Standing 127 feet above ground, Aspen Power president Danny Vines explained how a pile of leftover logging debris can be turned into energy at Texas’ first biomass power plant.

The $107 million to $112 million project will soon crank out enough energy to operate 70,000 homes per month, Vines said Friday.

It all starts with the wood waste, or biomass, that comes into the facility.

Vines said he has a partnership with 37 counties in Texas to supply the fuel. They are bringing in 60 to 70 loads per day right now to the 67-acre property off Kurth Drive in North Lufkin, he said. Each load weighs in at 22 to 26 tons of material. Trucks bring the wood to the plant, drive up a large ramp and park at the top. A lift system then tilts the truck at a 65-degree angle into the air, and the wood is dumped onto a conveyor belt. If there’s any metal in the material, a magnet pulls it out, and oversized material is sorted.

Every load of debris is checked for its moisture content. The less moisture, the better, because the boiler runs more efficiently, Vines said. The material is piled up outside around a concrete half-circle.

“When it’s completely full and from about two feet from the conveyor system, that will represent about a 28-day supply for the plant,” Vines said.

Vines said the material goes up the conveyer belt and into the fuel storage bin. From there, seven air-assisted chutes move the material into the boiler. Air comes into the boiler, and combustion takes place at 1,800 to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

That heat then boils purified water that has been put through a reverse osmosis unit from the cooling tower, which is a separate facility.

Vines said two pumps churn out 146,000 gallons of water per minute, but the company actually consumes very little water.

The subsequent steam drives a turbine that generates 57 megawatts of gross power, Vines said.

About 50 to 52 megawatts of that power will be delivered directly into the ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) grid, which provides power to 75 percent of the state.

“You take a handful of biomass, set a bottle of distilled water on the table and a light bulb, and that’s almost how simple the process is,” Vines said. “You’re taking biomass and boiling purified water, generating steam to turn the turbine to generate electricity. Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that. It’s a very proven technology.”

The overall steam generation comes from the main steam drum and the 4,800 pipes that run from it. The drum sits at 127 feet off the ground, weighs 780,000 pounds and has steel walls seven inches thick.

High-tech computers monitor every movement. Vines said the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality receives an automatic update on the air quality every 15 seconds. Residents driving by the facility will not see steam rising from boiler, Vines said, due to the $30 million emission control equipment.

Engineers from Chicago, Tennessee and Lufkin helped design the overwhelming facility, which will be pumping out power 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

Vines said Angelina County residents should benefit from the site’s operations.

Because power must be transported across the state through a grid, Vines said there is an associated cost. Currently, the nearest energy-making plant is located south of Carthage.

“Since this generation is right here in Lufkin, that will ensure Lufkin a cheaper price from a power standpoint,” Vines said. “The impact we will have supporting the (ERCOT) grid will be very positive for the area.”

The first burn in the boiler — the tallest structure on the Aspen Power plant property — should happen this week, Vines said, and he hopes to have the plant at full capacity in early June. Engineers are on-site as the plant goes through a commissioning, or testing, phase. Construction workers are also still pouring a concrete road up to the facility and finishing other minor details.

After completion, Vines said, Aspen will employ 46 people at the power plant and 125 people on the fuel side of the business.

“We’re taking what’s considered an absolute waste product, and turning it into an energy source we can use today,” he said.

Melissa Crager’s email address is mcrager@lufkindailynews.com.

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