Largest biomass power plant in NA set to open in Atikokan

The conversion of a former coal-fired power generating station in Atikokan, Ontario to a biomass-fueled plant is complete. The Ontario Power Generation (OPG) plant will have its grand opening tomorrow, September 10. It will be the largest biomass fueled power plant in North America, and the first of its kind in Ontario.

The conversion is the result of the Ontario government’s decision to phase out all coal-fired generating in the province, a plan laid out in the Green Energy Act of 2009. The target date for the elimination of coal was set at 2014. The Atikokan plant, which has a capacity of 205 MW output, has not burned any coal or generated any power since September, 2012. The conversion project broke ground the following October.

Doosan-MarkIII-burner-Atilokan-biomass-power-generation-OPG-hydro-EDIWeekly
Two of fifteen new Doosan Mark III biomass burners installed at Atikokan power generation plant. The plant, converted from coal to biomass, is the largest in North America. Photo: Ontario Power Generation

The project involved the modification of the plant and the construction of a fuel storage and handling system to make the switch from coal to biomass. The biomass will be in the form of wood pellets or “forest-based biomass,” which will be stored in two silos, each with a capacity of 5,000 tonnes. The biomass will be burned in fifteen modified Doosan Mark III burners. Burning wood pellets, which are said to be similar in energy content to the lignite coal that the plant was originally designed to burn, will have environmental benefits, including the reduction or elimination of sulphur oxide and nitrous oxide emissions, as well as the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The residue from burning wood is projected to be 3 per cent ash by volume, as compared to 25 per cent ash from burning coal. The ash will be recycled for agriculture or forestry.

A Pembina Institute study commissioned by Ontario Power Generation found that the use of biomass in Ontario, including at the Atikokan plant, was sustainable at the rate of two million tonnes of wood pellets per year. The Atikokan plan is projected to burn about 90,000 tonnes per year. The study also established that the biomass to be used at Atikokan meets the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change definition of “renewable.”

According to a spokesperson for the Atikokan plant, no jobs will be lost at the plant as a result of the conversion. The approximately ninety employees who worked at the coal-fired plant will continue to work at the biomass plant.

Design and construction work on the project, reported to be worth $85 million, was awarded to Aecon Group. Implementation of electrical, mechanical and instrumentation necessary for the combustion of biomass was handled by a UK company, Doosan Power Systems.

The Atikokan facility’s output will be fed into the Ontario electricity market administered by the Independent Electricity System Operator.

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