Lessons being learned from biomass project teaches energy | SierraSun.com

Lessons being learned from biomass project teaches energy

Greyson Howard
Sierra Sun
Emma Garrard/Sierra SunPaul Barclay pours wood chips into gasifier at the biomass facility at Truckee River Regional Park Tuesday. The chips are burned in a biomass generator providing heat for the next door offices.

Truckee’s biomass project is helping the town, state and the energy industry explore a new source of electricity for the future.

A small experimental facility in Truckee River Regional Park generates electricity and heat by burning wood chips from tree trimming and yard waste to generate green energy by burning cleaner than traditional sources. Built in 2005 in the Truckee Donner Recreation and Park District’s corporation yard, the 15-kilowatt educational plant has been generating energy eight hours a day five days a week, with a few setbacks along the way.

“Operationally, we’ve had mixed success with it,” said Scott Terrell, planning director for the Truckee Donner Public Utility District. “But I would hate to characterize it as anything but successful because it’s a pilot experimental project to learn about the technology.”

At Truckee’s biomass project, wood chips are incinerated at high temperatures, creating gaseous byproducts, which are then used to power an electric generator.

Heat generated by the burn is also captured and used, Terrell said.

“It’s a very complete burning of the wood chips and gas produced,” Terrell said.

“There is very little left in the exhaust.”

Currently, the facility generates about $15 of electricity per day ” or about enough to power three to four houses ” which gets credited to the parks and recreation district by the utility district, Terrell said.

Excess heat is used to both dry the wood chips for burning and to heat the park’s office and walkway, Terrell said.

But the state-funded prototype hasn’t always run smoothly, said park superintendent John Shaffer.

“We are running it as often as we can,” Shaffer said. “There are break-downs, but lately it has been running without breaking.”

Terrell said problems with electronics and residue build-up have resulted in considerable downtime.

“The intention of this unit was never to be long-term. The California Energy Commission agreement was only to run through 2006.” Terrell said.

Shaffer said Truckee’s facility has drawn a lot of attention.

“We get a lot of people coming by to check it out ” other municipalities have come to check it out.” Shaffer said.

Terrell said the lessons learned from Truckee’s biomass plant will be applied to larger-scale plants.

“We gathered extremely useful data for a Biomax 50-kilowatt unit,” Terrell said. “For the future we are looking at a one- to five-megawatt plant that could provide 3 percent to 20 percent of Truckee’s power ” that could be over 1,000 homes.”

He said the technology for a reliable plant of that size is still five to 10 years away, but would have multiple benefits beyond alternative energy, including the surplus heat created and the ability to burn a wider variety of fuels.

“A larger unit would not be as picky about fuel as a smaller one ” you could throw garbage in and burn it cleanly,” Terrell said.

The utility district is considering including a biomass plant as part of a new corporation yard, and the Sierra Business Council has been working to secure a reliable fuel source from the U.S. Forest, Terrell said.

“To me, biomass is a no-brainer for this area,” Terrell said.

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