BLR Biomass Project

A key element of our RePower Humboldt vision is to use the county’s extensive biomass resource to produce electricity for local consumption. The goal of the Blue Lake Rancheria (BLR) Biomass Project is to do just that. We plan to gasify redwood sawdust from our mills, use it to produce hydrogen fuel for a fuel cell, and generate electricity for BLR’s hotel and casino complex. The system will be the first of its kind.

The project has a short timeline and we have a tremendous amount of work to accomplish before the March 31, 2015 project end date. Thankfully, we are making good progress and we see a successful path forward.

The key stages of the BLR project include system design, equipment procurement, installation, start-up and commissioning, testing and evaluation, and final reporting.  We are currently in the design phase. Before finalizing the selection of major system components we need to pin down the composition of the syngas (“syngas” is short for synthetic gas and refers to the gas that comes from the gasifier when biomass is heated in the absence of oxygen). We are now working with project partner Proton Power, Inc., the gasifier manufacturer, to have their syngas tested. The test will be performed by a third party vendor, the Shaw Group (recently acquired by Chicago Bridge and Iron Works, or CB&I).

We expect the gas to be predominantly hydrogen with carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide impurities. Hydrogen is the fuel that will power the fuel cell. Carbon monoxide is detrimental to fuel cell operation and must be removed.  The gas will be cleaned up to a purity of greater than 99.9% hydrogen using a pressure swing adsorption unit, or PSA.  We are working with project partner Xebec Adsorption, Inc. to design and provide a PSA that will meet our requirements.

Once we know the syngas composition, we will also be able to specify other key components, including gas compressors and buffer storage tanks needed in the system. The final component in the system, the fuel cell generator, has already been purchased by the Rancheria and is sitting on their property.  It is a 175-kW Ballard ClearGen™ fuel cell. Over the next 15 months we will be very busy working to complete this project, and we will be sure to take a few moments each quarter to up-date you on our progress. It’s exciting to be working on this state-of-the-art energy system right here in our backyard.

About Jim Zoellick

James is a Senior Research Engineer at SERC. He has a B.S. Degree in Environmental Resources Engineering from Humboldt State University, and has worked professionally in the energy field since 1990. Since 1995 he has been a project manager at SERC and has been involved in the design, development, installation, and start-up of electrolytic hydrogen generation systems, hydrogen vehicle fueling stations, hydrogen fuel cell power systems, and solar electric power systems. Mr. Zoellick was the project manager and lead designer for both the Schatz Hydrogen Generation Center and the Zweig Education Building Fuel Cell System at SunLine Transit . Mr. Zoellick's additional work at SERC has included the development and demonstration of hydrogen fuel cell systems for real world applications, including vehicles and stationary, portable and remote power systems. Mr. Zoellick has also been involved in the design, installation, testing and modeling of photovoltaic energy systems, including the design and installation of a 2 kW AC grid-intertied system at the Campus Center for Appropriate Technology. Mr. Zoellick has taught several college level energy courses. He is the current chairman for the City of Arcata Energy Committee.