UK biomass plant exploded from Waycross wood pellets

Explosions in Tilbury, England, explosions in Waycross: south Georgia wood pellet dust blowing up here and there and producing CO2 when burned there. Why is “the world’s largest wood pellet plant” a better use of Georgia foresters’ resources than solar farms, which don’t pollute and don’t explode?

Josh Schlossberg wrote for The Biomass Monitor 24 May 2013, Biomass Industry Plays With Fire, Gets Burned,

A massive fire raged inside wood pellet silos for RWE’s Tilbury Power Station in Essex, UK, on February 27, 2012. The biomass incinerator—the largest in the world at 750 megawatts—had just been converted from coal to woody biomass a month earlier. RWE claims no single cause can be attributed to the fire, but suspects that smoldering wood pellets triggered the dust fire.

In a recent editorial (apparently not online), Robert Farris Executive Director of the Georgia Forestry Commission, wrote that Georgia has nine wood pellet plants. He didn’t name them, but Biomass Magazine has a list of U.S. wood pellet plants, including these in Georgia (I added the City column):

Company Plant CityState Feedstock Capacity
Enova Energy Group – GordonEnova EnergyGordon GA Softwood 550,000
Enova Energy Group – GordonEnova EnergyWarrenton GA Softwood 550,000
First Georgia BioEnergy First Georgia BioEnergyWaynesvilleGA Softwood 38,000
Fram Renewable Fuels LLC Appling County Pellets LLC BaxleyGA Hardwood and Softwood 200,000
Fram Renewable Fuels LLC Fram Renewable Fuels – Hazlehurst HazlehurstGA Softwood 500,000
Fulghum Graanul Oliver LLC Fulghum Graanul Oliver LLC OliverGA Hardwood and Softwood 200,000
General Biofuels General Biofuels – Georgia WaynesvilleGA Softwood 440,000
RWE Innogy Georgia Biomass WaycrossGA Hardwood and Softwood 825,000
SEGA Biofuels LLC SEGA Biofuels LLC NahuntaGA Softwood 150,000
Varn Wood Products Varn Wood Products HobokenGA Softwood 80,000

That’s ten; maybe another has opened lately. Biomass Magazine lists RWE Innogy as in Savannah, but according to Georgia Biomass PR of 26 May 2011,

Georgia Biomass held its official ribbon cutting ceremony in mid-May at its new operation just outside Waycross, Ga., hosting dignitaries and officials from around the world at the opening of the world’s largest wood fuel pellet plant. The facility, scheduled to be at full capacity by this fall, can produce up to 750,000 metric tons annually.

The facility is a venture of major German utility RWE and its bioenergy subsidiary, RWE Innogy. According to RWE Innogy CFO Hans Bunting, the Georgia Biomass project came in two months ahead of schedule and under budget. RWE COO Leonard Birnbaum noted the almost $200 million plant is only a small part of the $8 billion a year RWE invests worldwide, but is very important to the company, which is the world’s largest biomass buyer and biomass power producer. The company operates more than 50,000 giga watts of power capacity, “But the challenge is provide more of this energy sustainably,” he added.

A good portion of the plant’s output may be heading to RWE’s existing coal-fired plant in Tilbury, United Kingdom, which is being converted to biomass and would become the largest biomass-fired power plant in the world.

And less than a year later the Tilbury plant got fired up all right, burning and exploding using south Georgia wood. That February 2012 Tilbury explosion was after the Waycross plant exploded in June 2011. Teresa Stepzinski wrote for 21 June 2011, Explosion damages Waycross plant; no injuries reported

An explosion damaged the Georgia Biomass wood pellet processing plant near Waycross early Monday, crippling production at the factory that began operations a little more than a month ago.

No injuries were reported in the blast that occurred about 8 a.m. at the plant in the Waycross-Ware County Industrial Park about five miles west of Waycross off U.S. 82 and U.S. 1.

“It did extensive damage to the processing end. … They’ll probably be down an extended period of time,” Ware County Fire Chief Dennis Keen told the Times-Union.

An explosion here, and explosion there: pretty soon we might be wondering why we want “the world’s largest wood pellet plant” in south Georgia.

Georgia Biomass claims it’s carbon neutral, which we know isn’t true for biomass from trees. It was our local Industrial Authority making that very claim that convinced me as a tree farmer that biomass was a bad idea. They didn’t just try to pass off a stack of powerpoint slides as peer-reviewed research, they also, according to the VDT, made up a fake timeline. Lack of carbon neutrality is one of the reasons the VSU faculty senate voted to oppose that plant.

Fortunately, the Executive Director who tried to bring us that local biomass project is gone, and the Industrial Authority has since moved on to solar projects. But there’s still a wood pellet plant in Waycross, turning our local forests into fuel for a biomass plant in England, producing more CO2 and making climate change worse, affecting us back here that way, too.

When I paid my annual dues to the Georgia Forestry Association (GFA is a private organization not to be confused with the state agency Georgia Forestry Commission), I wondered whether Georgia tree farmers might find solar panels a better investment. I was told GFA is constantly talking to Georgia Power, so we’ll see.

Ever heard of an exploding solar panel? Me neither.


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