Archive for the ‘Grass combustion’ Category

Greetings all,
At the conclusion of this year’s Agricultural Biomass Heating Seminar in Saratoga Springs, I had the pleasure of announcing the pending release of funds to support a “state-of-the-science” review of grass energy in Vermont and the Northeast. Here are the details:

The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (VSJF) is seeking proposals from individuals, consulting firms or organizations to conduct a state-of-the-science review of grass energy in Vermont and neighboring states and establish the next step(s) to accelerate the commercialization of grass energy in the region and specifically in Vermont.

Over the past few years, a number of projects in Vermont and the Northeast have led to a body of knowledge on growing, processing and using grass for energy. However, this opportunity has not fully developed into a marketable option for growers, landowners, fuel processors and dealers, equipment manufacturers and vendors, nor homeowners or communities. There are still some uncertainties around the viability of using grass for energy, and as a result some are hesitant to move forward with grass energy plantations or system installations that will support grass combustion.

At this time, VSJF would like to assess the current state of knowledge and identify the remaining critical questions that need to be answered in order to commercialize this opportunity. To review the complete Scope Of Work relating to this RFP, and the information needed to apply, please visit the VSJF website at: http://www.vsjf.org/news/72/request-for-proposals-grass-energy-in-vermont


After reviewing the RFP, if you have questions please email us at: vtbiofuels”at”vsjf.org


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A very successful open house at EnviroEnergy one week in May solidified my thoughts for this post. We had good traffic all day and it was good to meet people in person who are friends in cyberspace.

This activity along with all the developments since my last post continue to convince me that bio-mass in all it’s forms will continue to increase it’s viability as a heat source. People I have been in communication with of late really seem to get the concept of a local renewable energy loop. Consumers seem to be willing to put up with the little inconveniences of handling bio-fuel to gain fossil fuel independence .I have been pleasantly surprised that I have been contacted by manufacturers who are interested in building appliances that can more efficiently handle bio mass. When our project began, we contacted many manufacturers who would not talk about bio mass fuel. Thus we were well aware that it would be an uphill climb to be successful with grass as a fuel.To date, the project has proved the concept and we are looking forward to the next generation of equipment.

I am aware of several start ups that are trying to get started. As we involved in the industry are well aware, the hurdles are not few. The two biggest obstacles are emissions regulations and capital. The emissions are a very important issue and does need addressing; however,  the expense of testing for compliance can be a major issue. This brings me to the major point of this post.
This industry needs to be seen as an important,valuable and necessary component in this country’s  energy strategy. We are well aware of the European stand on renewable energy, and need our governmental bodies to support this initiative. Where is the support going to begin? Sure, the industry has to push the issue; however, that in my vision is not the ultimate solution. The consumer will be the success of this change in policy. As we are seeing in the heating industry, the demands of the people actually buying the fuel force the changes. Why are appliance manufacturers embracing renewable fuels? The consumers are demanding it. Our organizations, including the sponsor of this blog, will be an important part of the change. But the biggest force to push government, industry and the banking world will be the demands of people who enjoy being warm and comfortable at a manageable expense. We need to continue  to reach out to the populace and explain bio mass. They get it, but it constantly amazes me that there are so many people who are shocked to learn that grass is a viable energy source. “Come on what else is in it?” I have heard this over and over so the preaching is more important than ever.

Enjoy the spring!!

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A few of our contributors have recently summarized their experiences at the 3rd Annual HeatNE Conference that was held in Manchester, NH April 14-15 and, in doing so, have nicely captured most of the “take home “ messages from the event. I was very pleased to see that grass energy had a real presence and was encouraged by the participation of so many people in the special post-conference grass energy development meeting. I strongly support folks working through statewide and regional organizations and communicating through this blog and in other ways in order to raise issues and track progress. At the national level, it is important that we participate through membership in the Biomass Thermal Energy Council (BTEC). I have suggested to our County’s Industrial Development Agency (IDA) that they join BTEC inasmuch as biomass energy development is important to our County, whether it be woody or agricultural. This would provide a conduit for informal, non-incorporated, (cash poor!) groups such as the St. Lawrence County Grass Energy Working Group to convey their thoughts to BTEC. By extension, I would encourage other county IDAs with similar interests to do the same.

Now for the topic-de-jour. I would like to focus on a conversation I had with a vendor at the Conference who, while demonstrating the features of the boiler his company had developed, made a very simple but profound statement: “You decide what fuel you want to burn and we will design a unit to burn it efficiently and cleanly”.  It became clear to me that, in order to advance grass as a fuel, the “research and development community” needs to first decide which grass species and cultivars to use, either singly or in mixtures, how to grow and harvest them in ways that will minimize ash and chlorine, how to best densify them (or not) and to document their combustion characteristics. In short, recipes for grass fuel are needed. Then, boiler manufacturers will have a fuel with predictable characteristics for which they can design their equipment. Currently, research on grass combustion is often based on the reverse sequence – different grass mixtures are tested in off-the-shelf boilers to see if they will work. Maybe you get lucky doing it this way, but it is a hit-or-miss proposition.

