Chris Huhne : Chicken Litter

Proving that he is every centimetre the man, Chris Huhne “disgraced” former UK Member of Parliament, and “besmirched” former UK Government Minister, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, proves he’s no chicken by taking up an appointment with American firm Zilkha Biomass Energy :-

What is this company ? And what is it about ? On it’s website it says “BIOMASS is jobs”. Well it certainly is for Chris Huhne. To land such a role, he clearly has no chip on his shoulder, although now he’s got a wood chip as a permanent companion.

ZBE produce a water-proof, “safer” black pellet, for use in biomass power stations. What can give it such properties ? The Zilkha black pellets look really quite shiny and tough.

One thing we know for certain is that Zilkha black pellets do not contain chicken litter.

“[…] I received a call from a very upset man – who was one of the principles of Zilkha Biomass. He was quite upset at the comment I made in a previous blog – where he indicated that he didn’t think it was right for me to compare his fuel to Chicken S**t. Well, I reviewed the blog, and in fact – I DID NOT say that Zilkha Black pellets were chicken s**t at all. What I said was – that they were no more torrefied pellets – than Chicken SOUP was Chicken S**T”. He reiterated to me that NO WHERE, at NO TIME, did they EVER say that their pellets were torrefied. That is blatantly obvious. Now – in discussion with him – he said that he was going to be very nice – and ASK me to print a retraction. IF I refused to do so – then the next people I would hear from were his Lawyers. (Apparently – in his view – I had Slandered them and Libelled them and was an all around not-nice person). Yet again – I offered to tell the WHOLE story of their product – and requested samples in order to undertake a peer review. The Risk of this, of course, was that as a scientist – it would be a very factual and un-compromised analysis – and that isn’t something that is always particularly flattering. For the record: Zilkha Black pellets are in NO WAY, SHAPE or FORM Torrefied fuel, and have never been promoted as such.”

Chicken litter in wood pellets ? Surely not ? Er, yes, sometimes :-

“Because wood pellets compete with fiberboard, particleboard and oriented strand board for raw materials, there have been recent reports of wood pellet shortages in the U.S. To satisfy demand for pellet fuels, agricultural residues and industrial food byproducts are being pelletized for fuel, although on a much smaller scale. According to Robert Hubener, sales manager for pelletizing equipment supplier Freedom Equipment LLC of Rockford, Ill., more customers are pelletizing products for fuel. “An interesting one is manure mixed in with wood pellets, basically [used] animal bedding,” Hubener says. “It’s a product that a lot of people [want] to get rid of.” ”

Commenters to the raw torrefaction weblog made the following contributions :-

[Anonymous7 February 2012 02:28] “IF Zilkha Black pellets are in NO WAY, SHAPE or FORM Torrefied fuel, What the h3ck are they promoting??”

[Unknown24 February 2012 05:05] “The Zilkha Black pellet web-site doesn’t describe their process. However, the US patent application contains the following description of a black pellet. “The term “black pellet” may refer to a pellet with a lignin binder and/or coating induced by processing the biomass feedstock prior to introducing the biomass into the pellet machine or press. Steam explosion may be used in manufacturing densified fuel as a means to free lignin from cellular structures of biomass, thereby allowing the lignin to commingle with the fiber portion of the biomass and, when compacted by the pellet machine or press, forming both a waterproof or water-resistant internal binder as well as a waterproof or water-resistant protective surface coating that enhances the durability of pellets and briquettes. As a result, pellets and briquettes may have improved abrasion properties and may be stored outdoors in a manner similar to outdoor storage of coal. Having physical characteristics similar to coal may facilitate the introduction of pellets into coal handling processes of conventional coal plants, resulting in both capital cost and operating cost savings as compared to the use of white pellets.”

And, it seems, some wood pellet manufacturers stoop as low as to include plastics in their products :-
“We pre-screen our wood before processing it and we use no debris or additives of any kind. Many pellet manufacturers will use vegetable or soybean oil and some even use plastics. Our pellets are made with 100% wood – no additives, no oils, no plastics, no polystyrene. ”

This was kind of intriguing, so I looked up the patent :-

“[…] SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION : [0015] The present invention relates to a method for producing fuel pellets and a pellet used as a fuel source prepared by a process. Lignocellulosic biomass having a moisture content of less than about 30% by weight is introduced into a reactor. The moisture content of the lignocellulosic biomass may be less than about 15% by weight. Less than about 50 weight% of a carbon source may be added to the biomass. The carbon sources is coal dust, coke powder, or unprocessed biomass. A vacuum of less than 500 torr, preferably less than 200 torr, is applied to the reactor. Steam having a temperature of between about 180°C and about 235°C is injected into the reactor. The biomass is maintained in the reactor between about 1 and about 12 minutes. The treated biomass having a moisture content less than about 30% by weight is removed from the reactor. The treated biomass is formed into a pellet or briquette such that forming may be pelletizing, extruding, briquetting, or the like. [0016] Optionally, a catalyst is introduced into the reactor. The catalyst is a fatty acid, ester, or triglyceride. The catalyst is introduced prior to or together with the steam into the reactor. […]”

We’re told that black pellets are wood, but if I’ve found the correct patent, it would suggest they could have coal or coke in them, plus some kind of oil. In fact, from this brief outline, they could be less than 50% wood, and up to 50% fossil fuel. But how could we know ? It all arrives with much heavy public relations. Even the pellets are glossy.

