Industrial Processing Equipment Blog Blog

Industrial Processing Equipment Blog

The Industrial Processing Equipment Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about fluid and gas handling equipment; thermal processing; solids handling; and filtration, separation and recycling. Here, you'll find everything from application ideas, to news and industry trends, to hot topics and cutting edge innovations.

Previous in Blog: What's Your Energy Future Look Like?   Next in Blog: Will Carbon Sequestration Solve Greenhouse Gas Problem?
Close
Close
Close
22 comments

Safety Problems for Biomass?

Posted October 28, 2011 8:32 AM

An explosion at the University of South Carolina's heating plant has raised concerns about the safety of biomass-based boiler systems. While biomass is gaining ground as a viable fuel source for industrial processing, is the technology tried and tested enough to ensure its safety? And, are biomass-based systems really more efficient in the long run when problematic mechanical failures contribute to the cost of operation?

The preceding article is a "sneak peek" from Industrial Processing Equipment, a newsletter from GlobalSpec. To stay up-to-date and informed on industry trends, products, and technologies, subscribe to Industrial Processing Equipment today.

Reply

Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.

Comments rated to be Good Answers:

These comments received enough positive ratings to make them "good answers".

Comments rated to be "almost" Good Answers:

Check out these comments that don't yet have enough votes to be "official" good answers and, if you agree with them, rate them!
Guru
Hobbies - Fishing - New Member

Join Date: Jun 2008
Location: Raleigh, NC USA
Posts: 13529
Good Answers: 467
#1

Re: Safety Problems for Biomass?

10/28/2011 9:16 AM

Nope. Poor planning, poor design, poor execution, greed, and human error.

I can slap together a dangerous LPG, natural gas or diesel boiler in a couple of weeks max.

With a few minutes and a couple of tools, I can turn any automobile into an explosion hazard.

Maybe it was just Karma. Mother nature hates stupid people. Even if they say they're green.

__________________
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. Ben Franklin
Reply
Guru
Hobbies - Fishing - New Member

Join Date: Jun 2008
Location: Raleigh, NC USA
Posts: 13529
Good Answers: 467
#2
In reply to #1

Re: Safety Problems for Biomass?

10/28/2011 9:57 AM

Huh................Looks like the Canadian government is just as dumb as their US counterparts when it comes to throwing money at unproven "green" schemes.

http://www.nexterra.ca/about/funding_partners.cfm

Not to leave the US out though................we still are part of the action.

http://www.nexterra.ca/industry/projects.cfm

Their slogan should be, "Maximizing Fund Raising Efforts By Wrapping Bullsh*t In A Green Wrapper".

I take it back. There is a danger...............it's called deforestation. The idiots realized, after these things were built, that there wasn't enough grass and trigs to fire them.

__________________
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. Ben Franklin
Reply
Guru
Hobbies - Fishing - New Member

Join Date: Jun 2008
Location: Raleigh, NC USA
Posts: 13529
Good Answers: 467
#3
In reply to #2

Re: Safety Problems for Biomass?

10/28/2011 11:18 AM

So let's summarize:

1) Company promises to provide heat and power generation with grass clippings and mulch.

2) US and Canadian governments give them taxpayer money.

3) After plants are built, it turns out they were wrong, so whole trees that could be used to build houses, etc. are utilized.

4) The whole trees are harvested, transported, and chipped, using conventional petroleum based fuel, (with a little taxpayer subsidized ethanol mixed in).

5) Over 100 years of technology has brought us full circle, (with government help), to burning trees for fuel.

Anyone still believe that the government can solve any problems?

Keep dreamin'

__________________
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. Ben Franklin
Reply
Guru
Engineering Fields - Marine Engineering - New Member

Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: Australia
Posts: 1630
Good Answers: 19
#7
In reply to #3

Re: Safety Problems for Biomass?

10/28/2011 11:36 PM

Yes, it's very interesting.........."politicans have good ideas..........they can't think of them, that's the trouble"..........to quote Max Miller (English comedian, long time gone)

__________________
TO BE. or NOT TO BE. That is the question!! The Bard
Reply
Guru
Hobbies - Fishing - New Member

Join Date: Jun 2008
Location: Raleigh, NC USA
Posts: 13529
Good Answers: 467
#9
In reply to #7

Re: Safety Problems for Biomass?

10/28/2011 11:52 PM

It's all true. I read about this a year or two ago. A story from South Carolina.