Having definite recipes for grass fuels would also give growers comfort. They would know how to establish stands and properly harvest them, and the value of the bio-energy crops could be more reliably predicted. Much of the speculative nature of these crops could be eliminated.

The main priority of grass energy research at this time should therefore be in developing grass fuel recipes that are: (1) adapted to regional growing conditions, (2) harvested using a standardized protocol and (3) tested for their combustion characteristics. This is a proper role for government-assisted research. Once the recipes are known, the innovation of the private sector can then be unleashed to create the desired combustion technologies.

I suspect that several manufacturers are already close to being able to claim reliable, clean, efficient grass fuel combustion performance. Some are probably already there, particularly for larger boiler systems. It is the residential market for grass-fueled heating systems that stands to gain the most from the approach described in this article. Regardless of the market sector, everyone should benefit from zeroing in on the best recipes for renewable grass fuel.

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I was pleased to actually meet the people with whom I have been interacting. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of interested people who stayed late to meet about Ag biomass. We are a niche of a niche industry. Now to what I learned.

The Grass biomass industry is indeed in it’s infancy.We have a long way to go to break the perception that grass is a inferior solid heat source. I was surprised  by the number of people who thought grass pellets were much lower in energy than wood. They found it hard to believe that grass can have 95% of the BTU’s of premium wood pellets.

It is very understandable that the manufacturers are slow to offer appliances that can handle higher ash fuels as the market for this type of solid fuel is at this point so small. As Libby Murphy stated in her earlier post,there are some who are attempting to produce equipment that will handle grass as well as many other products even including dog food!! The result is more availability of equipment to burn grass.

The wood biomass industry seems to have lowered resistance to other biomass. The feeling I came back with is that if oil and gas prices continue to climb that there is room for other heat sources. The gas and liquid fuel industry on the other hand,  seems to be very resistant to any solid fuel. Big business has put all of its efforts into the use of renewable bio to produce ethanol or bio fuel oil to take the place of oil and gas reserves.

A further initiative seems to be trying to  hobble solid bio-fuel by regulating it to death. Technology has progressed now that a clean burn is now possible. We as an industry need to try to get ahead of this by working together locally, regionally and Federally to make our united voice heard — that we can help the country reduce dependance on fossil fuel. We only have to look to our European friends to see that this is attainable. The presentations by the people from Austria reinforced my belief that we have to continue to move forward with this initiative of promoting grass as a solid fuel energy source.

I came away reassured that what we are doing is important, responsible and necessary. To have a reliable local energy resource is a win-win situation for all involved, farmers, processors, equipment manufacturers, distributors installers, repair people and consumers.

Till next time!

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I will try to complete the overview of our installations.

The rest of the story about the Quadrafire is that we have been able to burn these stoves successfully at two locations.

We finally interfaced with the proper person at Hearth and Home Technologies who supplied us with the latest tables to burn grass pellets. The first unit that we removed was reinstalled in the dining hall at the 4H camp in Delaware County. This unit has functioned as well as we had expected from the success at Cornell University.

The second Mt Vernon was installed this fall and it too is burning grass with no major problems. The one drawback with this unit is the rather small ash pan. The inherently higher ash content of grass dictates the frequent emptying  of the receptacle and as already stated in other posts the units, stoves and furnaces, need frequently cleaning to function properly.

Last post I commented on the Central Boiler furnaces. I will now continue reporting on our other hydronic furnaces. We have placed three Woodmaster pellet furnaces into service, two ASF 1100 and one AFS 900. All of these units work very well when they are operating. The AFS 11oo are manual light that are lighted with a starter gel once lighted they burn constantly but switch to a maintenance mode when the water jacket reaches operating temperature. In this mode the unit cycles the feed and air blower on and off to maintain a small fire until the jacket temp falls calling for more heat.The AFS 900 is a newer model and has auto ignition. The pellets are ignited by an electric ignition module. When the furnace reaches operating temperature the feed stops and the fire is allowed to go out until a call for more heat and the unit re fires. There have been some issues with the feed systems especially the larger AFS 1100 . We are using large poly feed bins that were supplied with the furnaces. These larger bins require a long auger from the bin to the furnace. The bins were difficult to position in such a way as to insure the augers were straight and true. Because of this we have had breakdowns of the feed auger systems. We are working along with the manufacture to solve these issues.

We have found that Grass Bio-Fuel is a viable heat source and the problems we have experienced do not mean that this renewable energy source is too problematic to be successful. The project to date has shown that Grass Pellets can be used as a clean and efficient heat source.   It must be remembered that all of out appliances are now older technology. The biofuel industry in this country is still evolving and I think the manufacturers are beginning to address problems with these earlier products.

