ATIKOKAN, Ont.—A former coal-burning thermal plant in northwestern Ontario is now operating on biomass, making it the largest power plant in North America fuelled completely by biological material.
According to the provincially-owned Ontario Power Generation Inc. (OPG), the Atikokan generating station in Atikokan, Ont., about 200 kilometres west of Thunder Bay, Ont., is now burning 100 per cent biomass after being converted from a coal-fired plant as part of Ontario’s plan to eliminate coal power generation completely.
The plant burned its last coal for electricity production on Sept. 11, 2012.
OPG’s generating station in nearby Thunder Bay burned its last coal in April 2014, making Ontario the first jurisdiction in North America to scrap coal generation.
“The conversion of Atikokan will ensure a clean, reliable, sustainable and local supply of electricity for the region,” provincial Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli said in a statement issued by OPG. “I am very happy to see this facility playing an active role in helping us deliver on the commitments in our Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP).”
As part of its commitment to biomass conversion and operation at the Atikokan plant, OPG has signed supply deals with Rentech Inc. and Resolute Forest Products Inc. for 45,000 tonnes of wood pellets annually to be delivered to the facility for a total of 90,000 tonnes.
Pellets are received at the plant from self-unloading, rear discharge trucks that have their own discharging system built into the trailers.
A receiving system then moves the pellets to a pair of new storage silos—each 44 metres tall and 21 metres in diameter—by conveyor belt and a bucket elevator.
Each new silo, installed as part of the plant’s biomass retrofit, can store 5,000 tonnes of wood pellets.
When needed for production, the pellets are delivered to the plant on a first-in, first-out basis from the silos via new conveyor belts and a second bucket elevator.
Once inside the powerhouse, the pellets are pulverized and fed into the boiler, much the same way coal was fed into the boiler previously.
“Atikokan is a unique addition to our clean energy portfolio as it provides dispatchable, renewable energy that can be used when the power system needs it,” said OPG president and CEO Tom Mitchell.
“The biomass conversion and solutions developed for the Atikokan are cutting edge and OPG is at the forefront of this innovative technology. The project is the first of its kind in Ontario and will bring economic benefits to northwestern Ontario for years to come.”