News | June 2018

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Despite Challenges As­tec Sees Growth

Despite some setbacks, Astec Industries President and CEO Benjamin Brock still sees the wood pellet business as potentially a $100 million a year business for the company and doesn’t rule out multiple plant projects given the expected increase in worldwide wood pellet demand.

Brock referred to 2017 as an “extremely challenging year” for the company, which has financing arrangements and is the turnkey suppler to the new Hazlehurst Wood Pellets plant in Georgia and is the turnkey provider to the new Highland Pellets plant in Arkansas, both of which are in operation. Astec reported last year, however, it was going back in and performing operational upgrades to those plants—though different issues at each plant—to bring them to production capacity.

Both plants operate with modular production lines.

Brock said they’ve made good progress on those updates, and have ongoing quote activity for new pellet projects. However, Brock noted, “We are not going to sign a new pellet plant order until we have finished at both of the current plant sites.”

He said Astec should be in position to add an order in time to deliver another complete wood pellet plant in 2019. “If we do get an order for another big pellet plant, we will only do so as a supplier of the equipment in accordance with our traditional equipment, parts and service offerings,” he added, apparently indicating Astec’s future preference to steer clear of total project financial backing.

Biofuels Plant Will Convert Biomass

Red Rock Biofuels, a Colorado-based company established in 2011, is moving forward to construction of a renewable energy biofuels plant in Lakeview, Ore.

The facility is expected to convert 136,000 tons of woody biomass and forest byproducts into 15 million gallons of renewable fuels annually.

“Red Rock Biofuels LLC is pleased to announce that after many years of development, we are commencing construction on our planned biorefinery in Lakeview,” says Jeff Manternach, Chief Financial Officer for Red Rock. “We appreciate the support from all of our project partners and are planning a ground breaking ceremony for later this summer.”

Construction is expected to take 18 months, with operations planned to start in 2020. By using a combination of gasification, hydro-processing and the Fischer-Tropsch method of combined pressure, heat and water, raw materials will be converted into jet and diesel biofuel.

The company was created in response to widespread and devastating wildfires in the Western U.S. caused by forest debris and the rising demand for drop-in, cost competitive renewable jet and diesel fuels.

Funded through bonds, equity and already established contracts with FedEx, Southwest Airlines and the U.S. military, the project received a major boost in January when Oregon Gov. Kate Brown approved $245 million in bonds for Red Rock Biofuels.

The site for the facility is located on the southern end of Lakeview south of Kadrmas Road in close proximity to the Lake County Railroad line—the primary means to transport refined fuel.

Wood-Fueled Biocoal Plant Makes Progress

Biomass Secure Power Inc. has entered into an exclusive licensing agreement with River Basin Energy Inc., which gives Biomass Secure Power the rights for technology that will be deployed at BSP’s Natchitoches, La. plant for the manufacture of biocoal (torrefied biomass briquettes).

Biocoal is a sustainable fuel replacement for power generators currently burning coal. BSP believes that this patented process will be a game changer for power companies currently using coal to generate electrical power. Contained in the technology package are a number of patents associated with the pelletizing of biocoal at high temperature. High temperature briquetting provides a product that can be stored and handled using the same equipment currently in use for handling brown coal.

BSP will process wood chips in a fluid bed reactor at its plant in Louisiana. The product of the reactors is a continuous stream of torrefied wood chips that will be formed into briquettes. The briquettes will be used to generate electrical power from a certified sustainable fuel source. The patented process will contain 30% more energy than a standard white wood pellet and not require special handling and storage equipment, according to the company.

BSP has engaged Wood PLC as the EPC for the Natchitoches plant and expects to break ground in the spring. It is planned to install equipment that will produce 240,000 tonnes per year at the end of phase 1 construction. BSP plans to continue the development of the Natchitoches plant in two further phases, increasing production by 400,000 tonnes per year for each added phase. The plant is expected to meet its full capacity of 1 million tonnes per year within 36 months.

