Power plant to test new corn and grass pellet biofuel

Wednesday, September 4, 2013 | 7:38 p.m. CDT; updated 12:10 a.m. CDT, Thursday, September 5, 2013

COLUMBIA — Tests of a new biofuel pellet will begin in early December at the Columbia Municipal Power Plant.

Biomass, or biofuel, is defined as any plant or agricultural waste that can be used as an energy source. Biomass is already being used at the power plant in the form of wood being co-fired with coal.

However, the pellets test should get the power plant closer to its ultimate goal. That is "to increase our use of biomass so as to increase renewable resource use in a fiscally responsible manner," said Christian Johanningmeier, the power production superintendent at Columbia Water and Light.

The pellets, produced by Columbia-based biofuels company Enginuity, must undergo two sets of tests before they can be used. The first is the production test, where the fuel is made and "run into the boiler to see how it burns," Johanningmeier said.

The second test is more objective.

"We then measure the effects (of the pellets) on the furnace and the resulting emissions from the smokestack," Johanningmeier said.

This isn't the first time the municipal power plant has tested biomass pellets.

In October, Columbia Water and Light had a deal with MFA Oil to test its biomass pellets, made from miscanthus grass. The pellets failed during the test run when they combusted too soon or disintegrated when they came in contact with moisture.

According to Biofuels Digest, other biomass pellet tests have been successful but end up costing more than other, non-renewable energy sources.

The Enginuity pellets could be different, according to previous reporting by the Missourian. They are made out of corn stover, the stalk left after the ears have been harvested, mixed with miscanthus grass. The pellets also have a 90 percent durability rate, allowing them to be treated like coal during shipment and firing.

Nancy Heimann, CEO of Enginuity Worldwide, said the pellets have been designed to behave like coal in order to supplement it. "We've done lab testing, but this will be the first combustion test run on a large scale," she said.

Should the tests be successful, Enginuity hopes to strike an agreement with Columbia Water and Light to sell the utility the pellets for many years.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

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