Canadian Biomass Magazine

District Heat – Pellet Expansion

August 20, 2010
By Colleen Cross and Scott Jamieson

The Green Timiskaming Development Co-operative consists of municipal, First Nations, business, financial, and individual members promoting a district energy industry similar to that in Europe.

The Green Timiskaming Development Co-operative consists of municipal, First Nations, business, financial, and individual members promoting a district energy industry similar to that in Europe. The combined heat and power (CHP) system would comprise a plant where biomass is burned to generate electricity and heat, plus distribution networks of insulated underground pipes to circulate hot water to local buildings for space heating and domestic hot water. Such an industry could employ more than 50,000 people province-wide after a short five- to seven-year growth period, making Ontario less dependent on imported, fossil energy.

An electric Bandit Beast horizontal grinder is used to re-size grindings from the woods.  “We’ve been designed to run on sawdust and shavings, and in the past few years have had to deal with raw fibre,” explains Pacific Bioenergy’s Wayne Young. Photo: Pacific BioEnergy


On March 2, 2010, Green Timiskaming met with, among other interested parties, the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association; the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, and Forestry; and the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure. The group toured machinery and mining fabrication plants in northeastern Ontario whose fuel-handling processes and high-temperature furnaces may be adaptable for district energy production.

The first step, says Ambrose Raftis, chair of the co-operative, is to convince the provincial government to adopt existing European operation and registration standards, which are much more advanced and comprehensive than North American standards. On June 15, the group briefed Ministry of Consumer Services officials, who are responsible for the Technical Standards and Safety Authority, on the disparity in standards. The Ministry promised to bring the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure into the discussion.

Wholesale adoption of European standards will clear the way for a biomass demonstration project the group plans to develop. It’s a community-wide CHP energy system for a town of about 1,200 in northern Ontario that’s yet to be chosen. Green Timiskaming is in the process of signing a letter of intent to partner with Swedish companies Vision Power EU and Jarnforsen Energy Systems AB to create the system. Raftis says that this system will demonstrate more accurately than could Ontario Power Authority figures based on outdated standards that CHP’s return on investment makes it competitive with other forms of energy such as solar and wind.

Ambrose Raftis of Green Timiskaming says that a district heating system would “put citizens more in charge of their future and leave them less dependent on the leadership of politicians.” Photo: Green Timiskaming


Although movement on the initiative is slow, at least one obstacle has been cleared. Members initially calculated that they had 60–70% of the biomass needed for the demo (20,000 tonnes/year). However, they are convinced they’ll have an ample supply, having since learned that thousands of hectares of “bypass wood” – lower quality wood left behind – exist in the Timiskaming region alone.

“CHP could displace about $850 million worth of imported natural gas, the equivalent of having 20,000 new people working in northern Ontario,” suggests Raftis. “There’s no reason that district heating couldn’t be as big as or bigger than forestry or mining.”

Raftis hopes to have overcome the initial hurdles by the end of the year, including prerequisites, standards, rate changes with the Ontario Power Authority, and better clarification of grid access by communities.
– Colleen Cross

Pacific Bioenergy Expansion
Pacific Bioenergy’s Wayne Young has a simple analogy to explain what’s going on at the company’s pellet plant in Prince George, British Columbia. “It’s as if a bakery was designed to bake bread from processed flour, and all of a sudden, wheat started showing up at the door. We need to be able to turn that wheat into our own flour without slowing down production. We’ve been designed to run on sawdust and shavings, and in the past few years have had to deal with raw fibre. A large part of this expansion is to improve our flexibility up front to accept a broader range of raw materials without sacrificing throughput.”

Arriving in segments, the massive Solagen single-pass dryers will be used to allow the plant more flexibility in its raw fibre supply.


Indeed, the investment does just that. It also doubles the plant’s capacity. Built on this site at the edge of town in 2007, the expanded plant will go from shipping seven railcars of pellets out of its CN Rail spur each day to filling fourteen. Canadian Biomass had the chance to take a quick look at the project in progress while in Prince George for a Wood Pellet Association of Canada  board meeting and the 2010 International Bioenergy conference and saw firsthand what the expanded plant will look like. Some of the changes take it down new avenues in key areas of biomass processing, drying, material handling, air quality, and safety.

Raw material handling: The large pile of “bush grind” on site confirms what Pacific Bioenergy is struggling with for raw material. As the percentage of larger, wetter fibre coming from horizontal grinders in the woods increases, the plant will be prepared to handle it without flinching. Changes start with plans to pave the entire raw material storage area and continue through a massive Brunette Industries “BioSizer” hog, through secondary processing to the dryers, and then into five surge bins ahead of the new pellet mills. The plant already runs an electric Bandit Beast horizontal grinder for processing bush grind into finer material. Like a good sawmill, this new plant is all about uptime.

Drying: Pacific Bioenergy is moving from the conventional triple-pass dryers it uses to feed the original mills to a pair of massive 100 million BTU Solagen single-pass dryers. The expectation is that this technology will better handle the mixed feedstock supply and its varying moisture contents.

Handling: Rather than individual cooling towers out of each pellet mill, which is the case with the current five mills, the new bank of five Andritz pellet mills will feed a single Law-Marot MilPro cooler. Material handling in the new line is by Continental Conveyor vibrating and regular conveyors.

Air quality: The plant is located in a key airshed, so emissions are a concern. The expansion includes a wet electrostatic precipitator from Texas-based PPC Industries. The massive structure arrives in components that bolt together like a modern Meccano set.

Safety: This is not exactly new to Pacific Bioenergy, which is known for leading the safety charge in the pellet sector. The existing plant has Grecon and Flamex systems to manage both heat and sparks, and the expansion will include similar technology. “We’re aiming to be the poster boy for the insurance providers,” says general manager Tim Knoop.

The $24-million expansion was announced in February 2010 as part of a strategic partnership between Pacific Bioenergy Corp. and GDF Suez, a massive energy provider with 200,000 employees. GDF Suez has a minority interest in the Prince George plant and will buy 2.5 million tonnes of pellets over the next 10 years. This will guarantee a market for a large part of the plant’s expected 350,000 tonne/year capacity. At the time of the visit, the project was both on time and on budget. Look to a future issue of Canadian Biomass for a full report once the expansion starts up.
– Scott Jamieson

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