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Woody biomass generator tested

Posted: October 19, 2012 - 12:08am
Tom Miles of Technical Consultants, Inc, of Portland, Ore., talks about a biomass gasifier project under development to produce electricity in Hoonah during a press conference in the Sealaska conference room on Thursday. Richard Harris, Executive Vice President for Sealaska, is in the background.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Tom Miles of Technical Consultants, Inc, of Portland, Ore., talks about a biomass gasifier project under development to produce electricity in Hoonah during a press conference in the Sealaska conference room on Thursday. Richard Harris, Executive Vice President for Sealaska, is in the background.

A century-old biomass gasifier technology is being tested for fitness at Icy Straits Lumber and Milling near Hoonah. The system turns woody biomass into heat and fuel for generators totaling 30 kilowatts.

The self-contained units made by ALL Power Labs extract volatile gases that make up 80 percent of dried wood for use as fuel in an internal combustion generator. Excess heat from the process is used for space heating.

The 10kw generator can power all of the lighting needs at the Icy Strait mill. This size of gasifier could easily power a typical home.

A second generator will add 20kw more.

System purchase price runs just shy of $2 per watt. Icy Strait’s 20kw unit cost around $30,000. It generates power for around $0.40 per kilowatt hour. Icy Straits had previously been paying over $0.60 per kwh.

These gasifiers will use wood chips and wood scrap from the mill as opposed to other types of biomass systems that use wood pellets.

“It’s very impressive,” Wes Tyler, owner of Icy Straits Lumber and Milling said. Tyler owns the mill with his wife.

Add wood chips and fire up the gasifier “and you’ve got an engine running smoothly,” Tyler said. “It is pretty exciting to me to see this starting to take place,”

Tom Miles of T. R. Miles Technical Consultants Inc. came to Alaska to set up the ALL Powers Lab generator. It takes only a few hours to get started.

“We put it together Sunday and had it running Monday,” Miles said.

The technology dates back to at least the 1920s, Miles said. Germany put a lot of research and development into gasification during the 1930s and 1940s as its access to oil was restricted, he said. Homes, businesses, automobiles and tanks were all powered by gasified biomass.

Now researchers are making the process more efficient and more transportable, Miles said. The unit installed at Icy Strait Lumber fits on a standard four-foot by four-foot pallet and stands eight feet tall.

After shaking out the bugs in its system the 10kw generator is slated for installation at the Icy Strait Point museum. The gasifier would provide heat and electricity to the facility and possibly, in the future, a greenhouse. Icy Strait Lumber will supply the wood chip fuel to the museum.

Sealaska procured a Department of Energy bioenergy grant to help fund purchase of the biomass unit and wood chipper and contracted Tom Miles of T. R. Miles Technical Consultants Inc. to repair a wood boiler and dry kiln. The mill has had limited success operating.

The success of the gasifier is not assured and it is not a silver bullet for Southeast Alaska’s energy needs, Rick Harris executive VP for Sealaska said. However, it is an extension of the work Sealaska has done with its own wood pellet biomass system at the corporation’s Juneau headquarters.

Harris said Sealaska would like to build demand for woody biomass in the region as it looks to find uses for its currently unused tree tops and second growth timber.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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