Cleco plans biomass test burns

By Anna Austin | February 03, 2011

Louisiana power provider Cleco Corp. is making its first attempt to use biomass at one of its power plants by performing test burns this spring at its Madison Unit 3, near the town of Boyce, La.

Initially, the test burns will be done using wood chips, but that’s just a stepping stone, according to Cleco spokeswoman Robbyn Cooper. If everything works out, the company hopes to source wood waste from nearby timber harvesting operations, she said.

The 600-megawatt facility currently uses petroleum coke, a waste product of the oil refining industry, as fuel. Wood waste would replace a portion of the petcoke used at the facility, but not all. “It’ll be a mix, and the test burns will help us fine-tune the percentage,” Cooper said.

The main potential issue with using the fuel at the plant is moisture content, she said. “That affects the output of the unit, so we need to make sure we use low-moisture wood waste.”

Little retrofitting would have to be done to the facility in order to adjust it to cofire wood waste, Cooper said. “The feeder system will have to be modified, which is downstream of one of the rear silos, to accommodate the change in texture and density of the fuel when it’s mixed.”

The test burns should help determine if any other modifications need to be made to the unit. “We’re putting a lot on these test burns,” Cooper said. “Until now, everything that we’ve done has just been through models and engineering, and now we’re actually going to go forward and do it.”

Cooper said Cleco was attracted to the use of biomass because it is renewable and the plant is located near a timber-rich area. “Our our research showed that we have availability of wood waste within 75 to 100 miles of the plant,” she said. “Transportation can really increase the cost of fuels.” 

The petcoke that Cleco uses must be hauled by barges via the Gulf Coast and river systems.

“This [biomass] is the renewable resource we can find most available and closest to us, so it’s the most economical,” Cooper added. “When you look at renewable fuels you have to look at what’s compatible [with a plant] and available. Wood waste seems to be a good fit, so we’re testing it to confirm it.”