January 31, 2012

Wichita company can turn biomass waste into fuel

Ever wonder how to take advantage of that enormous pile of wood chips?

Ever wonder how to take advantage of that enormous pile of wood chips?

Not a question that many around here have, but in some places, such as Quebec or Idaho, it can make perfect sense. Alternative Energy Solutions International of Wichita sells biomass gasification boilers to factories and schools in places such as that.

The company is having an open house to show off its demonstration plant at 960 W. 53rd St. North on Wednesday and Thursday, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.

The units, with range from the size of car to the size of a small bus, burn a wide variety of plant and plant-related waste, such as wood chips and horse manure mixed with straw.

The fuel travels up a conveyor belt to an auger, where it is fed into the combustion chamber at about 900 degrees, which reduces it to gas and a tiny amount of ashes. The gas is fed into an upper chamber where it combusts again at 1,800 degrees. The heat flows to a heat exchanger to heat water, generate steam or power a turbine to produce electricity.

The company is owned by David Daniels, a mechanical engineer by training who bought conventional boiler sales and service company, Wichita Burner, in 2005. He bought the company that would become Alternative Energy Solutions International in 2006.

The systems, with add-ons, are eight to 10 times more expensive than conventional boilers, Daniels said, but in the right instance can make financial sense even without green-energy subsidies.

The target customers are factories that generate combustible waste – wood chips, apple peels, potato skins – that can burn in the biomass system. Daniels’ company recently installed a system at a factory in North Carolina that extracts an oil from the clary sage plant used in the perfume industry. The factory was hauling the waste off to the landfill. With the biomass system, it cut its dumping bill and used the waste to create steam for industrial production.

“It has a double benefit,” Daniels said.

The biomass system competes very well against fuel oil and even propane, Daniels said, although it has had a hard time lately matching up with depressed natural gas prices. The company has sold 10 of the units in the last two years, Daniels said, but he wants more.

“They make a lot of sense, and the key is to understand the whole process,” he said.

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