Biomass Secure Power Inc., which is incorporated in British Columbia, reports it has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a power company market located in the U.S. The MOU states that Biomass Secure Power will commence shipping of biocoal in the third quarter of 2019 and agrees to ship up to 200,000 tonnes in 2019, up to 300,000 tonnes in 2020, and up to 400,000 tonnes in 2021 or as adjusted by further agreement. BSP and the power company are obligated to enter into good faith negotiations towards a long-term supply agreement not less than 20 years.

The State of Louisiana has approved a waste bond in the amount of $88,536,200 and Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML) has been engaged to sell the bonds.

It is the aim of the company to continue to develop multiple large plants to be constructed using the same basic design of the plant developed at Natchitoches. It is anticipated that plants will vary in accordance with the available resource and will be in the range of 640,000 tonnes to 1,600,000 tonnes per year.

The Natchitoches facility will process forest residuals, cull, thinnings, slash, tree tops, wood chips, lumber mill residuals and branches. Phase 1 of the plant design features three identical production lines with a nominal capacity of 80,000 tonnes/year each, with services to be added to enable the company to quickly initiate phase 2 and 3 as market conditions dictate.

The company notes there is sufficient fiber to add a second facility in the Red River Mississippi catchment area and says it has identified resources which are sufficient for construction of three facilities in the north Louisiana/Mississippi region that could operate at a combined production rate of greater than 4 million tonnes annually.

Former Rentech Mill Finds New Life

A little over a year after news broke that U.S. pellet giant Rentech’s northern Ontario operations—Wawa and Atikokan—were struggling, the Atikokan wood pellet plant is once again operational under new, local ownership, and looking to expand.

BioPower Sustainable Energy Corp. purchased the Atikokan plant from Rentech in December 2017. BioPower is a subsidiary of True North Timber (TNT), a logging contractor based in Chapleau, Ont. Both TNT and BioPower are owned and operated by CEO Mark Guillemette.

“We had been looking for the right investment opportunity for several years, and this pellet plant was exactly the opportunity we had in mind in Northern Ontario. It is clean, innovative and a sustainable energy solution,” Guillemette says.

The Atikokan wood pellet plant complements TNT’s existing presence in sustainable woodland operations and allows the company to extend into new emerging markets, he says.

Originally a particleboard mill, Rentech purchased the Atikokan facility in 2013. In the same year Rentech purchased a former OSB mill in Wawa from Weyerhaeuser. Both mills were converted to pellet plants and secured long-term offtake contracts, but encountered delays in production due to equipment failures and issues with material handling equipment.

In February 2017 Rentech idled the Wawa mill, citing equipment and operational issues as well as an uncertain market for wood pellets. Atikokan remained open, but reduced its production to 45,000 tonnes per year, just enough to meet the company’s long-term contract with Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) Atikokan generating facility.

Under its new ownership, the Atikokan pellet plant is again fully operational and employs 25 to produce and deliver the OPG contract, which is secure for the next seven years. BioPower will meet the production target of 45,000 metric tonnes of commercial grade pellets this year, and is looking to increase its customer base in order to produce even more. The plant’s current capability and configuration allows it to produce 110,000 tonnes per year.

Fiber for the mill continues to be supplied by Resolute Forest Products, which operates three sawmills and a pulp mill in northwestern Ontario.

BioPower is moving forward with some minor upgrades and capital improvements. One such upgrade is the installation of an automated bagging machine, which will allow the company to serve new customers and markets with residential wood pellets.

Guillemette says he is passionate about sustaining northern industries and employment to help create prosperous communities. His father, Albert Guillemette, was the founder of TNT, which today produces more than 400,000 metric tonnes annually and employs nearly 100.

This article appeared originally in Canadian Biomass magazine.

Pinnacle Continues Pellet Growth Pattern

Pinnacle Renewable Holdings Inc. has entered into a long-term, take-or-pay off-take contract with Ube Industries Ltd., a diversified Japanese conglomerate with annual revenues of US$6 billion. Pinnacle will supply 70,000 metric tons per year of industrial wood pellets to Ube beginning in late 2019.

