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In SoBo, these drums move to the biomass beat

Two huge drums rolled into South Boston earlier this week prompting authorities to stop traffic to allow the large mud drum and steam drum to safely make their way to South Boston Energy, LLC, the new $150 million 49.9-megawatt wood-fired power generating facility currently under construction at the former Georgia-Pacific site on Plywood Trail.

According to Logan Young, consultant and spokesperson for the energy facility, more than 225 Fagen, Inc. employees are working to transform the Plywood Trail property into the home of Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative’s new biomass plant.

Despite intermittent storms that disrupted construction workers’ progress earlier this week, the drums delivered Monday and Tuesday were one more piece of the biomass plant puzzle that must be installed and fully operational before the plant’s anticipated open date of mid-summer next year.

With hundreds of hard hat, neon vest-wearing construction employees on the job 10 hour days, five days a week, the construction is expected to be complete right on schedule.

On Tuesday morning, crews used a large crane to hoist high into the air the 110,000-pound mud drum measuring 41 feet before positioning it inside the plant.

A unit located beneath the boiler drum, the mud drum collects the solid materials that precipitate out of the boiler feedwater due to the high pressure and temperature conditions of the boiler, Young explained.

On each run through the boiler drum, a portion of the boiler feedwater is vaporized. This results in an increase in the solids concentration in the boiler drum. Eventually, the solids hinder the ability to maintain steam generation efficiency and that’s when a stream of compressed air is used to blow the solids into the mud drum beneath the boiler.

The mud drum then stores these materials for later disposal, Young said. The process of using compressed air to remove the collected suspended solids is referred to as “blowdown.”

A second large drum, the 175,000-pound steam drum also measuring 41 feet long, was installed Tuesday also, Young said.

The steam drum is a reservoir for storing the steam generated in the water tubs and acts as a phase separator for the steam/water mixture, he explained.

Fagen, Inc, the construction company building the biomass plant, currently employs more than 225 people, Young said, with 38 percent of those being considered local.

Once constructed, the biomass facility will burn wood chips as its prime source of fuel, nothing more than three inches in size.  

When the facility becomes operational, wood will be burned 12-16 hours a day, six days a week.

South Boston Energy consultant Fred Mistal, who oversaw the construction of the Clover Power Plant, compared NOVEC’s new facility to the older Clover Power Plant that burns coal and operates on a constant basis. 

The NOVEC biomass facility will operate when it is most economical 80-95 percent of the time, according to Mistal.

Once the facility is in operation the budget calls for only 26 full-time employees, depending on how well it operates, according to Mistal. The facility will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

The planned in-service date for the proposed project is May 31, 2013.