Two-hundred-fifty industry personnel participated in the first Bio-Energy, Fuels & Products Symposia & Expo held February 4 at the Omni Hotel at CNN Center in downtown Atlanta.

Panel World magazine and Georgia Research Institute organized the event, with Wood Bioenergy magazine serving as the media sponsor. Many who attended the Bio-Energy event also stayed over and participated in the second Panel & Engineered Lumber International Conference & Expo (PELICE) held February 5-6 also at the Omni, which was also organized by Panel World and GRI.

The conference portion of the Bio-Energy event included 30 speakers and moderators who addressed raw material, product and market developments, as well as bio-process technologies ranging from in-woods chipping to in-plant drying and air emissions control.

Forty-eight companies participated in the tabletop exhibits at the Atrium Terrace of the Omni Hotel, with 20 of those companies also exhibiting at PELICE, which was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Omni.

Bio-luncheon speakers were Greg Heck, Senior Research Engineer with Southern Company, which owns 77 power plants in the Southeast with a combined capacity of 42,000 MW, through Alabama Power, Georgia Power, Gulf Power and Mississippi Power. Heck’s presentation was entitled “Co-Firing and Repowering with Biomass for Electric Power Generation.”

He focused on the company’s Plant Mitchell in southwestern Georgia, where Georgia Power plans to convert from coal to woody biomass. This will require modification of the existing boiler, a new wood yard and the addition of three truck tippers. Biomass delivery would encompass 180 trucks per day, six days a week, or 1.1 million tons per year of biomass. Multiclones would be added to remove large particulates and re-inject them for additional fuel burning.

Heck said that at 100% biomass operation, Plant Mitchell would have a capacity of 102 MW gross and a net output of 96 MW.

Heck added that the project is currently on hold pending clarification by the EPA regarding the classification of the boiler as an Industrial Boiler, which would affect the emissions controls required by the project.

Southern Power’s current sources of generation include 71% coal, 15% nuclear, 11% oil and gas, and 3% hydro.

Richard Clark, New Technologies Manager for Oglethorpe Power Corp. (OPC), provided an overview of Oglethorpe’s Biomass Project Development.

Oglethorpe, established in 1974 and headquartered in Tucker, Ga., is said to be the nation’s largest power supply cooperative, serving 38 Electric Membership Corporations, which collectively provide electricity to 4.1 million residents of Georgia. Its energy portfolio includes natural gas, hydroelectric, coal and nuclear, with a combined generating capacity of 4,700 MW as well as purchased power.

In May 2009 OPC purchased a 355 acre tract in Warren County, Ga. on which to construct and operate a 100 MW biomass electric generating plant. Clark said it would require 1 million tons of wood per year of wood chips, 150-200 trucks per day, dumping from six truck dumps. Raw material would include forestry residues, whole tree chips, mill residues. Clark noted that two-thirds of Georgia is privately owned timberland and their studies indicated a substantial net surplus of biomass.

Constructed is planned to begin in the first quarter of 2011, with operation commencing in the second half of 2013, and full operation in spring 2014. OPC is looking at a $400-$500 million investment.

Clark said OPC has conducted various studies of fuel samples from the woods and mills with regard to moisture content of both softwoods and hardwoods. He said OPC is working closely with the local community on water supply, and expects that more than half of the water will come from the wastewater treatment facility at Warren, Ga.

Clark expressed some concern over current trends that seem to favor financial incentives for bioenergy projects such as ethanol, and that there needs to be an official designation of biomass as “carbon neutral,” which would help to level the playing field for incentives.

The opening General Session was moderated by Jill Stuckey, Director of the Center of Innovation for Energy, Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority. She verified what everybody already knows: that Georgia is a hotbed for biomass and bioenergy projects. Stuckey reported that 12 biomass-to-electricity plants have been announced for Georgia, representing 689 MW of renewable energy, an investment of $1.8 billion and the possible creation of 570 direct jobs.

Addressing the wood supply issue, Stuckey said that between 1998 and 2008 the growth of growing stock on timberland in the state has exceeded removals by an average of 38.5% annually or 546,086,970 cubic feet per year.

Brooks Mendell, President of Forisk Consulting, addressed the 126 announced projects throughout the South, representing 46.4 million tons of biomass. He cautioned that a significant number, perhaps up to half, won’t endure. He said a project can’t proclaim real credence until its receives or secures two of the following: financing; air quality permits; EPC contracts (engineering, procurement and construction); power purchase agreements for electricity facilities; interconnection agreements for electricity facilities; wood supply agreements; location.

