Georgia Southern University center opens pilot pellet mill

By Georgia Southern University | February 08, 2013

Georgia Southern University’s Herty Advanced Materials Development Center has opened the first fully-integrated pilot pellet mill in the United States. The new production line, located in Savannah, Ga., includes a nearly $2 million investment in process equipment. The facility will provide a much-needed platform for innovation in process technology and pellet design in the U.S. and will help rising global demand for biomass pellets in Europe and North America.

With the introduction of the new mill, Herty will work with technology providers and developers to help validate a number of product development projects. The team will also support researchers working to enhance pellet design and will develop methods for lowering operating costs.

Pellets, formed from wood and bioenergy feedstocks such as miscanthus and switch grass, are highly regarded as an effective, alternative energy solution because of their relatively high energy density and ease of handling. Pellets can also be easily integrated into existing electric power generating plants as a fuel. As a result, the pellet industry has witnessed tremendous growth as major European countries, which have adopted mandates for greenhouse gas emissions, are using biomass pellets at unprecedented rates. Most of the growth in Europe has come from imports.

According to a recent report from the U.S. International Trade Commission, annual global imports of wood pellets have grown from virtually zero to more than $1.5 billion during the last decade. However, research into improving the production of pellets, as well as optimizing pellet operation and composition has lagged behind industry growth.   Developers, manufacturers and researchers will now be able to benefit by having a flexible, integrated production facility that can produce pellets with properties that are consistent with those achieved in large-scale commercial facilities.

“For more than 75 years, Herty has been helping companies in a variety of industries develop and validate new processes and products,” said Alex Koukoulas, Ph.D., president and chief executive officer of Georgia Southern’s Herty Advanced Materials Development Center. “This new pilot mill is a first and will help address a global need.  The new mill will serve as a valuable testbed by helping our clients confirm product performance  and operating efficiencies and before they commit to an investment in full-scale manufacturing.  Ultimately, the Savannah-based facility will help companies lower technical risk and accelerate delivery."

“To be a part of a larger mandate, assisting in clean energy solutions, promoting a cleaner environment and impacting Georgia’s economic growth makes our efforts here at Herty all the more meaningful,” said Jill Stuckey, director, biomass development. Herty’s pellet mill and production facility provides access to both advanced technology and to new product development capabilities and support. Capabilities and services include:

- Biomass preparation and pretreatment

- Biomass testing

- Pellet analysis