Renewable Energy Biomass plants, a game of competence and diplomacy!
We meet today Monica Grosso, Sales and Marketing Manager of BONO Sistemi, the Cannon Group company in charge of co- generation and renewable energies: their large, tailor-made, special thermal plants require a very long and complex negotiation. A lot of competence, patience – and diplomacy – is demanded to see an order signed!
Monica Grosso, 42, was born in Genova, Italy, where she obtained her degree in Chemical Engineering in 1994. After a two-year training in the UK and significant experience in Snamprogetti and AMSA in Milano – where she learned a lot about waste incineration and use of biomass fuel – Monica joined BONO in 1998. Her first assignment was to sell thermal oil boilers, then – thanks to her past experience with renewable energies – she was selected to handle sales of special thermal machines, in 2004. She currently manages – first woman in the Group in such position – sales and marketing for BONO Sistemi S.p.A., the Cannon company specialising in plants for co- generation and valorisation of biomass.
Cannon News: Can you explain us what you are selling? Monica Grosso: Bono Sistemi designs, manufactures and installs large thermal plants that burn renewable fuel, mainly agricultural waste and scrap wood from forestry and industry. We talk of huge, complete installations worth
several million Euros that can be used for two purposes: co-generation of electric power and heat, or production of steam for process. According to the available fuel, a number of by-products can be derived from the process, or a number of pollutants can be present: these factors heavily influence the design of our equipment and its final price.
CN: What sort of biomass are you dealing with, mostly? MG: Biomass is a very popular subject, today. We receive hundreds of requests for evaluation studies and preliminary offers, and obviously we must filter them severely. We have developed dedicated burning technologies for a number of interesting fuels, and we try to give priority to the derivatives of the wine industry (spent grapes, called marcs and lees) and of the wood industry. There is a huge market for this biomass, and we know how to deal with it efficiently.
CN: Can you give us some references and process details about the wine industry application? MG: We have grown significant experience with distilleries processing grape residuals in Italy, France and now in Australia. We sold four plants in three years, with strong commitment and technical competence. In Faenza, Italy, our customer Villapana, after a complex series of chemical and physical treatments, obtains from grapes residuals (dry “marcs” and wet “lees”) a number of pure chemicals (Tartaric Acid, Metatartaric Acid, cream of Tartar, Rochelle Salt, Potassium Tartrate, pure Ethyl Alcohol), to be sold to the food, beverage, pharmaceutical, mechanical and electronic industries. These operations leave a mountain of residuals: their plant generates more than 36,000 tons per year of wet spent marc. They are fed at a rate of 5 tons/hour to a customised biomass-fired steam generator. Here they fall on a large moving grate where – using very hot combustion air – they are fully burnt to ashes. The combustion generates flue gasses, which are sent through a large heat recovery boiler where they release their heat which vaporises the water and produces steam. This is sent at high pressure to a large turbine, where it produces 1.3 MW of electric power, used in the plant and sold to the national power grid. From the turbine saturated steam is extracted and sent to the nearby alcohol distillery, where it is used to extract – from a bland hydro-alcoholic solution coming from the marc's washing line - natural Ethyl Alcohol, 96.5 % proof. In figures: 36,000 tons a year of residues
generate 1.3 electric MW of power and 12 thermal MW under the form of saturated steam. This means an average 70.5% of global efficiency, out of wet grape's marcs and wine's lees. The supplied plant is 17 meter high, 17 by 29 meter wide, weighs approximately 400 tons and is fully built in anti-seismic execution. We are now going to install for ATP (Australia Tartaric Products) a very large similar plant in Australia, where it will process almost 40,000 tons a year of spent grapes, collected from the wine industry existing around their factory in Mildura, Victoria State. In France, from the same raw material, we have already installed two large biomass plants. Both our French customers – UCVA and UDM – generate only steam for their distilling process, plus of course Tartrate salts and Ethyl Alcohol. Since they previously separate grape seeds (to extract cooking oil from them) their spent residuals are almost dry: in this case we apply a totally different combustion and heat recovery method!