We have not experienced any corrosion issues to this point and have extended the project to determine how our appliances will hold up in real world setting. We also are interested in if the available units can be used successfully by the average homeowner. Some think the future of bio-energy is in larger scale  commercial installations but I for one am not ready to give up on the use of this heat source for residential use.

Catskill Grass Energy Project personnel will be at the HeatNE 2001 Conference and I hope to meet some of our readers there.

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Building a grass-based bio-energy industry will require advances on three fronts: (1) creating demand through price competitiveness and heating appliance compatibility, (2) developing reliable, cost-effective densified fuel production and (3) making it worthwhile for grassland owners to produce sustainable bio-energy crops. These can be thought of as three legs of a stool, all of which must be present for the stool to stand. This brief essay focuses on the second item: developing reliable, cost-effective densified fuel production.

Although there are special systems such as those manufactured by Reka that can burn undensified fuel, densification into pellets and/or briquettes is going to be necessary for widespread adoption. Densification facilities, whether they be mobile or stationary, have to be designed for optimum production and minimum cost. People who know how to do this well can be found in the dairy and livestock feed mills that serve New York and the Northeast.

An opportunity may exist to work with one or more of these mills to test grass pellet production under real-world conditions and establish the economics. Such a research effort could be a model of public-private partnership. The ideal candidate for such a project would be a mill that has some amount of surplus pelletizing capacity. Depending on their configuration, some mills produce both pelletized feed and bulk mixtures. If the demand for bulk mixtures increases relative to pelletized feed, such a surplus capacity can occur.

The research may cause feed mills to add grass fuel pellets to their product lines or it may open the door for new entrepreneurs. In the future, densified grass fuel could be delivered in bulk to on-site storage at the points of use with the same delivery vehicles that are currently used for feed deliveries. Another approach could be the interchangeable container method, as described by Tony Nekut in the February 13 posting.

If no feed mill can be identified that would agree to participate in a funded research project as described above, another alternative would be to fund a dedicated test-bed facility. It would be economical, however, to use existing equipment located in a feed mill if possible.

I am hopeful that this is one of several issues that participants will discuss at the HeatNE Conference in Manchester, NH on April 14-15. Grass energy will have a higher visibility at this year’s conference than in the past. I encourage you to attend.

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Community Biomass Energy has received a grant to design and prototype a container-based system for delivering and dispensing bulk biomass fuels. The initial focus will be on baled grasses. The grant, which is funded by USDA and administered by the New York Farm Viability Institute, provides consulting support for the project through SUNY Cobleskill.
We have been involved in two NYSERDA funded projects to install state-of-the-art biomass fired heating systems. The first project at the Cayuga Nature Center was completed in 2009; the second, at the Town of Danby highway department garage, will be completed this year. Experience with these projects has revealed issues related to receiving, storing, and handling bulk solid fuels that could hinder their expanded utilization. Both of these mid-scale projects require roughly 50 tons of fuel annually, about two semi-trailer loads. In both cases, the fuel is delivered into a bulk storage building and then transferred as needed with a front end loader to the boiler feeding system. In both cases, this material handling solution is acceptable because there is adequate space, and loaders and operators are available. In many potential applications, this solution is not viable due to lack of space, equipment, or personnel.
The present project aims to address these material handling issues by developing an integrated, bulk fuel delivery and metering system based on the concept of standardized, interchangeable containers. The design goal is 10 tons of fuel per container. At 20 pounds per cubic foot, a bulk density characteristic of tight bales and minimally compressed wood chips, the container volume will be about 40 cubic yards, a typical volume for commonly available large roll-offs. Fuel delivery will amount to exchanging an empty container for a full one. The system will interface with the heating system and transfer fuel from the container to the combustor as needed. Automated fuel supplier notification of nearly empty containers could be included as an added feature.
Some key advantages of this system will be: 1) minimized capital costs for consumer; 2) minimized responsibilities for consumer; 3) common shared fuel processing for all consumers; 4) minimal additional fuel densification; 5) multi-fuel capability.
This project is still in the conceptual stage, but the hope is to move it forward quickly so a prototype is tested and ready for use within 1 year maximum. Here is a list of tasks: 1) research what, if anything, is already developed and available; 2) design system; 3) perform comparative economic analysis of system vs. alternatives; 4) build and test prototype.
At the time our proposal was written, we suggested that the Danby project could serve as a test bed. Although this option remains available, it may not be the ideal venue because the project will likely be completed before the prototype is available and because ample space, manpower, and equipment are available to implement a more typical solution with larger on-site fuel storage and walking floor semi-trailer fuel delivery. If anyone reading this can suggest another potential test bed venue (a rural propane or fuel oil heated school, for example) or would like to partner with us on this project, please contact Tony Nekut (tony.nekut@communitybiomassenergy.com).

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