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Biomass Combustion Offers 3-to-1 Fuel Cost Reduction

By Chemical Engineering |

Among the most pressing concerns for the chemical process industries (CPI) are weathering the global economic recession and dealing with anticipated carbon emissions regulations. Switching from oil and gas to biomass for fuel in a CPI plant is a relatively simple way to ratchet down greenhouse gas emissions and cut costs simultaneously. Biomass fuels can help cut operating costs, improve fuel flexibility and reduce carbon emissions.

Tom McGowan, TMTS Associates

The fuel cost advantage is 3-to-1 for switching from gas and oil to forest-generated, whole-tree chips, and more than 7-to-1 when switching to mill residue, according to Tom McGowan, president of TMTS Associates Inc., a company with decades of experience helping plants implement fuel switches. The price differences for biomass generate savings that can pay for the higher capital and operating costs for biomass fuel systems, and still produce simple paybacks in three years or less for some applications.

“The use of biomass for energy is not a new concept,” notes McGowan, “but there is a right way and a wrong way to implement it in industrial applications.” Seasoned personnel that understand solids handling, for example, are critical in design and specification, he adds. Also, the biomass sourcing and pre-processing issues are significantly different than those for traditional fossil fuels that chemical engineers may be used to. CPI companies considering switching to biomass fuels need to reckon with adding staff (or outsourcing) for wood fuel procurement, as well as addressing supply issues caused by recession-induced mill shutdowns and competition from other wood users.

One CPI sector with experience in using biomass for fuel is the pulp-and-paper industry. Manufacturers in this area have historically burned “hog fuel” (bark and chips not suitable for papermaking) to make steam and power. Recent developments in these processes include retrofitting old grate-fired boilers as fluid beds to reduce emissions and carbon loss, and turning black-liquor-recovery boilers into gasifiers to produce fuels and chemicals.

Some CPI plants are opting to enter the biomass space alone, while others are partnering with independent power producers in co-generation mode. There, power is generated with a topping cycle, and saturated steam is sold “over the fence” to the neighboring facility.

McGowan will be addressing issues associated with biomass use in the CPI in a presentation as part of the 2009 Chem Show Educational Series. The presentation is scheduled for Thursday Nov. 19 at 8:45 a.m. in the Level 1 B Hall meeting rooms.

Edited by Scott Jenkins

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