Burns & McDonnell has been retained by Xcel Energy to perform engineering services and permitting, procurement and construction support services for design and installation of biomass gasification technology at Xcel’s Bay Front Power Plant in Ashland, Wis. When the conversion is complete on this last unit, the 73-megawatt Bay Front Plant will be the largest biomass power facility in the Midwest.

In late 2009, Xcel Energy received approval from the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin to convert the last of three coal-fired generating units at the plant to biomass gasification. Two of the units already produce electricity by burning lower quality, unused wood left behind in logging operations in forests. Upon conversion, the third unit will burn similar wood waste material in a process in which the fuel reacts with a combination of air, high temperatures, and pressure to create synthetic gas (syngas). The syngas will then be used to fire the boiler.

As part of its contract with Xcel, Burns & McDonnell will review and finalize project costs. Project activities will include design and construction of additional biomass receiving and handling facilities, technology assessment, purchase and installation of gasification equipment, engineering design and installation of equipment needed to modify the third unit boiler and engineering design and construction support for installation of air quality control equipment.

Engineering design and technology evaluation is already underway and construction is scheduled to commence in 2011. The project is scheduled to be in operation in 2012.

When the coal-to-biomass conversion is complete, nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions will decline by 60 percent, sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions will decline by 80 percent and particulate matter will decline by 80 percent. In addition net carbon dioxide emissions will be reduced substantially due to sustainable harvesting practices employed in gathering and utilizing biomass fuel and by utilizing substantially cleaner syngas to fire boilers.

In addition to utilizing the waste biomass from area forestry operations, Xcel Energy is exploring feasibility of developing biomass plantations and grower cooperatives in partnership with the Wisconsin Office of Energy Independence, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and regional agricultural experts. One of the project goals is to create regional economic benefits by reducing Wisconsin’s reliance on coal and imported fossil fuels. The Bay Front Plant already generates a $20 million annual economic impact due to its purchase of wood residue projects in six counties adjacent to the plant location in Ashland, Wisconsin. That economic impact will increase significantly as the third boiler is converted to burn biomass-fueled syngas.

Xcel Energy is recognized as an industry leader in integrating renewable energy sources such as wind and biomass into its energy portfolio.