SAMSON — streamlining random woody biomass and wood pellet logistics

New markets like the biofuels industry transcend oceans and connect suppliers and partners across continents, write Andy Blythe and Hugo van Benthem of SAMSON Materials Handling Ltd., part of the AUMUND Group. Biofuels creates demand for sophisticated, yet flexible logistics chains that can piggy-back on existing infrastructure and seamlessly support the high-volume transfer of wood-based fuel products to support the European Union’s carbon reduction ambitions.

Biomass power plants, although not without environmental issues, are relatively straightforward and represent a truly carbon- neutral alternative to traditional fossil fuel generating stations. CHP (Combined Heat and Power) linked to basic industries or local heating schemes are really beginning to look very attractive with extremely high operating efficiency, around 90% or more.

For smaller CHP plant, typically to 50MW in generating capacity — or a combination of steam and electricity to a similar value — locally sourced random woody biomass may be an option, allowing the fuel to be sourced close by to minimize the carbon miles associated with transportation.

A recent installation in Scotland at Markinch is typical of such a venture. It is linked to the Tulliss Russell paper plant providing both process steam and electrical power, the excess of which is exported to the national grid. The new scheme entirely replaces the old coal boilers, with a net reduction in CO2 of some 250,000 tonnes annually. In this application, four SAMSONTM surface feeders from SAMSON Materials Handling Ltd (formerly B&W Mechanical Handling Ltd) receive locally derived forest by-products and other woody combustibles. This is prepared off-site at a new facility operated by ‘RWE npower renewables’, including chipping and storage, with short haul transportation to Tulliss Russell in enclosed bulk vehicles. The new SAMSONTM feeders are set up in parallel and are all mobile. As such, they can be easily repositioned to enable feeding at a controlled rate, in any combination, to the new conveyor transport and silo storage system providing for effectively 100% redundancy in operation ensuring continued availability 24/7.

Similar SAMSONTM units are operating at UK power plants, handling a range of biomass fuels from chicken litter to sludge and other waste agricultural materials. The only viable option for larger plants in general is wood pellet. The establishment of proper quality standards based on EN 14961-2 make such certified pellets a fuel resource of predictable quality that may now be traded in a manner similar to other commodities.

The commoditization of biomass fuels took an important step forward into a global market in November 2011. The preparation steps towards the launch of a biomass trading platform were started in 2008 when APX‐ENDEX, in partnership with the Port of Rotterdam, launched the Industrial Wood Pellets price index, providing a reliable cost comparison. The new exchange allows market participants to trade standard contracts on a futures listing and provides for certification that the source material complies with the established sustainability guidelines and criteria.

All of these activities, driven by government sustainability obligations, are forcing the market towards huge volume increases in the trade of biomass fuels with the UK. It is estimated that some 50mt (million tonnes) will be required by the end of 2020, of which a substantial amount must be imported in the form of wood pellets.

SAMSON Materials Handling is in a unique position to cater for this market using fast track mobile solutions for the loading of large deep sea vessels in ports such as Panama (Florida) and, more recently, at Eastport in Maine, USA. In both solutions, a system of static conveyor equipment brings the pellet from covered storage to the berth and from the fixed conveyors a combination of mobile link-conveyors and a mobile shiploader load vessels typically up to Handymax. These are typical applications for shiploaders with mobile feeding conveyors allowing the complete equipment to be moved off the berth when not loading a bulk ship and thus freeing the area for handling other cargoes offering maximum berth utilization with the minimum of fixed port infrastructure.

The most recent order for shiploading equipment is from a major German wood pellet trader and provides for a loading rate of 1,000tph (tonnes per hour) receiving pellet from a fixed quayside conveyor. The SAMSON shiploader includes powered multi-directional travel on rubber tyres allowing fast manoeuvring along the vessel for movements between hatches and hold trimming. A telescopic trimming chute allows accurate placement within the hold to maximize the material stowage, essential with these relatively light cargoes.

Covered storage is vital for the export of wood pellets with storage volume sufficient to load the size of vessels likely to be handled and the capacity to discharge the storage and convey the pellets at high speed to the vessel to minimize potential demurrage costs. Using SAMSON standard solutions, with shiploading rates of up to 1,000tph, is entirely practical, sufficient for a Panamax size vessel. Significantly the intake of fuel is dependent on the availability of material from pelletizing plants generally in the hinterland or port catchment area. For the most part, inland logistics will depend upon existing rail connectivity both at the pellet plant and at the port plus the availability of railcar loading and discharge facilities.

SAMSON is also well placed to serve this burgeoning wood pellet import market with its range of Eco-Hopper systems for the dust-controlled import of bulk cargoes from grab-fitted mobile harbour cranes.

In conclusion, for both the export and import of wood pellets, the mobile handling solutions offered by SAMSON Materials Handling for installation on the berth offer an ideal package for the biofuels market worldwide allowing users to capitalize on existing port infrastructure and facilities.