PHG Energy biomass gasification plant sells power

By Anna Austin | November 02, 2011

After successfully demonstrating its biomass gasifiers at a Gleason, Tenn., brick plant, PHG Energy has qualified for the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Generation Partners program and is selling power to the grid.

PHG Energy President Tom Stanzione said the project is the result of collaboration with Caterpillar Inc. and Boral Bricks Inc., as well as support from the U.S. DOE’s Advanced Reciprocating Engine Systems program. 

Stanzione, who has a vast amount of experience in developing small distributed generation systems, said that originally, six PHG-8 gasifiers—8 being the number of tons of biomass consumed by the unit each day— were installed at the brick plant by Associated Physics of America, with the intentions of displacing the use of natural gas in the brick kilns.  

APA is the research and development arm of PHG, and is responsible for the development of the gasifier.

“Operations of the gasifiers at the plant continued for about a year, and then the housing slump set in and the need for bricks diminished,” Stanzione explained. The brick company ceased operations, and after discussions with APA, as well as Caterpillar about running its reciprocating engines on producer gas, PHG’s renewable power project trials at the brick plant began.

Having proved successful, all of the power produced on site—up to 1 MW—is now sold to the TVA through the Generation Partners program. Generation Partners supports homeowners and businesses that install small-scale renewable generating sources such as landfill gas systems, solar panels or wind turbines, on their property. Participants are able to defray the cost of their renewable systems and lower their monthly energy bills through the revenue they receive from the sale of the green power to TVA.

TVA buys the green energy output at a rate of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour above the retail electric rate for solar, and 3 cents above retail for all other renewable sources.  Additionally, new participants receive $1,000 to help offset start-up costs.

 The PHG-8 produces 4 million Btu/hour, running on wood chips having a moisture content of around 25 percent. Stanzione said that the gasifiers, which have over 40,000 hours of operating time, could easily be run on other materials such as municipal solid waste, certain medical waste or tire-derived fuel, but the TVA has a narrow definition of what is designated as renewable.

PHG is continuing to develop larger gasifiers based on market demand, according to Stanzione, including a 6 million Btu/hour system and eventually a 32 million Btu/hour system.  He said particular regions of the world, such as eastern Canada where the incentives are great, are seeing a lot of activity. “However, we prefer to show that our products work without incentives,” he said. “We have to be economical without the subsidies.”