Small Unit Syngas at Nexterra

This company has grabbed some recognition and looks to be a prime supplier of this form of green technology.
Again, organic waste in the form of wood waste is not a terribly good fuel if left to its own devices. It simply does not burn hot enough without a lot of help. Throw it on an old fashioned open hearth furnace and you end up with a product that is around seventy percent carbon. In fact an engineer once suggested that it made a lot of sense to blend in about fifteen percent chopped tires in order to get the temperature high enough. Tires are after all high grade hydrocarbons.

Therefore a controlled burn that captures surplus volatiles and liquids while operating at higher process temperatures has always been attractive. These guys may have been able to achieve real market penetration with the work described to date.

I do like the small device approach. Without question costs rise hugely the further the fuel must be trucked. That is why I have focused on farm sized technologies, because the minute it leaves the farm gate, onerous cost structures kick in.

A tree farm collecting and processing wood waste has a radically different cost structure than a trucking company. A tree farm is also able to store waste and process it year round without penalty. In fact, largely the same handling equipment would be used and be on hand.

The device augers fuel upward into the center of a waste stack that is been consumed from the bottom up as a continuous process and both waste gases and volatiles exit through a stack for further processing. The working temperature is very high and this drives all volatiles out easily away form the air and oxygen.

Nexterra: Out of the woods, into the green

The drive for small, cleaner, renewable energy systems pushes Vancouver's Nexterra into the big time

By Gordon Hamilton, Vancouver Sun July 4, 2009

A biofuel technology first developed by Nexterra Energy Corp. to reduce costs for the B.C. forest industry has propelled the Vancouver company to the crest of a growing wave of green energy demand in urban North America.

The demand for urban green energy has reached the tipping point, Nexterra president and chief executive officer Jonathan Rhone believes. And he sees his company's technology, which uses wood waste to produce a synthetic gas, as being right on the leading edge.

From a single contract three years ago for a plant to replace costly natural gas at a plywood mill at Heffley Creek, north of Kamloops, Nexterra has grown to the point where it is partnering with giants like GE Energy and signing contracts at the American research lab where the atomic bomb was conceived.

GE Energy sees synthetic gas as a perfect fit for clean energy generators it has developed for universities, institutions and condominiums wanting to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy. And thanks to stimulus packages here and in the U.S., never before has so much money been available to make the switch.

"I believe we are going to look back 10 years from now and we will pinpoint this time -- in the first decade of this century -- when there was this transformation of our energy markets," Rhone said in an interview in his 13th-floor office in Vancouver's Scotia Tower.

Rhone gets visibly excited about the possibilities unfolding in the energy world, where public demand for green energy is growing and governments are committing billions -- more than $180 billion world-wide -- in clean-energy technology.

What make Nexterra different is that it is developing small, self-contained units that can rely on local biomass for fuel. Everything from urban tree trimmings to construction waste is fuel for the system.

Small and green, once the personal lexicon of granola environmentalists, are the new buzzwords that are propelling companies like Nexterra's leap into the big time.

"You need small plants to reduce fuel transportation costs," Rhone said. "We believe that small-scale, highly efficient, ultra-low-emission biomass systems that are built on a distributed basis are really the way to go.

"We don't think large-scale biomass solutions make a lot of sense."

Founded in 2003 by three British Columbians who had purchased a patented clean-gas technology from an insolvent owner, Nexterra could have been just another in a long string of companies that had tried and failed at marketing a new idea. But in 2005, it got its first big break from Interior forest company Tolko Industries.

Nexterra had no track record but the three founders, Rhone, Phil Beaty and Tim Kukler, had developed a pilot plant at Kamloops that impressed Tolko managers. They had a solid background in conventional wood combustion plants and a lot of confidence. They were financed by ARC Financial of Calgary, which took an 80-per-cent ownership position in the company.

The plant slashed $1 million a year off natural gas costs when it opened in 2006 by taking wood waste such as bark and starving it of oxygen in a controlled burn to drive off a synthetic gas. It's called biomass gasification and the gas, a complex mixture of mostly carbon monoxide, hydrogen and methane, is referred to as syngas.

The original incentive for Tolko was to save money. But the gasification plant produced renewable energy. Tolko was an innovative company and the green benefits were viewed as a plus. But nobody could imagine then just how valuable those benefits were to become.

Flash forward to today: U.S. President Barrack Obama's $70-billion commitment for alternative energy and his requirement that 25 per cent of electricity come from renewable sources by 2025, has given the little company with a new idea for the B.C. forest industry, an unlimited opportunity.

It got a huge boost when the U.S. department of energy chose Nexterra's gasification system to replace four fossil-fuel-fired boilers at its giant Oak Ridge lab in Tennessee, a complex of 4,300 scientists. It was where the Manhattan Project developed the atomic bomb in the Second World War.

The Nexterra project is to showcase one of the ways that the department intends to meet a target, under a presidential order, to develop renewable energy.

Nexterra has also formed a strategic alliance with GE Energy, a division of $22-billion-a-year General Electric.

One of GE Energy's subsidiaries, GE Jenbacher, produces a giant gas-fired internal-combustion engine with a generator built in, large enough to meet the power requirements of institutions and universities. The engines can run on natural gas, but GE is seeking a renewable clean-energy alternative.

"We are very excited about Nexterra's technology," Roger George, North American manager of GE subsidiary, GE Jenbacher, said in a telephone interview.

Nexterra's 52 employees -- 14 of them focused on research -- have been working with GE for a year and a half to develop a conditioned form of syngas that can meet the specifications for the high-efficiency engines.

"We are getting ready for prime time," Rhone said. "We and GE think this will be the new standard in how biomass will be converted to electricity."

In B.C., the company's small, closed-system energy system is already being used in urban applications. One has been installed in Victoria's high-end Dockside Green condominium complex, housed in a small building that blends into the rest of the waterfront development. It is fueled by urban wood waste.
Another is being installed at the University of Northern B.C. and a third is under construction at a New Westminster paper mill.

The big Canadian break, however, could prove to be the federal government's $1-billion Pulp and Paper Green Transformation Program. It was announced two weeks ago by Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt to counter the American black-liquor subsidy.

When asked about the program, Rhone's face lights up, he flips the pen he has been holding high in the air and breaks into a grin directed at marketing director Charlie Ker.

For the record, he calms down. "It's definitely an opportunity," he said. "We are talking to some of the pulp and paper companies."

Brian McCloy, a bioenergy consultant, said Rhone should be feeling giddy about the program, which will fund new projects at pulp mills that improve energy efficiency or increase renewable energy production. Nexterra has the technology already developed and proven to fit right into the industry's needs, he said.

"You can be sure he's out there beating the bushes," McCloy said of Rhone. "This black liquor package should be a real boon to Nexterra."

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