“Japan has made a strong commitment to decarbonization, and biomass is poised to become an increasingly important part of the country’s energy mix,” says Robert McCurdy, CEO of Pinnacle. “One third of our $421 million in contracted backlog in 2017 was with customers in Japan, and this new contract with Ube further builds on our strong sales momentum in this growing market.”

Demand for industrial wood pellets in Japan is accelerating, supported by the government’s Feed-in Tariff system. There are more than 10 biomass projects currently in late-stage development in Japan. The Japanese market represented 3% of global demand for industrial wood pellets in 2016 and should increase to 10% in 2021 and 17% in 2026.

Meanwhile Pinnacle announced approval to commence the redevelopment by Smithers Pellet Limited Partnership of an existing particleboard facility in Smithers, BC to a wood pellet production facility. SPLP is a limited partnership in which West Fraser Timber Co. has a 30% interest and Pinnacle has 70%.

The facility, which is connected via direct rail link to Pinnacle’s Westview Port Terminal, will have an annual production capacity of 125,000 metric tons. Initial wood pellet production is expected to commence in the third quarter of 2018. Wood fiber supply and customer off-take agreements for the facility’s annual production have been secured under long-term contracts, according to Pinnacle.

Drax Joins Coal Displacement Group

Drax Group, owner of the largest power station in Western Europe, has signed up with the Powering Past Coal Alliance, a global coalition of counties, states, cities and businesses committed to ending coal generation.

The company, which has already upgraded half of its power station in North Yorkshire to use sustainable wood pellets instead of coal, has signed on to the UK-Canadian initiative, which seeks to end the use of coal by 2030 in developed countries.

The company’s involvement in the initiative was announced by the Rt Hon Claire Perry MP, UK Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth, at the Bloomberg Future of Energy Summit in New York.

Perry commented, “The UK leads the world in tackling climate change. We have reduced emissions by more than 40% since 1990. By phasing out traditional coal power, we are not only taking active steps to tackle climate change, we are also protecting the air we breathe by reducing harmful pollution. The Powering Past Coal Alliance sends a clear signal that the time for unabated coal fired electricity has well and truly passed.”

Will Gardiner, Drax Group CEO, commented, “Unabated coal does not have a long-term role to play in our low carbon future. The government made it very clear earlier this year that it wants the UK’s power sector to be coal free in 2025—and we will achieve that, and possibly even beat it. We’re exploring options for repowering our remaining coal units to use sustainable biomass and gas which we believe could help us to become coal free even earlier than the 2025 deadline.”

In the UK there has already been a dramatic fall in power generation from coal—an 84% reduction in the last five years.

Drax CEO Points To Electric Revolution

Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner said the country stands on the precipice of an electric revolution in a speech to the British Chamber of Commerce.

Gardiner, who was CFO at Drax for two years before becoming CEO at the start of this year, reviewed the company’s past and provided insight as to its future.

He noted that almost 50 years ago Drax began generating electricity from its power station in Selby, Yorkshire and that for three decades the company continued to burn coal to power the country’s demand for electricity. But he said that as the world welcomed in the new millennium, “simmering and justifiable disquiet” about the impact of fossil fuels on the environment gathered momentum and resulted in climate change rising up the political agenda—both in the UK and internationally.

“It sounded the death knell for Old King Coal and ushered in a wave of new, low carbon, renewable power generators,” Gardiner said. “Rather than trying to hold back the tide—and with the support of Government—Drax reinvented itself and set about changing the UK’s energy landscape in the process. Out went our dependence on coal and in came biomass—sustainable and renewable wood pellets that emit 80% fewer carbon emissions than its predecessor.”

Drax went from being the UK’s largest polluter to the largest single site renewable power generator in the country, he said. “But from supporting a renaissance in the industrial revolution, we now stand on the precipice of a wholly-different revolution: an electric revolution. And, more specifically, a people and business-powered renewable electric revolution.”

