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Burning wood instead of coal to generate electricity

Post in 'The Green Room' started by SlyFerret, Jul 1, 2010.

  1. SlyFerret

    SlyFerret Minister of Fire

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    This link just came though my twitter feed:
    http://www.columbusunderground.com/ohio-is-ground-zero-for-biomass-fight

    I'm curious what this battle will mean for me as a wood burner in Ohio. I'm concerned that if this gets killed, there may also be restrictions placed on using firewood as a source of fuel for heating as well.

    Not to mention... I can't fathom how many trees will be burned in the process. It makes me sick to think that they'll start clear cutting forests

    -SF

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  2. Dune

    Dune Minister of Fire

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    They are building four of those in Mass right now, which I think is at least three too many.

    Why should the choices be limited to coal or wood?
  3. JBinKC

    JBinKC Feeling the Heat

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    I agree it looks obvious too many of these are getting built at once and is a hasty short term solution to handle the current inventory of diseased trees which will speed up the slowdown of the progression of the disease then what.

    Knowing how our system works I think it has all the markings to severely limit woodburning by the individual since now they are in competition for a resource. Once a big corporation moves on your turf they have the financial muscle to buy off politicians that will support legislation to make it uneconomical to burn firewood like imposing burn and or moving permits that will only be economical for large scale use and harvesting.
  4. Seasoned Oak

    Seasoned Oak Minister of Fire

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    I think it would be using mostly wood waste products
  5. Dune

    Dune Minister of Fire

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    That would be great, but they are not. The plan is to burn "biomass", chipped trees. There is no doubt that here in Mass, four of these will lead to deforestaion.
  6. stoveguy2esw

    stoveguy2esw Minister of Fire

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    could also lead to higher prices for pellet fuel, look at the price of corn when the ethanol thing took back off a few years ago, cornstove popularity too a big hit as the fuel became too expensive to be attractive.
  7. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Locally in Seattle they recently converted the old steam plant to wood chip burning. The plant is right by the waterfront in the heart of the city. So far it seems to be burning quite cleanly. It was a fun process to watch. I'll see if they ever offer tours. If so, I'll bring a camera.
  8. wallis54806

    wallis54806 New Member

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    Our local power plant burns both coal and wood chips. Mostly wood chips I believe.
    It sounds like a different situation is Ohio, although a single article like this could be biased. We have a lot of trees and few people, so deforestation from burning trees to produce our electricity is not an issue here.
  9. jlasserton

    jlasserton New Member

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    Yes, this will lead to deforestation. Why would they even consider doing this? I am curious to know how many other states are involved in this. I am glad that article got posted. It was an interesting read.
  10. renewablejohn

    renewablejohn Member

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    I cannot speak for how you do it over the pond but we use approx 10,000 tonnes of wood per annum to generate 600 kw on a 24/7 basis. Our operation is totally sustainable as it uses the waste brash left behind from the trees which have been felled for paper pulp. Once we have removed the brash the forest is replanted and the cycle continues. We have not ignored the local wood burning community as we also provide a full range of split logs, kindling, briquettes and wood pellets all made from the waste which previously was either allowed to rot or burn in the open. The real problem I see from the article is no mention of drying the timber before power generation. Our moisture content is always below 20% thanks to our solar dryers but if they use woodchip direct from the forest the MC is likely to be 55-60% requiring 3 times as much timber for the same generating output.

    I would dispute the articles assertion about CO2 emissions re Coal versus Wood but with no facts as to how he arrived at this comment it is difficult to verify the statement. From a purely generating perspective Wood has very loooow emissions compared to coal which is why we can even operate in smoke controlled areas of UK which excludes coal fired systems.
  11. TMonter

    TMonter Minister of Fire

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    I have a lot of pictures that as we built it and most of the engineering design plans too.

