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Speaker Spotlight

3 Questions with Brent Boyko
Brent Boyko  |  Featured in the panel titled:
Taking a Big Swing: How Biomass is Increasingly Being Called Up to the Big Leagues of Heat and Power Generation
Wednesday, March 26 | 1:30 pm - 3:00 pm   |  View Panel

Atikokan Station Manager,
Ontario Power Generation Inc.
The Atikokan Generating Station is in the midst of its coal phase out. How is the conversion going and when do you anticipate you’ll be operating on 100% biomass?
I am so pleased that the Atikokan biomass conversion project has put Ontario Power Generation at the forefront of this new technology. The project is progressing well and adding significant value to Ontario's economy. It is creating about 250 construction jobs for the local economy. Another 150 jobs - or more -- will come from supplying the wood pellets to the station. I'm very proud of our staff and the work they are doing in partnership with our contractors Aecon, Doosan and Nordmin and to ensure the work is completed safely and on target. We are moving towards a better and more environmentally sustainable future.

We are planning on receiving commissioning fuel this spring and being commercially available in early summer.

Where did the bulk of the conversion take place at AGS?
Atikokan ceased burning coal in September of 2012. Our project conversion launch occurred in October 2012. Slip pour forming of the two new 5000-tonne silos was completed in May 2013. All burners were installed and test fired on gas by October 2013. Activities remaining include completing the material handling equipment installation and turnover to the commissioning team.

Can you talk a little about the testing your team did as you explored the viability of biomass as a new fuel source for the facility?
OPG conducted a number of tests at its thermal sites over the years. In 2008, an Atikokan GS test co-fired 200 tonnes of wood pellets which was equivalent to 20 per cent of the energy input (~50 MW). Pellets were produced from British Columbia trees that were destroyed by the pine beetle. Increasing percentages of wood pellets were tested in the summer of 2008 with plans for a 100% test before the end of that year. These tests would determine how OPG’s equipment would function with biomass and help to gain greater understanding of the technical requirements. OPG was quickly becoming the catalyst for Ontario’s biomass industry. Tests using biomass made from sustainable wood sources and non-food agricultural products will produce much cleaner and greener power that coal.

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3 Questions with Derick Dahlen
Derick Dahlen  |  Featured in the panel titled:
How Municipalities are Deploying Anaerobic Digestion to Capture the Energy in Organic Waste Streams
Tuesday, March 25 | 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm   |  View Panel

President & CEO,
Avant Energy Inc.
Hometown BioEnergy, managed by Avant Energy for the Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, is using food processing and livestock wastes in an anaerobic digester to produce up to 8 MW of power for the city of LeSueur, Minn. Why did you go the AD route for renewable power?
Our development team evaluated a large number of biomass technologies. We were particularly interested in biogas because it enable us to produce on-peak, dispatchable energy. We selected anaerobic digestion because the technology is especially well suited to the high moisture content of Minnesota’s agricultural and food processing wastes. The scale of this technology meant we could construct a facility with lower staffing requirements than a large mass burn facility and connect directly with our member community’s distribution system rather than feeding the transmission grid.

You broke ground on the project in December 2012 and finished a year later. Building an 8 MW system in a year’s time is quite a feat. What was the biggest challenge in meeting that aggressive goal?
The short construction schedule, especially when combined with the weather conditions was a real challenge. This past winter was one of the longest we’ve had in some time and required us to work weekends and long hours to complete the facility on time. It’s tough when you get snow in May, but through hard work and good management, we made it work.

Hometown BioEnergy is a first-of-its-kind for Minnesota, with many unique dimensions. What are you most proud of?
Hometown BioEnergy is attractive because it collects agricultural waste from this area, and creates a renewable source of electricity that will flow directly into the Le Sueur power system. The Hometown BioEnergy facility generates power from waste and creates two high value byproducts: liquid fertilizer and solid fuel.

The facility is also unique in that it is owned by the 12 member Minnesota Municipal Power Agency. We exist for one reason – to provide competitively priced electricity for our local communities in an efficient cost effective manner.

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3 Questions with Justin Price
Justin Price  |  Featured in the panel titled:
How New Discoveries in Pellet Production Emissions are Driving Change in Plant Design, Permitting and Operation
Tuesday, March 25 | 1:30 pm - 3:00 pm   |  View Panel

Evergreen Engineering Inc.
The title of your presentation states that new discoveries in pellet manufacturing emissions are driving changes in plant design. What kind of changes?
As nations consider renewable alternatives to fossil fuels, they are beginning to evaluate the energy value of trees, grasses and other organic material. The pellet industry has begun taking off, but without proper safeguards, many projects can hit roadblocks when it comes to navigating the complicated regulatory agencies. Roadblocks may occur if the process is not clearly defined or understood, and concerns must be addressed before permits can be issued. It’s also very important to truly understand pelletizing processes. Recent statements in Biomass Magazine indicate typical new mill construction is six times the size of the average previously existing pellet mill. Because new plants are producing at greater capacities than ever before, they begin to reach limits for various pollutants. When this happens, previously unseen emission control devices must be implemented in order to meet the requirements. In general, we can expect to see additional emission control devices being required in various process stages.