Aditya Handa, Managing Director & CEO of Abellon CleanEnergy, addressed the energy potential of crop residues and the creation of sustainable local rural economies in India. He noted that one-third of the population has no access to electricity, while the country is the fourth largest importer of oil in the world behind the U.S., China and Japan.

Handa said “agro waste” could generate up to 20% of India’s power consumption, while displacing a significant volume of coal, providing a major reduction of CO2 emissions, rejuvenating wasteland into forest coverage, and generating 4 million jobs. Instead of woody biomass, Handa pointed to castor, cotton, bagasse and especially bamboo residue as raw materials. He called bamboo “the natural green coal,” with higher carbon sequestration capacity and ideal plantation growth, harvesting and yield management.

Saritha Peruri, Manager of Business Development for research and seed company, Ceres, debunked several biopower myths. One myth she said is that biopower is not scalable because fuel can only be transported within a small radius to remain economical. She responded that high biomass yields solve transportation cost issues, enabling large scale projects and decreases the required feedstock buffer.

She also addressed the “myth” that there is not enough land available for growing energy crops. Peruri said that co-firing 15% of the world’s coal-fired capacity would require just 2% of the total available land.

Peruri said that “energy grasses” are the most desirable feedstock because of better properties and her company has launched the “first energy crop seed brand” called “Blade.”

Valery Detzel, head of procurement of GEE Energy Gmbh, noted that as the importance of pellets as a renewable energy source increases, the number of producers and clients will continue to increase and thus international experience and know-how in regional and customer-specific structures is substantial. This is where international wholesale trading plays an indispensable role, as traders with long-term experience in the pellet market are aware of the complex and specific customer needs, and know how to handle them. This enables them to optimally steer international product flows and at the same time create efficient and appropriate trading structures in supply and demand—both on a spot basis, as well as based on long-term fixed agreements.

Harold Arnold, President of Fram Renewable Fuels, relayed his experiences from the startup of Fram’s pellet plant in Georgia under the affiliate name, Appling County Pellets. Arnold noted the plant requires 250,000 to 300,000 tons of softwood and hardwood sawdust and chips per year.

One of the issues of a pellet plant that can’t be underestimated, Arnold noted, is wood dust, and that plant design and operational procedures should address dust issues and cleaning from the get-go.

Arnold provided a step-by-step glance at the operation of a pellet plant and noted potential pitfalls. He said the business is seasonal, and the plant itself should be flexible enough to vary production speeds.

Arnold also said the U.S consumes 80% of its pellets production internally and exports the rest mostly to Europe, while Canada exports almost 90% of its production, mostly to Europe. He noted however that U.S. exports more than quadrupled from 2006 to 2008. He also said the supply of wood residues in the U.S. has dropped 56% since 2005.

Several equipment companies, such as TSI, Siempel­kamp, Instalmec and Dieffenbacher, provided a look at their biomass drying technologies and related energy systems.

Gunter Natus of Dieffenbacher reported that Dieffenbacher is introducing a pellet mill machine that will be available in sizes of up to 25 to/hr. It utilizes principles in Dieffenbacher’s continuous panel press.

Two speakers, Walt Dickinson, President of Integro Earth Fuels, and Rodney Schwartz, Business Director for Megtec, Inc., addressed wood torrefaction.

Dicksinson compared wood torrefaction to wood pelletizing and addressed the integration of torrefaction into the pelleting process. He said torrefaction requires more input of green raw material per finished product, and thus the cost of raw material is the number one factor driving all other decisions. He noted that during the torrefaction process most of the energy value of the wood is preserved, and that torrefaction greatly increases the grindability of biomass, allowing it to be pulverized like coal and thus is more compatible in co-firing. He noted his company’s construction of a pilot plant in Gramling, SC and proposal to build a 200,000 ton per year torrefaction plant in New Bern, NC.

Bernard O’Connor, VP-North America, Andritz, spoke on turnkey pellet plants and process technology, and took the opportunity to confirm the recent announcement that RWE Innogy plans to build a wood pellet plant in Waycross, Ga. with an annual production capacity of 750,000 tons, making it the biggest and most modern of its type in the world. Andritz is supplying the complete plant including the wood yard.

Other presentations addressed biomass harvesting (M.W. Collins Inc.); biomass facility feasibility (Hunt, Guillot & Associates); biomass handling system designs (BRUKS Rockwood); biomass fuel quality testing (Minnesota Valley Testing Laboratories, Inc.); high efficiency cyclones for wood pellet recovery (Fisher Klosterman); wood fuel pellet manufacturing for varied raw material sources (Pöyry Forest Industry); briquetting as an alternative to pellets (Stiles Machinery); and boiler systems (Biofuel Boiler Technologies).

The organizers of the Bio-Energy Symposia expect to make an announcement soon on the dates of the next event.