    I assume you're referring to the Seattle Steam biomass facility installed last year.
  12. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    T would know more about this, but the reason we are getting opposition in Ma. has a lot to do with the perceived inefficiency of a green wood plant. The plans are not for combined power and heat - just for electric power. The naysayers are claiming that the efficiency is really really low. There are other objections in MA. because this is a very small and densely developed state and although there is a lot of wood and forests, it's not like out west or even PA or NY. The plants would have to truck in the logs on a constant basis which concerns those who live nearby. It also will put a strain on wood supplies in some areas....or at least this is what some are saying.

    They did some bogus studies to prove that the plants do not count as renewable (long story, but I will explain if anyone wants), and they are spreading a lot of PR around opposing the plants.

    I have to somewhat agree - that thermal and smaller scale biomass fits in better in our more urban area. Large plants using wood which is not waste...and burning at low efficiency - does not sound ideal.

    Admittedly, I don't know all the issues....but I suspect the naysayers don't either. Some of them are the type who oppose everything.....even though we have large coal and nuclear plants nearby. Sometimes I feel like shaking them and saying "it's not a question of what is ideal, but more what we are using NOW compared to what is being proposed".
  13. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    I think that is a concocted statement which they paid some scientists for.........

    The logic is somewhat perverted. Here is how I think they came up with it.
    Rather than consider it over normal time periods (30+ years or 100+), they claimed that our State (Ma. in this case) had a particular goal to cut CO2 by a certain amount within 15-20 years and they based the government policies (the "free" money, etc.) on this goal. Since it takes longer than 10 or 20 years to grow most large trees, they then claimed that wood was not really renewable.

    This, of course, is a complete fabrication. It takes a lot of nerve to try and fit natural processes which occur over decades and centuries into a finite and short time period.

    Like you, I am more concerned about the low efficiency. They need to take a hint from your operations and use the solar dryers and also perhaps sell firewood and briquettes and pellets.
  14. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    FYI, I don't think our local plans are big corporations - more like locals and forestry folks who thought it would be a good thing.
    http://www.russellbiomass.com/
  15. renewablejohn

    renewablejohn Member

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    I cannot believe the plans outlined by russellbiomass. Any efficient biomass plant needs to have a purpose for its waste heat whether that is a district heating scheme or in our case a torrefication plant. Straight away your efficiency on a generating only plant is reduced to a maximum 30% instead of 70% for a CHP plant and by using wet forest waste I would expect the efficiency could be as little as 10%.
  16. jebatty

    jebatty Minister of Fire

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    As to burning wood for electric power production, this almost has to mean burning fiber which cannot be sold for a higher price. Trees (logs) which can be sawed into lumber, if there is a market for the lumber, or which can produce pulp for paper, or even stove wood for residential or small commercial use, produce much higher value than burning the trees in a power plant. A power plant has to compete in the market for its fiber fuel, and even at current depressed prices for fiber, the price still is too high to buy the trees for burning to produce electricity. And just about as soon as the price might drop low enough, the added demand by power plants will start to push the price back up again.

    In short, brush, tops, branches, unmerchantable thinings and other round wood, deadwood are the likely target for a power plant. In our area these items barely produce a bid at a timber sale, and this stuff is "sold" mostly to prepare the harvested area for replanting, as otherwise it often needs to be piled in large slash piles and burned in the open air. Some slash, if left on the ground, attracts insect and other pests which are harmful to other living trees. There is controversy about how much of this can be taken out of the woods and for how long and still leave sufficient biomass on the forest floor to produce long term sustainable forests. Considerable research is continuing in this area.

    The quantity of sustainable fiber available for power plants is an interesting question. Quantity is inextricably related to the price the power plant will pay, and currently that price is little if any more than the cost of chipping if needed, gathering and trucking the material to the plant. The forestry certification agencies have pretty good standards to insure long term, sustainable forests, and the great bulk of public (and much private) forest lands in MN are certified and audited. In Minnesota, forestry plans for the national forests, Minnesota state forests, and county public land forests are prepared and administered for long term healthy, sustainable forests, not only for fiber but also for clean water, wildlife habitat, and recreational uses. The current issues revolve around whether these plans are too conservative (harvest levels substantially below sustainable yields) and getting rid of unmerchantable, excess fiber, even if it has to be given away.

