January 2018

Spencer ECA is managing the wood chip fuel once it is on site for a state-of-the art biomass energy powered dairy production facility in west Wales,
with Yard Manager Andrew White and his team responsible for the continuous feed of two 10 megawatt moving grate boilers which consume up to
200 tonnes of wood derived biomass per day.

Volac is one of the major suppliers of dairy products for animal and human nutrition in the UK. A lot of these products come from whey, a by-product of cheese making, and a significant amount of energy is needed when you extract those proteins and dry them on an industrial scale.

Located in Felinfach, west of Lampeter in Ceredigion, Volac was ideally located to upgrade and replace its energy source to biomass when it was looking for an efficient, environmentally friendly and sustainable alterative way of producing its own power. And now the energy produced from the biomass powered Combined Heat and Power plant provides energy in three forms to the main factory: electricity to run motors, hot water (95°C) and thermal oil to run the heat exchangers for the drying processes in the factory.

Spencer ECA plays a vital role in the smooth running of the biomass fired heat and power plant as it manages every aspect of the wood chip from the wood’s arrival on site, chipping logs, handling wood chips, wood dryer operation and fuel delivery to the bunkers.

The biomass arrives at the facility in two ways – either in the form of sawmill residue from local sawmilling businesses and BSW Newbridge, or from sustainably sourced logs that aren’t good enough quality for added value processes and waste off cuts from the timber industry. On average, four truckloads of sawmill residue and eight truckloads of low grade round wood arrive each day – up to 300 tonnes, all from within a 55 mile radius of the factory.

Upon arrival, each lorry goes onto the weighbridge, is weighed in and core samples of the fibre are taken. It doesn’t matter if two lorries carrying logs from the same wood source arrive together, samples are taken from each lorry’s cargo regardless. An on-site lab measures how much moisture the wood contains and how much energy and heat that wood will generate – vital for running an efficient boiler.

Having been separated in terms of size and shape, a CAT picks the logs up and places them onto a log deck conveyor belt heading for the electrically powered high capacity chipper. There are oversized and metal sensors on the conveyor to detect oversize logs and to make sure no foreign material goes into the chipper, and the logs are monitored by an experience Spencer ECA land management expert to ensure everything runs smoothly. After the logs are chipped, elevators take it into the chip storage shed, where a Doosan DL300 large wheel loader moves the chip around, mixing it with the sawmill residue. Heat sensors in the chip storage shed make sure no hotspots are left to develop.

From there, the wood chip goes into a large industrial drier – drying it to reduce moisture content – before the Doosan DL300 scoops what is now biomass up with its 10 cubic metre tiptoe bucket and takes it over to the vibrating feed hopper. From there the biomass goes up another conveyor belt and into a computerised silo, which feeds the biomass into the two 10 megawatt biomass boilers, powering the Combined Heat and Power plant and provide energy to the Volac factory next door.

“It’s a very busy yard, with three men working a split-shift from six in the morning until nine at night, and twelve hours at weekends,” says Yard Manager, Andrew White. “We manage all aspects of the yard, from weighing in the lorries, producing the biomass, ensuring that the chip shed is at least two-thirds full at all times and maintaining all the equipment we use. What Spencer ECA does is absolutely vital to the smooth running of the Volac factory. To maximise efficiency the boilers are kept running 24/7, 365 days a year, so we have to run a very tight and efficient ship ourselves and monitor everything constantly.”

The first fire was lit on 17 February 2016 and on 18 March 2016 the factory generated its first electricity. The Volac biomass facility has gained royal interest too, with HRH Prince of Wales officially opening the plant on 10 July 2017.

“As part of improving our efficiency and energy performance, and to reduce the carbon footprint of both the factory and the products we supply to our customers, biomass as a reliable energy source was an obvious choice, given that we’re located in rural west Wales,” explains Biomass Operations Manager Mike Batt. “The biomass burns in two furnaces, enabling the two thermal oil boilers to provide the energy to drive an organic ranking cycle Combined Heat and Power generator – providing Volac with energy in three forms to the main factory: electricity, hot water and thermal oil. It’s a very efficient way of getting three sources of energy for the factory.”