Advice for Converting from Coal to Biomass

Coal Combustion Residuals Regulation Act of 2015

The fall of coal prices and advent of strict regulations on coal ash handling – and the rise of alternative energy sources like biomass – have led some power plant facilities to consider converting at least some of their production from coal to biomass.

The decision makes sense to some; after all, the cost of producing energy via coal is rising while the cost of doing so with biomass is falling. At some point in the future, the two will meet – and after that point, biomass will become more economically viable than it already is.

We have helped plants with converting from coal to biomass and have helped clients learn valuable lessons during the process. Here are tips from converting from coal to biomass smoothly and efficiently.

Understanding the Impact of Biomass Fuel

Coal is a different fuel from biomass. It has different implications than biomass in burners designed for coal. Understanding the unique qualities of biomass fuel, then, is the first step.

Boilers, for example, experience greater volume throughputs, as well as more erosion and corrosion, with biomass. This is because of the particles of sand and dirt that are often embedded in the fuel itself. That is why simply deciding to change the fuel – but not the boiler – can lead to major problems throughout the (shortened) lifespan of the boiler equipment.

We have seen this problem arise with plants that rely on coal specialists to oversee the conversion from coal to biomass. These specialists lack a deep understanding of the impact biomass fuel will have on existing systems that are in place in the facility.

Structuring Biomass-Appropriate Systems

The nature of biomass fuel necessitates changes not just to the boiler system, but also the supporting systems that support the rest of the process.

For example, biomass systems need reliable reclaimer systems. Fuel is generally stored in large piles that are fed by transfer conveyors. Heavy-duty reclaimers at these piles feed the fuel into boiler feed conveyor systems. If the reclaimers are not properly set or installed, they will not be able to properly handle the loads and feed capacity requirements.

And as expected, there are many factors that come into play even for one system, such as automatic versus manual feeds.

Biomass facilities require different and more specialized systems than coal-fired facilities. Part of converting from coal to biomass means understanding the requirements for a plant if it wants to completely rehaul the existing infrastructure in order to accommodate biomass.

Co-Firing with Coal and Biomass

Some of our clients have opted to forgo a complete overhaul in favor of co-firing and partial conversions.

Co-firing can help you maintain your output while adhering to emissions standards. There are several co-firing options available to a plant interested in this particular avenue, including mixing biomass with coal before it enters the conveyor system and using wood pellets that have characteristics similar to coal.

Optimizing a Plant for Biomass

Converting from coal to biomass is an ambitious project, but one that is very achievable. A coal-fired plant that has struggled with prices, regulations, and restrictions can find new life by turning to biomass as a means of producing energy.

Contact ProcessBarron for more information on converting from coal to biomass and adapting your facility to a new way of generating energy today.