I suppose it's to save face and not look like the idiots that they are, but they have been quietly harvesting entire trees down there to run these things................for a long time now.

My intention is to expose this stupidity whenever I can.

Every year I think my disgust with politicians can't get any worse, and every year, I'm wrong.

__________________
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. Ben Franklin
Reply
Guru
Engineering Fields - Marine Engineering - New Member

Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: Australia
Posts: 1630
Good Answers: 19
#12
In reply to #3

Re: Safety Problems for Biomass?

10/29/2011 12:48 AM

......or, I forgot this one.

It has been proven that over the centuries politicians have have not changed at all.

Here the the skeleton of a politician that was recently discovered at an archaeological dig believed to be dated around 300 BC

__________________
TO BE. or NOT TO BE. That is the question!! The Bard
Reply
Guru
Hobbies - Fishing - New Member

Join Date: Jun 2008
Location: Raleigh, NC USA
Posts: 13529
Good Answers: 467
#14
In reply to #12

Re: Safety Problems for Biomass?

10/29/2011 7:36 AM

Good one!!!!

__________________
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. Ben Franklin
Reply
Guru
Popular Science - Weaponology - New Member Safety - ESD - New Member Hobbies - Fishing - New Member

Join Date: Sep 2006
Location: Near Frankfurt am Main, Germany. 50.390866N, 8.884827E
Posts: 17996
Good Answers: 200
#13
In reply to #1

Re: Safety Problems for Biomass?

10/29/2011 4:57 AM

The first line of your first post said it all for me personally:-

Nope. Poor planning, poor design, poor execution, greed, and human error.

Only error was that "Human error" should have been in Bold and Underlined and then some!

Its designing out the possibility of human error that complicates things so much!!!

I remember years ago, when I used to occasionally write programs for various companies (as a side line only), the programs were easy to write, but ensuing that a user could not enter false data would increase the program size, sometimes quite a bit, slowing down operation slightly at the same time......

__________________
"What others say about you reveals more about them, than it does you." Anon.
Reply
Guru
Hobbies - Fishing - New Member

Join Date: Jun 2008
Location: Raleigh, NC USA
Posts: 13529
Good Answers: 467
#15
In reply to #13

Re: Safety Problems for Biomass?

10/29/2011 8:05 AM

I had to take the opportunity to point out that this is yet another big green lie.

I'm sure these units work great on a small scale, like the one tcmtech has.

For them to have dumped millions into these large units, and now be harvesting whole trees to feed them when we have more than enough natural gas available for heating, is beyond farce.

__________________
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. Ben Franklin
Reply
Guru

Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: South of Minot North Dakota
Posts: 8378
Good Answers: 774
#16
In reply to #15

Re: Safety Problems for Biomass?

10/29/2011 11:56 AM

Yep for a small scale personal use system its a cost effective and reliable heat source provided of course that you have an adequate supply of usable biomass that is nearly free to make it work.

Where I live we have an abundance of free wood from around the farm and surrounding area along with an endless supply of wood shipping pallets and crates I can get just for hauling them away. The down side is the physical volume of wood/biomass it takes to equal the equivalent BTU content of coal or natural gas.

A long winter for me can easily take the equivalent of around 1200 wood pallets of an average weight of 40 - 50 pounds apiece or roughly 25 - 30 tons! Now scale that up to the level of what average sized college or university complex would need for fuel volume and well... You are looking at an annual fuel volumes equivalent to literally trainloads of biomass.

Reply
Guru
Hobbies - Fishing - New Member

Join Date: Jun 2008
Location: Raleigh, NC USA
Posts: 13529
Good Answers: 467
#17
In reply to #16

Re: Safety Problems for Biomass?

10/29/2011 12:10 PM

Right. I heat my house with a wood stove. Works great, and only costs my labor.

Wood is free, and would otherwise go to the dump. I either catch tree guys when I'm driving around, and get them to happily dump the wood in my yard, or hit craigslist for free downed hardwood trees in people's yards and go get it.

Since they're cutting down live trees to feed this university boiler that exploded, they might as well bite the bullet, face the fact that they're idiots, and convert it over to natural gas.

__________________
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. Ben Franklin
Reply
Guru

Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: South of Minot North Dakota
Posts: 8378
Good Answers: 774
#4

Re: Safety Problems for Biomass?