It is critical to understand your process design and how it will operate as plant size increases. Oftentimes, processes in pellet plants are compared to other traditional wood manufacturing operations, such as particleboard, medium density fiberboard or oriented strand board. What we have learned from these operations can be applied to specific applications of the pellet industry; however, there are times when we need to step back and evaluate how the pellet process is different, and realize that we might see different emission factors. Key differences are dry milling, pelletizing and cooling. Without a good understanding of these operation areas of a pellet plant, you could be facing some roadblocks with the permitting agency.

New developments are also impacting permitting. Does this mean existing plants, or more so plants under development?
Yes and no. Existing plants must meet the limits of their permits. These operations must provide specific data illustrating compliance. By doing this, they have demonstrated the ability to control levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and other pollutants according to permitted levels. Until there are tighter regulations or new data that shows the plant is out of compliance with its permit, they can continue to operate. However, as it was demonstrated with traditional wood manufacturing operations, maximum achievable control technology (MACT) regulation could be changed, and tighter controls may be required in the future.

As with any new facility, it is import to understand the entire picture of the operations and develop accurate models to predict emission potentials. As more information becomes available from existing operations, models can be refined to reflect these inputs. Therefore, new operations may well face more stringent permitting requirements.

In a few sentences, without giving away too much of your presentation, what is the main message or summary of what you are hoping to get across to pellet plant developers?
I’ll expand upon the role front-end project development has on the overall permitting process. I’ll also explain some of the challenges involved in meeting the owner’s desire for a low-cost capital facility with a high production output while balancing the need to meet regulatory compliance requirements and limiting the impact on operations. I hope to show how defining your process and highlighting similarities between traditional wood manufacturing operations can help explain your systems to a permitting agency. I’ll also look at the dynamics surrounding plant design and permit modeling, and how simple process design changes can have a large impact on overall operations.

3 Questions with Christopher Standlee
Christopher Standlee  |  Featured in the panel titled:
O Pioneers: A Close Look at the Early Settlements on the Frontier of Advanced Biofuels and Biochemicals
Tuesday, March 25 | 1:30 pm - 3:00 pm   |  View Panel

Executive Vice President,
Abengoa Bioenergy
Abengoa Bioenergy Biomass of Kansas is in the midst of structural completion? How is construction going and when do you anticipate you’ll begin commissioning?
Construction is almost complete with only some minor items left to finish. We have already started the commissioning process, as we started operating the boiler and the electric generation system in December, and actually produced and transferred electricity to the grid near the end of December. We expect to begin operations of the cellulosic ethanol portion of the facility within just a few weeks.

How will Abengoa Bioenergy bolster the agriculture community around Hugoton with the cellulosic ethanol plant?
Our facility in Hugoton, KS is a tremendous economic engine for the region. Not only have we employed hundreds of full time construction workers over the roughly 2 year construction period (with over 1,000 full time workers on site daily over the last 6 months), but we have contracted with local farmers within a 50 mile radius of the facility to purchase agricultural residues at a cost of approximately $17 million for each full year of operations.

You will produce biomass power along with cellulosic ethanol in Hugoton. Can you talk a little about the benefits of producing both power and liquid fuel at the Hugoton facility?
At the Hugoton plant we will use the same cellulosic feedstock to produce all of our steam as well as our electricity needs for the plant. By producing both power and fuel at this facility, not only will we eliminate the need to buy natural gas or electricity from the local utilities, but we diversify our products and lessen our exposure to the risk of having only one product to market. Historically, power markets have access to much longer and more consistent pricing for sales agreements than liquid fuel markets.

3 Questions with Will Overly
Will Overly  |  Featured in the panel titled:
Surveying the Momentum in Transportation Fuel Markets for Biogas Producers
Wednesday, March 26 | 10:30 am - Noon   |  View Panel

Manager, Carbon Projects,
Blue Source USA
How much of a difference maker are RINs for biogas projects?
Environmental Attributes (RINs & LCFS Credits) are significant for biogas projects. Currently projects are receiving 1-2 times the value of the brown gas from both RIN & LCFS incremental income. The combined total of these environmental attributes can be almost 2-4 times the value of the gas.

Where does biogas to transportation infrastructure stand right now?
Biogas projects have multiple options of getting their gas to an end transportation user(s). Some projects have transportation fueling stations on site while others introduce the conditioned RNG into the commercial distribution system. Introducing the gas into the commercial system allows the gas can be connected to almost any transportation end user in the Nation.

