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November 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal




The high cost of natural gas is creating increasing interest in the development of waste woodgenerated heat, and Alberta’s Bob Rimes is intent on being at the forefront of this emerging business.

By Tony Kryzanowski

Bob Rimes is serious about building a business around wood waste as an alternative to fossil fuels to generate heat for small- to medium-size agricultural and industrial operations. Along the way, the business could also provide sawmill operations with a very viable way of managing their flow of waste wood material.

However, the past year has been a bit of a reality check for Rimes and his partners. Since incorporating in the spring of 2005, the business got off to a slower start than expected. That said, the concept behind Edmonton-based Energy & Material Solutions Inc (EMSI)—to convert wood waste to energy—makes so much sense on paper that Rimes is confident that the company has a future, even if he has to go it alone.

“If you are talking $7 per gigajoule for natural gas, we can bring in wood waste from within a 100 kilometre radius around Edmonton and sell it at $4 to $4.50 per gigajoule,” he says.

Using a Hogzilla 1462P tub grinder equipped with a 1,000-horsepower engine, EMSI conducted a waste wood burn trial last winter to provide fuel for a processing kiln.

The savings realized from burning wood waste can be applied to the purchase price of a materials handling system, boiler, and the installation engineering—and be significant enough that in some cases companies can earn a payback on their investment in about two years. “We’re working with boiler manufacturers who will do a turnkey operation for them,” says Rimes.

Last winter, when the company conducted a waste wood trial burn to provide fuel for a processing kiln, the price for natural gas was actually around $17 per gigajoule. Rimes says EMSI was able to save the company involved about $1,200 per day with only a partial substitute of waste wood for natural gas. He estimates that if the company had invested in a permanent system to burn wood waste, they would save approximately $1.5 million per year.

However, if there had been no natural gas rebate program (established by the Alberta government recently to protect against spikes in natural gas prices) the payback would have been only two years.

For the moment, Rimes is entirely focused on establishing his supply chain for urban waste wood, supplemented by waste wood from the forestry sector. To that end, he has reached a tentative agreement with a local county landfill to establish a muster yard, where he can “intercept” whatever wood waste is going into the landfill and convert it into useful fuel energy.

“At the same time, we are reducing the consumption of fossil fuels and all the carbon dioxide emissions that go with it,” he adds. Burning wood waste efficiently is considered carbon neutral, he says, because when the wood was still part of a live tree, it absorbed carbon dioxide.

Security of fuel supply was definitely an issue for many potential customers that EMSI contacted. Creating a stockpile of raw material will go a long way to demonstrate that the company can deliver as needed.

While he describes his list of potential clients as extremely promising, Rimes says he needs to connect with forest industry businesses to identify any stockpiles of wood waste they have accumulated in their yards. He knows they exist. The challenge for a start-up alternative fuels company like his is to track them down.

Rimes brings an impressive technical background to EMSI. He was plant manager for a large cement company, where controlling energy costs was always a major issue. His background is in chemistry, and for most of the 1990s, he tested alternative material use in the cement manufacturing process. So he understands the chemistry of mixing and matching raw materials to deliver a specific energy output to consumers.

“Anything with a carbon molecule will burn,” he says. “Depending on the material, it will have a certain heat value.” Factors that influence heat value are moisture content, wood quality and carbon content. That’s why for now, he is working on solid wood and not bark. Eventually, he hopes to develop an entirely separate clientele that are equipped with the necessary hardware to consume bark. For now, however, hiscompany is entirely focused on marketing wood waste fuel in chip form. He estimates that this type of waste wood will deliver between 15 and 17 gigajoules of heat value per metric ton.

While still working at the cement plant, he was directed by the company to investigate alternative fuel sources to natural gas, which started him down his current path. “Wood and urban wood waste is what really tweaked my interest because it is an easy sell environmentally,” Rimes says. “Emission controls and boiler efficiency are now better than they ever were. You can set up a system that will burn waste wood as clean as natural gas.”

The company’s business model is based on a triangle—establishing the supply chain, processing the wood, then delivering to customers. In terms of gathering the wood supply, companies with surplus waste wood are being asked to deliver their material to his marshalling yard. They will be subject to a tipping fee, but that’s generally the case no matter where they deliver the waste material.

This can be sawdust, wood shavings, urban wood waste like pallets and crates, and wood chips from cleared land. The wood is then processed through a tub or horizontal grinder where it is shredded down into chips measuring between three and four inches.

Last winter, EMSI used a Hogzilla 1462P tub grinder with a 1,000 horsepower Caterpillar engine. For now, Rimes says he intends to contract out the shredding, but will eventually purchase his own grinder. This grinder comes with magnetized components that are capable of removing up to 90 per cent of the
staples and nails.

The shredded pieces are blown into a shed capable of storing 500 tonnes of material, with a moisture content of no greater than 20 per cent. The fuel is then delivered to customers as required. Eventually, EMSI plans to develop a fuel mix involving five different materials, including plastics, paper and cardboard, waste oil, and domestic garbage.

When asked why he feels so strongly about this business venture, Rimes replies that this is not new technology. There are places in Europe that refuse to allow any material into their landfills if it is capable
of creating more than 10 gigajoules of energy if processed properly into a fuel source. Furthermore, he says other areas of Canada, such as the Maritimes, are much more advanced in using biomass energy for fuel.

“I think it is the right thing to do,” he says. “How much longer can we continue to landfill material? I think we owe it to our children and to the future. Why do we keep building more landfills and tying
up more agricultural land where there is an alternate solution for this wastematerial?”


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