10/28/2011 12:01 PM

As someone who has actually designed and built his own biomass fuel boiler, that has been in use for nearly 10 year now, I can say with reasonable certainty its not that hard but its not the same as making a normal natural gas or coal fired boiler system.

Burning anything takes knowledge of how stuff actually burns not theoretically burns and over complicating a design does not make it better.

Reply Score 1 for Good Answer
Guru

Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 1753
Good Answers: 59
#5

Re: Safety Problems for Biomass?

10/28/2011 10:50 PM

Unless you are confused #4 supports #3. Capiche?

Reply
Guru
Hobbies - Fishing - New Member

Join Date: Jun 2008
Location: Raleigh, NC USA
Posts: 13529
Good Answers: 467
#6
In reply to #5

Re: Safety Problems for Biomass?

10/28/2011 11:06 PM

Chill out man! He wasn't trying to override what I wrote.

Yikes. I'm plenty good at pissing people off on my own.

Having a bad day?

Relax...................take it easy.

__________________
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. Ben Franklin
Reply Off Topic (Score 5)
Guru

Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 1753
Good Answers: 59
#8
In reply to #6

Re: Safety Problems for Biomass?

10/28/2011 11:39 PM

Nooo. I am simply on my own, as in natural. Sorry being too acidic.

Not personal at all.

Reply Off Topic (Score 5)
Guru
Hobbies - Fishing - New Member

Join Date: Jun 2008
Location: Raleigh, NC USA
Posts: 13529
Good Answers: 467
#10
In reply to #8

Re: Safety Problems for Biomass?

10/28/2011 11:53 PM

No problem.

__________________
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. Ben Franklin
Reply Off Topic (Score 5)
Guru

Join Date: Jun 2011
Location: Phnom Penh
Posts: 4019
Good Answers: 102
#11

Re: Safety Problems for Biomass?

10/29/2011 12:08 AM

This is not so much a what problem as a who problem. Fuel is fuel and the safe and reliable handling of these is very well documented and, thankfully, safely executed on the whole. What happens is that when some inexperienced folk have reinvented the wheel and think it something special and unique they blunder on and produce installations that are in themselves a pile of biomass. "Green" fools mostly. (nothing wrong with green if it is based on sound engineering practices) Anything can be made to look economically attractive if the safety systems are omitted or maldesigned and boy scouts are entrusted with the implementation and operation. If you don't know then ask. It's that simple.

__________________
Difficulty is not an obstacle it is merely an attribute.
Reply Score 1 for Good Answer
Guru

Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: South of Minot North Dakota
Posts: 8378
Good Answers: 774
#18

Re: Safety Problems for Biomass?

10/29/2011 3:05 PM

Our local college of MSU is trying its hand at replacing the old coal fired heat plant with a ground based heat pump system. Personally I have serious doubts about the realistic goals, practicality, and financial savings/offset, of said system.

According to the engineers who are designing it they don't expect to see much more than a 40 - 50 degree temperature drop in the soil mass the thermal wells are in. Thats fine but around here the main ground temps are only in the mid to upper 40's as is and pumping heat out of near 0 F ground to a suitable level the campuses existing hot water heat system works at which is around 180 - 200 degrees is not efficient at all.

Anyone know what the expansion rate of damp earth is when it frozen solid being I am expecting a rather permanent city block sized frost heave a few feet high to form where they placed the thermal wells.

Lastly there was no mention of how that thermal mass is going to recover its thermal energy in the short summer months so that it will have enough energy to go a second season. Air conditioning does not provide that much thermal returns around here in the summer months and my calculations estimate that a thermal solar panel system about 1/3 the size of the campus could be necessary.

Unless of course they could decide to build a coal fired heating plant to reheat the ground where the ground source heat pumps pulled all their heating energy from. That might work too.

Reply
Guru
Technical Fields - Technical Writing - New Member Engineering Fields - Piping Design Engineering - New Member

Join Date: May 2009
Location: Richland, WA, USA
Posts: 21011
Good Answers: 783
#19

Re: Safety Problems for Biomass?

10/30/2011 5:30 AM

The flame, pressure, and temperature safety controls for boilers are pretty well understood. Depending on whether you are burning oak chips, buffalo chips, potato chips, or recycled computer chips, there might be some acids involved that increase corrosion on the fire side. If these are suitably monitored, reasonable safety should still be attainable.

__________________
In vino veritas; in cervisia carmen; in aqua E. coli.
Reply
Guru

Join Date: Oct 2008
Posts: 42308
Good Answers: 1666
#20

Re: Safety Problems for Biomass?