What are the first steps a biogas producer should take if they are seriously considering vehicle fuel as a final energy product for their operation?
Depending on the project it is necessary to determine if the gas will be used on-site or injected into the grid. Once that has been decided it is necessary for both pathways to establish consistent end transportation user(s).

Your presentation will include some lessons learned for a landfill gas to vehicle fuel project. Can you provide a snapshot of just one of those lessons?
One lesson we learned after successfully registering a landfill gas to on-site vehicle fuel project is to ensure that the end transportation user(s) are lined up. Also conversion of vehicles to CNG take longer than expected. It’s important to plan a head so completion of EPA registration and demand from end transportation users come on at the same time. There is no harm to having the demand ramp up after registration, however the project just misses out on additional revenue.

3 Questions with Tim Cullina
Tim Cullina  |  Featured in the panel titled:
Vital Safety Considerations for Manufacturers, Handlers, and Shippers of Wood Pellets
Wednesday, March 26 | 1:30 pm - 3:00 pm   |  View Panel

Senior Consulting Engineer,
Fauske & Associates
What are some reasons that carbon monoxide offgassing from stored woody biomass is a hazard?
Entering wood pellet and wood chip fuel storerooms in commercial and residential buildings carries a risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure that has not been fully appreciated in the move to this cost-effective and renewable fuel. Stored, fresh wood products (lumber, wood pellets and chips) are a potential source of carbon monoxide in enclosed spaces. When a person inhales CO, the toxic gas enters the bloodstream and replaces the oxygen molecules found on the critical blood component hemoglobin, depriving the heart and brain of the oxygen necessary to function.

The following symptoms are related to carbon monoxide poisoning:
  • Mild exposure: Flu-like symptoms including slight headache, nausea, vomiting and fatigue.
  • Medium exposure: Severe throbbing headache, drowsiness, confusion and fast heart rate.
  • Extreme exposure: Unconsciousness, convulsions, cardio-respiratory failure and death.
In many cases of reported CO poisoning, victims are aware they are not well, but they become so disoriented that they are unable to save themselves by either exiting the building or calling for assistance. In cases of residential CO poisonings, young children and household pets are typically the first affected.

In the pellet sector specifically, can you describe a scenario in which offgassing could be a danger?
The following exposure descriptions are not just potential scenarios, they are actual tragedies of CO exposure from stored wood pellets. In January 2010, a 43-year-old engineer died in Germany after he opened a wood pellet storage bunker door. A second worker who was standing right behind him was also affected but managed to call the emergency services. A second case in a Swiss town occurred February 2011. Here, a 28-year-old woman who was four months pregnant died from CO poisoning in a wood pellet storage area. Since 2002, there have been at least fourteen fatalities in Europe and Canada caused by carbon monoxide poisoning following entry into wood pellet storage areas. Several of these exposures happened in the workplace where training should have been in place to prevent these tragedies, but without the awareness of the CO hazard from fresh wood pellets, protective safeguards were not followed.

What are some recommendations to prevent harm from offgassing?
Immediate efforts are needed to ensure that the biomass consumer base, both institutional and residential, receive education on the risk of carbon monoxide exposure in woody biomass fuel storage areas and methods to mitigate this risk.

Detection or measurement of CO levels is essential prior to entry into spaces storing fresh wood pellets and chips. Forced ventilation may be necessary in order to achieve safe entry conditions within a reasonable time. The provision of proper gas monitoring instruments, and the education of the public are of vital importance. Prevention could include an access door labeling requirement as well as locking of access doors leading to not only confined spaces but also to spaces at risk for CO accumulation from wood pellet or chip storage.

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3 Questions with David Ripplinger
David Ripplinger  |  Featured in the panel titled:
Reviewing the Efforts to Establish Alternative Feedstocks as Significant Contributors to the Bioeconomy
Wednesday, March 26 | 10:30 am - Noon   |  View Panel

Assistant Professor, Agribusiness and Applied Economics,
North Dakota State University
You’ll be talking at the conference about the progress in promoting a new bioenergy project in North Dakota. Can you briefly describe the project?
Efforts are underway to introduce a new industry in North America that would use special varieties of beets to produce biofuels and bioproducts. North Dakota State University has worked closely with a North Dakota-based group to conduct a variety of economic, environmental, and engineering studies to determine the feasibility of the platform. Most recently, NDSU Extension has engaged growers to educate them on the potential opportunity.

How is the concept of industrial beets for ethanol and biochemical production being received by farmers and community leaders in the field days and meetings held to date?
Farmers are definitely interested, but want more information before making the decision to grow. Grower education events held at five North Dakota locations in late January were very well attended. The focus was general in nature, as there is a lot to the project from crop production to processing. March meetings will cover economics, including cost of production, in more detail. Trial yields have been very good, averaging about 25 tons under dryland conditions and nearly 10 tons higher when irrigated. What’s most impressive is that most of the trials have been held under less than ideal conditions. There are a number of considerations when considering a new crop, industrial beets are no different. Crop rotations, herbicide carryover, and profitability all play a role.