Why does this matter ? Because the UK is in the throes of investing in new biomass power plant – and subsidising it.

“[…] For the purpose of calculating how much CO2 the North Blyth Biomass Power Station will displace, we have taken a very conservative approach of assuming that all of the fuel for the project is imported woodchip that is delivered to site using large ocean going vessels from sources that are over 8,000km away. In reality, and given the strong commercial incentive to minimise shipping distances, the fuel supply to the project is much more likely to be a mix of UK sourced fuel, some fuel sourced from within Europe (within, say, 2000km) and other fuel that is sourced from elsewhere (for example, the eastern seaboard of North America would have an estimated shipping distance of approximately 5,000-6,000km). This more realistic scenario would have a lower greenhouse gas impact than that presented here. : WILL THIS BE A COMBINED HEAT AND POWER (CHP) PROJECT? : We are keen to maximise the overall efficiency of our North Blyth Biomass Power Station, and recognise that the use of heat, as well as the generation of renewable electricity, will help us achieve this goal. We are actively exploring ways to use the heat generated from the project in nearby domestic or industrial applications, and will design the process plant to be able to provide heat to such users wherever practicable. A study has been conducted (which formed part of our application to the Planning Inspectorate) which examined the opportunities for district heating in the Blyth Estuary area, but unfortunately at this stage it is not seen as a viable option. RES also contributed and participated in a further district heating study with Northumberland County Council and other key stakeholders in the area. The study came to a similar conclusion. RES proposes to continue exploring the CHP opportunities in the Blyth Estuary area by the inclusion of a requirement in the DCO to update the CHP study every 5 years for the lifetime of the project. […]”

“Biofuels & Biomass News : Stobart Biomass secures £75m fuel supply contract for Evermore Renewable Energy : EBR Staff Writer Published 31 July 2013 : UK-based biomass fuels supplier Stobart Biomass has secured a £75m long-term contract to supply fuel to the Evermore Renewable Energy project planned to be constructed in Derry/Londonderry. As per the contract, Stobart will supply over 115,000 tons of recycled wood every year for nearly 15 years to fuel the combined heat and power (CHP) station, which has an estimated power generation capacity of 5.8MWe. […]”

“DECC scientist takes green groups to task over biomass claims : Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and RSPB under fire from government for using unfinished research to campaign against carbon impact of biomass power : By Jessica Shankleman : 01 Aug 2013 : Tension between the government and green groups over the environmental impact of biomass has cranked up a notch, after it emerged DECC’s chief scientist has written to three of the UK’s leading NGOs to criticise their publication of unfinished research as part of their campaign against biomass subsidies. Earlier this year, Greenpeace, RSBP, and Friends of the Earth (FoE) unveiled a factsheet claiming biomass generation in some instances produces more emissions than burning coal. Under the government’s current plans biomass energy will have to show lifecycle reduction in emissions of at least 60 per cent compared to emissions of the EU fossil fuel grid average, such as cutting down trees and transporting fuel. The government is expected to confirm the new sustainability standards for biomass this month, with the rules likely to come into effect next year. But green groups fear the new standard will not fully take account of the full lifecycle emissions associated with growing, harvesting and distributing biomass for fuel and have been lobbying for stricter sustainability standards on generators. They believe rising subsidies could cause a huge surge in demand for the UK’s forestry harvest over the next four years, potentially having an adverse impact on biodiversity and leading to greater reliance on imported biomass. The RSPB, Greenpeace and FoE factsheet Burning Wood for Power Generation, revealed preliminary findings of a nine-month research project by David Mackay, DECC’s chief scientific adviser, that was presented to them at a stakeholder meeting in March. […]”
“Tilbury Power Station powers down as biomass row rumbles on : Npower confirms coal plant converted to burn biomass is to close today : By BusinessGreen staff : 13 Aug 2013 : Npower has announced today will be the last day of generation at its Tilbury B biomass power station, after its controversial decision to halt plans to develop a new biomass power plant at the site. Since 2011, the original coal-fired power station has been converted to run solely on sustainable certified biomass, making it one of the largest sources of renewable energy in the UK providing up to 10 per cent of the country’s renewable power. However, the 750MW plant, which was originally came online in 1967, is still scheduled to close today under the EU’s Large Combustion Plant (LCPD) Directive, which under air pollution rules limits the number of hours of operation for older coal-fired power plants. Npower’s parent company, RWE, had been pursuing plans to redevelop the site as a dedicated biomass plant capable of meeting the relevant EU environmental standards. But it announced recently that it was shelving the plans, after the government confirmed the project would not be viable for support through the contracts for difference regime enabled by the new Energy Bill. “In light of this, RWE has taken the difficult decision not to proceed with the project as it is no longer economically viable under the existing Renewable Obligation (RO) mechanism,” the company said in a statement. […]”

