Canola oil processing heats up with biomass
Oilseed crushing, refining and packaging company MSM Milling is now using a biomass boiler to power its manufacturing plant located in Manildra, 300 km west of Sydney. This makes the company one of Australia’s first large-scale food manufacturers to use biomass for thermal energy.
Founded by two brothers in 1991, the company’s canola oil is used in popular biscuits, cereals, snack bars and even Australian KFC stores.
Historically, the company trucked in LPG for the boilers as it wasn’t connected to the gas grid, but faced with rising transport costs and variable gas prices it began exploring alternative fuel sources.
In order to determine whether biomass could be a viable source of energy for a facility of this type, ARENA announced $2 million in funding towards the $5.4 million project in June 2018.
After an 18-month transition, the facility has now officially moved from gas-fired boilers to a biomass system fuelled by timber waste from forestry operations in surrounding areas.
Danish specialist Justsen supplied the biomass system and sent three staff to the regional site to manage the installation.
MSM Milling Director Bob Mac Smith said the biomass system has reduced their thermal energy costs by about 70%.
He added that the amount of work required to connect the new boiler to the existing plant may have been underestimated, but given the scale of the project it has come together smoothly.
“Technically the boiler and fuel handling system has been wonderful. I couldn’t speak highly enough of the suppliers — the installation and the quality of their work and the equipment itself has been fantastic,” he said.
As a source of steam to power the oilseed processing plant, Mac Smith said the biomass system is behaving much like the gas system it replaced.
“It’s really just a fuel source. What we’ve done is replace three independent smaller gas-fired boilers with one large biomass fired boiler. Our guys do say that the new system provides more stability with more torque or grunt than the system it replaced. It’s smoother, it’s like having a V8 engine out there doing its thing compared to three two-stroke motors.”
Functionally, the operation of the plant is largely unchanged. The boiler runs around the clock and requires the same inspections every 12 hours as the old gas-powered system.
“There’s more logistics involved in getting fuel here, having said that, now it’s been running for some months that’s pretty seamless. It’s not a massive imposition — rather than getting one truckload of gas every week, we get four truckloads of biomass.
“If there was an additional impost, that would be about it. It’s just a logistic exercise… we move six or seven thousand tonnes of product every week both coming in and going out, so it’s not a big deal in the scheme of things,” he said.
He added that the boiler is producing about 500–700 kg of ash for every 100 tonnes of biomass processed, which is being used in road base and combined with chicken manure to fertilise the family farms.
The emergence of an Australian biomass-powered operation has not gone unnoticed. Mac Smith said he is regularly approached by businesses interested in embracing bioenergy, or even to supply waste products that could fuel the boiler.
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