To file for an advanced biofuel pathway with the U.S. EPA for energy beet-based ethanol, you must have some numbers on the sorts of greenhouse gas savings. How do energy beets look?
NDSU conducted a preliminary life cycle analysis of an energy beet-ethanol pathway in 2010-2011 prior to the submission of an advanced biofuel petition by the project developers. The analysis showed that energy beet-ethanol clearly exceeded the 20 percent greenhouse gas emissions required of conventional biofuels and the 50 percent threshold for advanced biofuels. However, EPA does its own analysis.

3 Questions with Don Fosnacht
Don Fosnacht  |  Featured in the panel titled:
Drop-In Biomass: Using Torrefaction to Produce a Fuel that More Seamlessly Integrates with Coal Combustion Infrastructure
Wednesday, March 26 | 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm   |  View Panel

Director, Center for Applied Research & Technical Development,
University of Minnesota Duluth
Your abstract will talk about utilizing a combination of biomass pretreatment methods. What is one of the main benefits of producing a pellet or briquette using a combination of pretreatments rather than a single method?
With torrefaction technology, the process can drive potential binding agents out of the biomass material, and you need some remaining lignin to consolidate the material back together. What we found using the hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) process is that the material will bind by itself very easily. When we discovered that, we began using combinations of the material with the torrefied product, and we can get a very self-binding material that’s pretty much all fuel, since the HTC product has very similar properties to torrefied material. So if you have a small, HTC system to complement your torrefaction system you can produce your binder and can make production a lot easier. With higher blend ratios, around 10 to 15 percent, the material gains moisture resistance.

How could multi-pretreatment pellets play a role in other biomass projects, such as the Coalition of Sustainable Rail’s efforts that you are involved in?
We first want to demonstrate the efficiency of a boiler system using advanced biofuel, which would be the torrefied material, probably stabilized with some HTC product. We’ll prove that concept out and show that it can generate the electricity. We’re targeting about 100 kilowatt-type systems and probably go much higher than that. We have one proposal with a partner to make a 100 kW, steam-boiler generator system.

Can you describe some of the biggest challenges you or other researchers came across during the study and how they tackled them?
The key thing is, once you go and try to make this pretreated fuel, what happens between biomass species, such as agricultural crops and woody biomass. There are different ways you have to process that material. What we find with the HTC process is that when you put the material in there, it doesn’t really matter what happens, other than the ash content. The products become very uniform by the time they get out; however, when you go with torrefaction, it’s more particular in terms of species that you feed in. Therefore, you would have to adjust your process parameters more regularly when you’re targeting a certain amount of dry solids loss, which is how much volatile matter you are taking out of the original biomass. We learned a lot about the parameters you have to control in order to get a fairly uniform product, no matter which input materials you are actually using.

3 Questions with Cory Wendt
Cory Wendt  |  Featured in the panel titled:
It’s All About the Money: Getting Anaerobic Digestion Projects Off the Drawing Board and Under Construction
Wednesday, March 26 | 1:30 pm - 3:00 pm   |  View Panel

Senior Manager,
Baker Tilly Virchow Krause LLP
Baker Tilly has been involved more than 15 biogas projects over the past 3 years that are either operating or under construction. What is driving nationwide interest in biogas projects?
Anaerobic digestion can be a solution for a number of environmental and energy issues that industry and municipal governments are facing today. The primary drivers behind many new biogas projects include: an inability for a factory to expand given its available land at a processing site for waste disposal; municipal water utilities working to attract new tipping revenue and/or offsetting their own energy costs internally from biogas production; city laws prohibiting food waste from landfills; biogas offtake contracts being used in vehicle fleets; and possibly as a cheaper cost of disposal for a particular waste stream.

In your opinion, where do unsuccessful projects stall out on the project development journey?
Projects typically stall out in the pre-development phase where the primary economic drivers and feedstocks have been identified, but there is now a need to substantiate all of the project assumptions with the formal agreements required to permit or finance the facility. This step can cost the project sponsor a notable percentage of a total project budget and often with no guarantee the project will be viable after final engineering and agreements come back.

What will it take for the biogas industry in this country to even begin to approach the levels it enjoys in some European countries?
Good examples of successful commercial scale projects in the US are helping educate the financing community on how to best underwrite a project. US biogas projects have a number of economic drivers, often at a state, local or site specific level and these drivers can each be unique to a project. In contrast, European biogas projects benefit from a high electrical feed in tariff rate provided by their governments. The project’s energy sales then become reliable revenue streams allowing financing parties, both debt and equity, to get comfortable with the project economics with less education required for each project.

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