Beehive burner gone, bio energy in

Steam, instead of smoke, now escapes from the sawmill’s chimney in Fraser Lake.

Steam, instead of smoke, now escapes from the sawmill’s chimney in Fraser Lake.

Celebrating the Fraser Lake Sawmill’s 60th anniversary, the lumber company of West Fraser opened the doors of its new neighbouring biomass plant for tours last Friday.

Beehive burners that were used to burn away lumber production’s by-product waste are now replaced by the new plant, which is 99.7 per cent efficient in filtering waste and turning fuel to heat, said Michael Heavenor, the biomass plant’s shift engineer.

“We’re making power without fossil fuels,” Heavenor said. “Before, we burn [the waste] and it’s just gone.”

He added, “Now we can put it to good use.”

The heat is transferred through thermal oil to a hydrocarbon called cyclopentane, which turns to vapour gas at a lower boiling point than water — thus turning power turbines at a lower temperature, Heavenor said.

The heat transfer loop, called the Organic Rankine cycle, continues as the turbines drive generators to produce electricity and water tanks cool the vapour gas to a liquid form again, to be ready for reheating by thermal oil.

Though not the first of its kind in the area, the new energy plant’s processes will improve air quality, said John Rustad, MLA for Nechako Lakes.

“The beehive burners used to emit fine particulates,” Rustad said, adding that mill workers in the past would cover their cars to avoid wood dust accumulation from the air.

The bio energy plant in Fraser Lake is the first of West Fraser’s biomass energy plant projects, with the next one taking place in Chetwyd, said project manager Tomas Schulz.

From the first ground-breaking day in May 2013, the 25-month project included the coordination of 27 separate contractors of different types, with 120 employees at the site on any given day, Schulz added.

“It’s nice to see it all together,” he said.