CN: How about the wood industry? MG: First of all, let's make it clear: we do not want to compete with the furniture or the panel industry in the search of the raw material. We don't want to burn the good wood, it's too precious, it should be used for other things. Our interest is mostly towards scrap wood: there is plenty of it around, mostly from the industry, and people don't know what to do with it. Coming from the furniture industry, or from the production of plywood, MDF and particle board panels, or from the construction and packaging industry. It's generally wood combined with other synthetic materials, or polluted with glues, adhesives, resins, paints. You can't re-use it for industrial applications, and you can only burn it in a very careful way, otherwise you get in troubles with the environment and with your equipment. You must know how to handle that, and we know how!
We recently supplied a very interesting solution to a wood panel producer near Dijon, France, that produces 19 thermal MW of steam – used for process – by burning their production scraps, waste wood and unusable minor forestry residuals (smaller branches, barks, etc.) at a rate of 7 tons per hour. Our supply includes the whole plant, starting from the air pre- heater, through the burner, the step grate combustion system, the heath recovery system, the whole fume treatment and the ash conveying and disposal system. We design, manufacture, transport and install on-site the whole plant, test it, train the client's operators, using only our experienced personnel, from A to Z. There is only one interface for the whole project, and that's Bono Sistemi. Not very many competitors can make the same statement!
CN: Do you deal with other biomass? MG: Of course we do: we have had very positive experience with olive pomace, rice husks, sunflower and corn. We are actively working on projects involving “energy crops” such as Miscanthus, Sorghum, Arundo Donax (or giant cane, a fast-growing reed used for the production of Bioethanol fuel, that leaves lignine residual) and sugar cane.
The presence of micro- and macro-pollutants, different sizes and shapes of particles, humidity, seasonal feeding differences, final use of the produced heat (steam only or co-generation) influence the design of our thermal machine, and its construction. Flue gasses treatment is mandatory, with an excess of precautions because you never know what ends up in the combustion chamber, to comply with the most stringent law requirements, to guarantee maximum respect of the environment and the highest possible thermal yield.
Waste wood is recovered with this biomass plant from BONO Sistemi to generate heat and electric power
CN: What's the main difficulty in selling these plants? MG: The fact that, in any case, the governments are subsidising these huge investments. Some countries, say Italy for instance, pay a premium tariff for the produced energy, for at least 15 or 20 years from the start of production. Other nations – France, to name one – contribute heavily to the initial investment. In both methods precautions are taken to avoid waste of public money, and this reflects in a long, nerve-taking sequence of bureaucratic steps that cannot run in parallel but, generally, only in sequence: if one piece of the puzzle is not exactly in place the next one cannot even be moved. This process – which also involves a great deal of political decisions – cannot generate a ground-breaking ceremony in less than two years from the start of commercial negotiations. We spend 15% of our efforts in technical discussion and project laydown, and the rest in dealing with third parties to help our customer to obtain all the necessary building authorisations, financing loans, environmental impact studies etc. We work for literally nothing for two-three years, and sometimes the project cannot go through: then we are back to square one… with all the expenses to pay!
CN: How do you try to optimise your efforts, then? MG: The major problem is to identify how realistic and feasible is the submitted project. This field is full of people interested in making money easily – mainly from the construction phase – with little interest in the ongoing exploitation of the industrial project. We try to stay away from speculators and mediators, only interested in financial calculations and ROI but never involved in two fundamental steps of this business: the regular supply of the raw material and the day-by-day efficient operation of the plant. We only deal with the final user, industries with a steady supply of “feedstock” that can be burned efficiently and a regular end use for their final product, either heat or electricity. These counterparts speak our language, they can deal with a bank, are firmly installed on a territory for a long time and are there to stay and make an ongoing business. With these premises we start talking to them and to their local counterparts supposed to release all the required permissions. Other approaches are – generally – a waste of time and money. And we like to save both, for us and for our customers!
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