributed biomass CHP is not about the lowest price possible for kilowatt hours, he concluded, but about sustainable investments in renewable energy and efficiency.