City Runs into Problems during Test Burn of MFA Biofuel
by Jacob Barker (Columbia Daily Tribune) A giant grass grown through a federal program with MFA Oil didn’t work out too well as a biofuel at Columbia’s municipal power plant.
A report sent to the Columbia City Council on Aug. 5 noted a number of issues during the test burn conducted in October. For one, the grass, which had been pelletized, was susceptible to moisture, especially because the city stores much of its power plant fuel outside. The pellets often disintegrated after they absorbed moisture.
“If we conducted future test burns, the focus of modification will have to be, really, on the durability of the fuel,” Columbia Water and Light Director Tad Johnsen said at the council meeting. “It really didn’t survive very well in the environment cohabitating with coal.”
The pellets also combusted more quickly than the coal they were mixed with, which led to “large fireballs” before they entered the power plant’s stoker, the report from Water and Light said.
Newer equipment with a lower boiler temperature and more protection from the elements would work, Wilmes said. In Europe, the equipment often is set up so that the grass is chopped locally and fed into a boiler un-pelletized, he said.
MFA currently uses the miscanthus it gets from partner farmers to heat large livestock and poultry operations. The company is not currently working with other power plants right now, he said, but the future hope of miscanthus is to turn it into cellulosic ethanol. The technology to turn grasses into the fuel that usually comes from corn and sugar is advancing quickly and could soon offer another option for miscanthus.
Having a reliable crop of fuel for a cellulosic ethanol facility is an important first step. “You’ve got to have a feedstock that you know can dependently provide for the plant,” Wilmes said. READ MORE