10/30/2011 4:15 PM

This is a good learning experience.

No matter how ignorant or downright stupid this overpriced, obviously poorly designed/operated system was, there will be plenty of taxpayer money available to pay someone to cut trees for it and fund the next folly.

And, you can bet that no one connected with this project will suffer any repercussions for their irresponsible actions.

Reply
2
Power-User

Join Date: May 2007
Location: Ronan, Montana
Posts: 174
Good Answers: 10
#21

Re: Safety Problems for Biomass?

10/30/2011 11:44 PM

Within the past couple of weeks I read about SC's problems because our Universty of Montana is going to do the same thing but do it right, so they say. According to the guys in the know, SC tried to do it on the cheap and used an engineering company which bought parts from all over which of course meant the various systems had never been used together. Montana is buying the whole system from a proven manufacturer in Canada which has a successful track record.

Some of the school districts here are successfully burning biomass. Some are having problems with the quality of the hog fuel (chips, ground stumps, limbs etc) and some aren't. Most sawmills burn hog fuel without problems for steam and electrical generation.

In Spokane,Wa there is a utility company called Avista (formerly Washington Water Power) , and are listed on the NYSE. They produce electricity from hydropower, wind, natural gas, and biomass. They are also a very big natural gas supplier for home and industry. But sticking to the biomass, their plant in Kettle Falls, WA has been running essentially flawlessly since 1983 and it is profitable. They buy the hog fuel, produce steam to run the electric turbines and make a profit. The point here is that biomass is economical and competitive if done right and it's clean (.052 pounds of particulate per ton of fuel)

Mentioned previously, sawmills and paper mills especially big ones buy hog fuel so they can produce their own power (steam and quite often electricity) and they've been doing it cleanly. So burning biomass is nothing as new as some would like others to believe. The problem seems to be more with new ideas and no experience. It appears there are many new companies jumping into the business. I'm a pilot but have no experience building jet aircraft. Would you like to fly on a plane I build for United Airlines. It would probably have a "few" problems.

In what we call the "Intermountain West" fuel shouldn't be a problem as it is renewable. It shouldn't be a problem in most of the USA as growth generally exceeds use.The problem here is that we have millions of acres of dead and dying trees caused by bugs and in great part from being old and dying of old age. The next problem we have is so called enviromentalists with their lawyers preventing the wise use of these dying and dead resources. Out here, generations who have made their living from the forests are out of work, green means red and brown forests, loss of habitat for our forest creatures, erosion of the mountains because dead trees don't hold water, and distressed fisheries. It seems that extreme positions are going to cause everyone and everything to loose. It's time for everyone to get smart.

Back on subject check out the link for Avist's Kettle Falls facility.

http://www.avistautilities.com/inside/resources/kettlefalls/Pages/default.aspx

__________________
"don't be so open minded that your brain falls out" unknown
Reply Good Answer (Score 2)
Guru
Technical Fields - Technical Writing - New Member Engineering Fields - Piping Design Engineering - New Member

Join Date: May 2009
Location: Richland, WA, USA
Posts: 21011
Good Answers: 783
#22
In reply to #21

Re: Safety Problems for Biomass?

10/31/2011 12:36 AM

Thanks for an interesting video. I have driven by there without realizing that this facility existed (or recognizing what it is).

Several communities near me (Ketchikan) are considering biomass boilers. I think they are meant more for district heating than electricity production, but this might vary.

The now defunct pulp mill here used to produce electricity from hog fuel, backing up the local utility when water was low in the hydropower lakes. Now, when water runs low, we have diesel generation with a substantial surcharge (more than double the usual hydro rate).

__________________
In vino veritas; in cervisia carmen; in aqua E. coli.
Reply
Reply to Blog Entry 22 comments
Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.

Comments rated to be Good Answers:

These comments received enough positive ratings to make them "good answers".

Comments rated to be "almost" Good Answers:

Check out these comments that don't yet have enough votes to be "official" good answers and, if you agree with them, rate them!
Copy to Clipboard

Users who posted comments:

Andy Germany (1); kramarat (9); leveles (2); lyn (1); MOBI (2); Randyl (1); tcmtech (3); Tornado (2); Wal (1)

Previous in Blog: What's Your Energy Future Look Like?   Next in Blog: Will Carbon Sequestration Solve Greenhouse Gas Problem?

Advertisement