Special features of biomass bulk transport

One of the challenges faced by the energy sector is the replacement of polluting fuels, such as coal, with other renewable sources such as biomass. This challenge is extending to solid bulk terminals, where proper understanding of biomass and their specific handling and storage requirements is essential.

When we talk about biomass, we mean the organic matter emanating from a biological process (spontaneous or induced) that can be used as an energy source. While natural biomass, such as wood, has always been used by man, today we are going to talk about residual biomass, more specifically, pellets.

Pellets, the ideal-sized biomass

Wood pellets are a type of pressed wood particle-granulated fuel. This makes them denser than wood ones and with greater energetic power, which still varies depending on the original wood type. It is worth noting that while biomass can be made from organic waste of any kind, the characteristics of the pellet make it the most viable bulk biomass alternative.

This type of solid bulk products is mainly transported at sea ports. This involves tons of material, the transport of which requires specific care. The big difference between pellets and other bulk goods is the thorough temperature control required for pellets, which means that they must be stored in a roofed space. Unloading must take place prior to reaching 50º to prevent the risk of fire.

Specific facilities for pellets

Specific facilities designed for pellet handling are required to attract biomass traffic to a port. This is the case of dust suction collectors for unloading from the ship , tilting and tipping conveyor belts that vary the angle of the height that the pellets fall, as well as storage silos with fire-prevention systems and temperature sensors. Biomass marketers are also looking for facilities that do not contaminate their material, such as clean, stone-free soils or other external agents that could get mixed in with the pellets.

Logistics companies are also demanding the swift handling of biomass, without long storage periods. Therefore, the loading or unloading tonnage that the agent or stevedore ensures per working day is a decisive factor. Ports operating around the clock are at a greater advantage in this regard.

Unloading of a ship with biomass

The most important technical condition required by ships is a “clean on board” inspection to check that the holds are clean and the load is not contaminated. An accredited monitoring company checks the ship’s final draught to calculate the actual weight of what it is transporting. The final step involves the distribution of the biomass through the ship hold using a proper loader.

It is important to reduce any losses due to fine-grain, high winds, or falls during this process. The key to preventing this from happening is to choose adapted loading elements and buckets to prevent any product from falling. It is important not to forget how biomass logistics costs can account for 50% of the final price, therefore making the strict control of handling operations a must.

Biofuels are Class 4 dangerous goods, due to being considered flammable solids, therefore meaning that ships transporting them also need to hold their respective IMO classification

The biomass sector’s search for stability

25 tons of pellets are currently transported worldwide. While biomass trade is increasing,  the industry is demanding measures to standardise pellets as standard quality consumer goods, to allow users to know more about the product and make them want to buy it.

It also aims for a fair price that is less dependent on subsidies, given how growth in this market is still very much linked to the energy policies of each country. While Europe remains the largest consumer, demand is growing in Korea and Japan to supply its biomass and co-combustion plants.

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