Waste to energy fuel pellet technology is a sustainable alternative to coal

November 14, 2011 |

By Ted Hansen, General Manager, Greenwood Energy

According to USDA.gov in September, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, announced major agricultural research projects to develop regional, renewable energy markets, generate jobs and decrease America’s dependence on foreign oil. The five-year program would deliver more than $136 million in research and development grants to public and private sector partners in 22 states. That having been said, renewable energy production is a key to sustainable economic development in North America, and 2012 is expected to be a significant year for alternative fuels, including pellet producers.

While most of the demand today for woody biomass fuel pellets is in Europe and Asia, North America is expanding at a rapid rate. With a comparable price and close replication of the energy (btu/lb), storage, and handling characteristics of coal, alternative waste to energy fuel pellets made from label material and poly-coated flexible film waste are being created that not only burn at the same rates as coal, but also resist weather-related degradation, providing a cost-effective alternative that can work symbiotically in combination with other alternative fuels, such as woody biomass.

Fuel pellet technologies can also be specifically designed for use with existing coal-fired boilers, eliminating the upfront capital expenses associated with other renewable technologies.   In addition, fuel pellets also have the favorable emissions characteristics and carbon footprint associated with traditional biomass fuels and are lower in sulphur, mercury and chlorine compared to most coal.

Who typically uses fuel pellets?

Fuel burning customers are typically municipal utilities, industrial plants or major public facilities such as university campuses. What they all have in common is a need for a cost-effective, cleaner-burning, renewable supplement to coal or a high-energy blend with biomass.

The cost and administrative overhead of adopting fuel pellet technology is minimal.  In most cases coal-burning boilers can burn pellets without capital expense or facility modification.  Fuel pellets are readily mixed and stored with coal or woody biomass which allows a smooth transition in the percentage of pellets being burned over time.

Pellet customers include:

•    Universities needing to eliminate coal as an on-campus power source;
•    Public Utilities burning Greenwood pellets to fulfill state-required green energy production;
•    Major Manufacturers integrating renewable fuels as a part of corporate sustainability plans;
•    Paper Mills teaming with Greenwood as both raw material supplier and pellet customer.

What are the applications?

The bulk density and energy density of the pellets are comparable to coal. As a result, they can be easily integrated into existing storage, transfer and handling systems. The fuel burns cleaner and is derived from sustainable sources.

The fuel is used in a wide variety of applications including:

•    Stoker boilers–For industrial power plants to reduce coal consumption;
•    In a circulating fluidized bed for a Wisconsin public utility;
•    Blended with biomass to improve energy rating and help moisture control;
•    Blended into coal piles at fuel terminals for customers to reduce coal fines and meet corporate renewable fuel targets;
•    Universities in the United States have tested Greenwood pellets within their strategies for sustainability and reduction of coal use.

The Feedstock– What can be processed?

Pellets are produced from non-recyclable industrial waste products that are normally disposed in a landfill. No post-consumer waste is utilized in the pellets.  All feedstock streams are sampled and tested prior to approval for use as a fuel pellet. In addition, potential raw materials are tested for energy content, fiber content, non-combustible substances and other trace materials and minerals prior to being approved for conversion into fuel pellets.
Raw materials that can be utilized include: plastic films containing polyethylene, polypropylene, PET, etc., non-recyclable fiber-based waste, and materials containing laminates of plastics, adhesives and fiber.

Cutting the Costs of Doing Business

If raw materials end up in landfills, they produce methane and decompose. Fuel pellet technology is proof that universities, municipal utilities, major manufacturers and paper mills can become more carbon-neutral in energy production by eliminating coal and using alternative fuel pellets made from a range of industrial waste materials.   This will lower greenhouse gas emissions, improve the environmental footprint of corporations and, in many cases, reduce the bottom-line costs of doing business.

Ted Hansen is the General Manager of Greenwood Energy, a part of The Libra Group, a privately owned global conglomerate operating from 18 locations across four continents that is currently developing additional facilities across the United States and internationally. For more information, visit here.

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