He pointed to electric vehicles that cruise clean streets without the need for a driver and household appliances that are all connected and communicate with one another; a revolution that sees the electrification of transport and heating; the introduction of artificial intelligence that allows the entire grid to connect and work in harmony with every one of the billions of devices taking energy from it.

“A revolution that will not be driven solely by large-scale power generators, but by ‘prosumers’ – individuals, businesses and institutions that not only consume electricity, but produce it too.”

Prosumers want a reliable and flexible self-supply of energy—and to call upon a mix of renewable technologies, just as the national system does, Gardiner said, adding, “They want—and will have—the capacity to generate their own energy via a mix of solar, wind and biomass and then, crucially, sell back their excess electricity to an energy supplier.”

He said new measures have already been put in place to encourage people to generate their own electricity. These will make it easier for prosumers to generate, store and sell back their power to the grid, which could save consumers up to £40 billion by 2050. Gardiner asked what could this mean for the business of electricity?

He pointed to multiple “commercial models” that operate together to facilitate a decentralized, prosumer-based energy system. These would include homes and businesses that wholly own their energy systems, as well as systems owned and operated by third parties, such as aggregators managing energy or solar-rental schemes.

Similar schemes are already in place in both the business and consumer retail markets, he said, noting that Opus Energy—a Drax Group company supplying energy to UK businesses—bought almost one terawatt of power from more than 2,000 small renewable generators last year.

These businesses use technologies such as solar, onshore wind and hydro. Opus Energy then sells that power onto its predominantly small business customer base. All energy supply should be easy and straightforward—especially renewable energy, Gardiner stated. “So perhaps the biggest barrier to large-scale adoption of prosumerism is technology.”

He cited solar as one of the most prominently used renewables by prosumers thanks to the relative affordability of rooftop solar systems.

Even home-interior giant IKEA now offers solar panels and battery systems through a partnership with the UK’s largest solar company, Solarcentury.

But like wind turbines, Gardiner said, which are a more cost-prohibitive solution, solar is an intermittent energy source, which means domestic users may still need to access the grid to fill gaps in their own generation.

That is unless battery technology advances to a point where it can store enough solar- or wind-generated electricity to fully power homes and businesses affordably, all-year round, including in the dark days of midwinter.

Along with small-scale generators, large-scale power producers have a crucial role to play here, he said. “If we can store renewable electricity from intermittent sources when they are able to generate, it could then be utilized at times when they’re not.

“However, the problem is the technology capable of storing electricity at scale doesn’t exist…yet. But the race to develop it is well under way, and several companies are working on building ever bigger, more efficient electricity storage methods.”

He said Drax is at the front of this race, planning to develop two giant 100 MW batteries at its site in Selby. These batteries will store electricity to enable Drax’s proposed gas-fired power generation to ramp up faster when needed. Together, they would be the largest batteries of their kind anywhere in the world.

But whether it’s batteries or biomass, solar or electricity supply, what all parties need is certainty, he emphasized, including certainty of long-term policy to support economically viable investment decisions.

“The certainty Government provided energy suppliers more than a decade ago brought forward unprecedented investment in renewable power generation,” he said.

“I can reflect proudly on Drax’s transformation. But I hope that my successors will reflect more proudly on the role they played to transform the entire energy sector.”

Enviva Releases Procurement Data

Enviva, the world’s largest producer of industrial wood pellets, released its latest Track & Trace sourcing data, which shows that Enviva sourced wood from 1,157 working forest harvests in 76 counties and in five Southeastern states over the six-month period ending in December 2017.

Approximately 39% of Enviva’s wood came from pine and hardwood mixed forests, 38% from southern yellow pine forests and 3% from upland hardwood forests. Approximately 19% was sawdust, shavings or residuals from wood products manufacturing. Two percent came from working bottomland hardwood forests, also consisting of undersized or “understory” wood, tops and limbs.

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