Innovative Design Boosts Efficiency

Seneca Meeting Goals


The Pacific Northwest’s newest biomass-fueled combined heat and power facility here is running like a champ and providing renewable power for 13,000 local households. Receiving the facility’s final Title V operating permit from a local air quality authority earlier this year, Seneca Sawmill Co. Vice President and General Manager Todd Payne gained a measure of vindication when it was confirmed the company’s state-of-the-art combined biomass heat and power plant—Seneca Sustainable Energy—had been in full compliance with all air quality regulations since it started up in 2011.

Located in a highly environmentally-conscious community, the plant drew some opposition from small but vocal groups and had to pass multiple regulatory hurdles during development. “But in the end it was acknowledged we’ve always been in compliance with our permits, even though some local groups have tried to make people believe differently,” Payne says.

Payne, who headed up the project to build the Northwest’s cleanest-running biomass power plant, notes that Lane County sets high air quality standards, “But anything short of exceeding those standards would have been unacceptable to us. We live and work here, after all. So we set very high standards for this plant,” he says.

In developing and designing the biomass plant, Seneca officials used the same approach that has brought the company’s Seneca Sawmills lumber operations legendary status on the West Coast—complete focus on quality, accuracy and efficiency that exceeds expectations.

“When we set out to build the plant, we knew it ­wasn’t going to be an average, run-of-the mill facility; not only were we held to strict standards externally, but we also held ourselves to strict standards—we wanted to employ as much technology and efficiency as we do in our sawmills,” Payne says.

ReEnergy Management Team
Seneca Vice President Todd Payne, left, and Jim Munyon, biomass plant operations supervisor

Seneca personnel toured other biomass power plants around the country and tried to take the best concepts and practices they saw and incorporate it into their own facility. “The design really developed from an internal group with some outside engineering help,” Payne says, citing O&S Contractors and Wellons as key partners.

“Wellons did a turnkey power plant, so from the boiler on out through emissions control system it was their design, but it had to fit within our footprint and what we wanted to do,” Payne says. He adds that thanks to Seneca’s due diligence and the quality of vendors and suppliers who worked on the project, “We ended up with very few surprises in the end, just a few modifications and simple changes was all.”

Two key design objectives stand out at Seneca Sustainable Energy: Extensive automation that greatly reduces manpower requirements, and a noticeable cleanliness and neatness throughout the plant even four years after it began operations.

The automation is apparent in the fuel handling system, where truck drivers operate the truck dump and also log in their load data—information that the fuel handling system uses to direct raw material to the proper side of the main fuel pile.

Compared to many wood bioenergy facilities, the cleanliness is striking, the result of a requirement to operate a fully enclosed fuel handling system from truck dump to the fuel building. “Every place where we have a material handoff from one system or conveyor to another, we pull negative air pressure, so the ­fine particulates suspended in the air get pulled out, removed to the baghouses and eventually back to the boiler,” Payne says.

The troughing belt conveyors that make up much of the handling system leading to the fuel building are also enclosed—with a small box chain conveyor below to catch anything falling off the bottom of the belt.

The design with cleanliness built in pays off: “There’s nothing on the ground, so we don’t have any cleanup issues,” Payne says.