Wood pellets. Source: ABC Rural, Rose Grant.
Wood pellets. Source: ABC Rural, Rose Grant.

Off the south coast of Australia, a feasibility study is being conducted into a $130 million wood pellet plant, for use as a renewable biomass fuel, for Tasmania’s Tamar Valley.

ABC Rural reported that the $5 million study is being carried out by private equity firm, New Forests.

Wood pellet could fuel existing coal fleet boilers

New Forests’ hardwood plantation subsidiary Forico’s chief executive Bryan Hayes, said that if approved it would supply 100% FSC-certified plantation hardwood and softwood to the bioenergy pellet plant, ABC Rural reported.

Hayes explained: “These pellets are able to go into an existing power plant without any modifications whatsoever.

“These black pellets will directly substitute for thermal coal in existing black coal-fired power plants in Japan.

“So really, we’re leveraging off the fact that the Japanese government is saying to industry ‘You must use more renewable forms of energy’, as opposed to coal and oil.”

New innovative product

ABC Rural explains that the process of making an energy-dense black wood pellet includes sawmill residues and woodchips milled to less than 5mm in size.

Once the wood particles are exposed to heat and pressure, the cell structure could be broken down, Hayes noted. He added that┬ásteam could be used to ‘cook’ the wood particles at 200 degrees Celsius under 20 atmospheres of pressure.

The material could then be forced through an extrusion plate to form a high density, water-repellent pellet replacement for fossil fuel.

The feasibility study will explore the type of technology needed to manufacture around 225,000 tonnes of the black biomass pellets a year in Tasmania, Hayes said.

The study also would assess the commercial viability of establishing the black pellet plant on a disused woodchip export mill site at Long Reach.

Hayes said: “If it’s not commercially viable it won’t happen.┬áBut we are very confident from what we know, and from what the technology providers we have visited in Scandinavia have been able to demonstrate to us.

“We are very, very confident this would be an inert, innocuous sort of development on the site.”

According to Hayes, construction could start in mid-2017 should government approve the environmental application.

He added that if all goes to plan, the plant could be constructed and ready for first operation in December 2018.