Drax Biomass, a wholly owned subsidiary of the UK’s Drax Group, recently commissioned a brand new biomass handling and storage facility at the US port of Baton Rouge to store sustainable biomass for short periods. Once shipped to the UK, the end-user power stations provide sufficient capacity to undertake the necessary longer-term storage role.
The storage systems in both countries share many common features, but they are not identical. Lloyd Wedblad, vice-president of logistics at Drax Biomass notes that the Port of Immingham facility, which handles the bulk of the imported biomass, is just one of four ports that the
company currently uses in the UK.
The Baton Rouge facility has the potential to be the main generator of inbound biomass traffic for Drax as its annual exports are likely to reach up to three million tons.
Drax points out that shipping wood pellets from the US to the UK is a very carbon-efficient mode of transport, claiming that the carbon footprint of shipping one ton of biomass from North America to the UK is almost the same as transporting one ton of biomass 200 miles (322 kilometers) by truck. As bulk carriers can handle loads of around 60,000 tons, sea transport is a very green option.
Once in the UK, consignments are moved by rail to Drax Power Station at Selby, in Yorkshire. For the US operation, a traveling belt ship loader with an extending conveyor is preferred over a rubber-tyred ship loader as the former speedily loads vessels up to Panamax size. River draft changes, vessel size, and dock weight loading were other factors which influenced the final decision. At Baton Rouge port, the biomass is stored in two, 40,000 metric ton capacity domes.
Mr. Wedblad says that they did not rule out the potential to self-heat. The conveyor system has a built-in spark detection facility along with a linked deluge system to quickly douse any fire. As the rail cars and trucks are unloaded, a temperature probe warns of potential hazards if a consignment is particularly hot. Additional spark detection systems are placed in the domes, on the inlet and a matrix of temperature cables put in place to alert staff of any temperature rises. A controlled emptying of the heated area of the dome can be initiated. So far, no fires have broken out. Baton Rouge uses an identical system already successfully operating at Drax Power Station. Ports on both sides of the Atlantic are making their biomass presence felt, finds Alex Hughes.
The Port of Rotterdam is also looking to become a major player in the biomass market with its good inland waterway connections to ship consignments close to end users. Rotterdam has several dry bulk terminals that store and handle biomass. Those utilities that have power plants in the port are also looking into building biomass storage facilities.
Biomass potential is still to be exploited in the US, where there is currently little demand for industrial wood pellets, mainly due to a lack of federal support and the high availability of abundant fossil fuel resources.
To make matters worse, there is little in the way of financial incentives or subsidies to develop biomass for energy production. Hence, the US has become a net exporter of wood chip. However, Mr du Mez says that: “The Port of Rotterdam still sees a lot of potential for biomass, even though so far this has not materialized. We think that biomass throughput could increase to around 8m-10m tons in the coming years. This would feed three key markets: energy (power plants), heating (both industrial heating as well as residential) and also the biorefining of woody biomass into fuels and chemicals,” he says.
Source: Port Strategy