A few more links…

“UK Decision : In 2012, a big impact on North America’s industrial pellet industry came from the United Kingdom’s Dept. of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), which published a “consultation” decision on the direction of British renewable energy policy for the near future. Concerning the growth of the UK’s renewable energy utilization and the role of biomass as fuel, the decision was long-awaited and added to uncertainty on both sides of the Atlantic for pellet and power producers alike. Ultimately, the DECC decision cut both ways: halting some projects in the UK, but providing the certainty to allow multiple pellet mill projects in the U.S. to go forward. In essence, the DECC’s decision going forward favors the continued growth of biomass co-firing and biomass conversion at existing UK coal-burning power plants, while placing a cap on generating capacity coming on line for new, dedicated biomass power plants. The non-legislative cap, which covers the next five years, is set at 400 MW for new, dedicated biomass generating capacity that will be supported under the country’s Renewable Obligation Certificate (ROC) system. […] After the DECC proposals were published, Drax officials (see interview page 8) announced the company was shelving plans to build three new dedicated biomass generating plants in the UK and would instead go with a project to convert half of its existing massive 4,000 MW plant at Selby (Western Europe’s largest coal-burning plant) to burn wood pellets. First of the three-phase conversion project will go on line this year, and will be completed by 2017. Afterward, the company plans to make a decision on converting the remainder of the plant to wood pellets. Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic in December, Drax Biomass International announced projects to build large pellet plants at Gloster, Miss. (Amite BioEnergy) and Morehouse Parish, La. (Morehouse BioEnergy), with a combined annual production of 900,000 metric tons. Drax Biomass is beginning construction on the two plants the first half of this year, and both are scheduled to come on line in 2014. Drax Biomass is also developing a pellet storage and loading facility on property leased from the Port of Greater Baton Rouge that can store up to 80,000 metric tons of pellets. […]”

“[…] Unloading Black Pellets in Europe : Full-scale combustion tests in five power plants : One complete in The Netherlands, second in-progress : Three more full scale tests scheduled in next 60 days […]”
“[…] Several full scale tests complete in European coal units […]”

“R&D: Biomass energy : Thermally treated wood in pellet form, or “black pellets”, is a promising type of biomass which can be used for cost effective co-firing in existing coal power stations. The fuel handling properties alone are enough to make black pellets one of the main contributors to increased future volumes of renewable fuels for Vattenfall. Vattenfall’s new strategic direction is to replace more than half of the hard coal used today with biomass by 2020. Therefore, finding answers to the most critical questions that remain about the utilisation of black pellets is a major R&D focus. Small-scale tests indicate that black pellets offer similar properties to hard coal, and using them as a fuel would therefore require a fraction of the investment that wood pellets would necessitate. First large-scale tests in the world : The summer of 2011, the first large-scale storage and combustion tests ever, are performed in the Reuter West CHP hard-coal-fired plant in Berlin, using several thousand tonnes of black pellets.”

“Swedes look into black pellet production in B.C. : Issue date: Oct 7, 2010”

“Vattenfall, a company owned by the government of Sweden, is exploring the idea of turning wood from British Columbia’s northwest, into pellets to burn in European power plants. Officials from Vattenfall toured the Terrace area with a Finnish consulting and engineering company called Pöyry. Rather than making the traditional wood pellet, Vattenfall is interested in making black pellets. Black pellets are made of wood that has been heated until it is more of a charcoal-like substance. Sweden is looking to reduce the amount of coal it is burning in its power generating plants by replace the coal with an underutilized wood, or waste wood, source. Vattenfall aims to identify a fibre source, then build pellet plants in the area with the goal of producing 250,000 tonnes of black pellets, per plant, per year. Approximately 600,000 cubic metres of fibre is required to produce that amount of pellets, employing at least 30-40 people in the plant, with additional employment for harvesters and drivers. Vattenfall does not want to get into the logging business to obtain its fibre source. It would rather use the waste that is left behind, or that is under utilized. British Columbia is not the only place Vattenfall is investigating for its source of fibre. The company is also looking at the fibre potential in Russia, the U.S., South America, and in West Africa. Other areas in eastern Canada are also being considered. It is likely that more than one area will be used to fill Sweden’s need for 10 million tonnes of black pellets by 2010. This goal would require 24 million cubic metres of fibre.”
“A Houston based company called Zilkha Biomass Fuels in manufacturing a product called black pellets. Black pellets are produced by compressing the wood and drying out the moisture content as much as possible. The process increases energy density and decreases transportation costs. Black pellets are also impervious to dust and rain, unlike conventional wood pellets, and thus can even be store outdoors. Black pellets can also be burned in former coal fired plants with a minimum of modifications […]”

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