    I think this issue is not settled, but paranoia on one side of the other is not helpful. Keep in mind that there has been little controversy over cutting forests for paper pulp or lumber, both high value products. Cutting forests for electric power production will have to compete in this larger market, and energy costs will have to go much, much higher to make it profitable to cut forests for electric power production.
  17. jebatty

    jebatty Minister of Fire

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    When we talk about efficiency, we almost always fail to consider the laws of thermodynamics (hey, not my area of expertise, but ...) which in general state that 50% of energy is lost to heat in the conversion from one form to another form. Whether coal, oil or wood is burned for electricity production (when not combined with district heating or other use of the excess heat), starting efficiency is only 50%. Other losses that occur until the electricity arrives at the point of use result in overall efficiency of roughly 15%. Point of use efficiency of the 15% available may range from close to 100% for heat, if heat is the desired output, to as little as 10% in the case of an incandescent light bulb.

    So, if starting with a lump of coal, gallon of oil, or log of dry wood, delivered efficiency of the energy in the fuel can be as low as 1.5% of the energy contained in the fuel in its pre-burn state, with the balance of 98.5% in heat released into the atmosphere, along with CO2, acids, heavy metals, mercury, etc., the things you and I enjoy breathing, eating and drinking.
  18. btuser

    btuser Minister of Fire

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    Burning wet wood is stupid. I hope we don't have stupid people building power plants. I know its hard for me to get a grapple-load of firewood, because no one wants to deliver to a residence when the pellet mills and boiler plants around us will take it quick and non-stop, so that's already pushed up the price of fuel for me. At one point in 2008 seasoned cordwood was selling for $400/cord.

    I don't think we're too far away from a law against selling firewood. I think the excuse will be invasive species being spread by people delivering firewood. They will regulate the small guy out of the market so the mills/plants will get their biomass and sell it back to us in a nice plastic wrapper.
  19. EatenByLimestone

    EatenByLimestone Minister of Fire

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    That power plant sounds like a big OWB.

    Matt
  20. peakbagger

    peakbagger Minister of Fire

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    Here is a link to more information than most people would ever want to know about the impacts and operation of a biomass power plant. The proposed 70 MW plant in Berlin NH will be the biggest on the east coast.

    http://www.nhsec.nh.gov/2009-02/documents/091216application.pdf

    As this is part of a public permitting process there is lots of information availlable on the plant.
  21. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    If it's designed well, it's more like a giant wood chip gassifier.

    http://www.seattlesteam.com/index.htm

    If I lived in NH I would start lobbying the company and the state to make this a cogenerative facility. They are blowing off waste heat in cooling towers when it could be used for greenhouses or at least an industrial park.
  22. branchburner

    branchburner Minister of Fire

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    Is there a good reason there aren't more small-scale cogeneration plants? I would love to have a clean-burning OWB/gassifier to generate my own electricity and hot water. It would seem like you could have a number of neighborhood or community mini-power-plants that would increase fuel efficiency and reduce long distance transmission loss. Is it the economies of scale that discourage this?
  23. renewablejohn

    renewablejohn Member

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    In UK it is the cost of grid connection which is the barrier to entry of a distributed power plant system. For a 250kw system connected to the grid the connection charge and consultants fees will be approx £50k.
  24. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Not sure, but possibly safety related or maybe noise? To generate adequate electricity I would think you would need to generate high-pressure steam and have adequate safety systems and maintenance. But it certainly is possible.:

    http://www.mikebrownsolutions.com/stmpwr.htm


    And did this beauty!


    or if you live in the southwest, go Solar Steam
  25. renewablejohn

    renewablejohn Member

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    You can generate electric from wood without any steam. Check out Victory Gasworks for small gasifiers suitable for gas fired generators.

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