The world’s first conversion to next generation wood pellets. 

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Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is an electricity company with a generating capacity of over 16 GW, supplying over half of Ontario’s power needs. In 2015, Arbaflame converted their Thunder Bay Generating Station. Within months, the power station went from relying solely on coal to a 100 percent renewable solution, sending a significant message to power production companies worldwide. 

A political decision. 

The decisive step toward a fossil fuel-free production at the facility was taken in November 2013. Ontario’s government decided to close all coal-fired power stations and replace them with more healthy and environmentally-sound alternatives. Among the key factors on which the decision was based were studies which show that coal is twice as costly as renewable energy production when taking into account the extensive health problems that arise from use of coal.

At the beginning of 2014, Ontario Power Generation had two coal-fired power plants. Atitokan Generating Station, with a capacity of 205 MW, was converted to use traditional white pellets as fuel. The project took eighteen months and cost 170 million Canadian dollars to complete. The other coal-fired power plant, Thunder Bay Generating Station, was only used to manage peaks in the energy supply, so they did not want to make an equally large investment. The options were either to close the station fully or to find a cheaper way to carry out a conversion to renewable fuel. Henrik Hassel, Business Development Director at Arbaflame, tells us how Arbacore became the solution for the Thunder Bay Generating Station.

When Arbaflame first came in contact with OPG they had already initiated the conversion of the Atitokan Generating Station to use white pellets and had started discussing alternative options for the Thunder Bay Generating Station. A close dialogue with OPG  verified that it is possible to make minor modifications in a very short period of time and switch to fully renewable power generation.

From fossil fuel to renewable in four months.

The Thunder Bay Generating Station was converted with only two months down-time to a facility running on Arbacore wood pellets and it maintained power generation capacity at 170 megawatts, the same as when it was being fired with coal. And the price tag stayed at the 5 million Canadian dollars mark, 165 million dollars less than for the white pellets facility at the Atitokan Generating Station. In addition, the significantly shorter conversion time meant that the facility could be in operation more than half a year faster than its sister plant, saving even more.

Arbacore pellets share many of the properties of coal.

Key for the low investments and fast conversion time is that Arbaflame’s black pellets, Arbacore, share many of the properties of coal. Basically, Arbacore can be transported, stored and handled in the same way as coal. Moreover, the same equipment, including that for pulverising and combustion of the fuel, can still be used. The energy density of Arbacore’s black pellets corresponds to 76 percent of the energy value of coal while white pellets are typically almost as little as half that of coal.

“Apart from its energy value, Arbacore has several advantages over traditional white pellets. For example, its water resistance is a major benefit for the storage of the fuel – you can manage the entire supply chain in exactly the same way as for coal. Furthermore, the risk of explosion or spontaneous combustion is virtually non-existent, which is otherwise a major problem with white pellets, for which you must protect the power plant against a clearly enhanced fire risk. With the benefit of hindsight, OPG consider that they would probably not have invested in a white pellets conversion if they had had our option on the table when that decision was taken.”

The future is renewable.

With the world’s first commercial conversion to Arbacore pellets in full operation has demonstrated to potential customers and other stakeholders that Arbaflame is no longer a development project. Arbaflame continues to push forward for more commercial possibilities, particularly in Europe, Canada and Japan.

In July 2018, OPG announced it would permanently shut down the 55-year old Thunder Bay Generating Station due to expensive repairs and ongoing high cost of operation.