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West Salem Machinery provides wood processing solutions for Red Rock Biofuels’ ambitious biomass project

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November 5, 2020

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With over 70 years of experience in the wood products industry, Salem, Oregon-based West Salem Machinery (WSM) is no stranger to adapting to demands.

Since the company was founded in 1947, WSM has grown from its roots as a regional supplier of machinery for sawmills to a manufacturer of comprehensive wood waste processing machinery and recycling systems.

“Our mission has [always] really been to find ways to add value to waste and to convert [wood] waste into a reusable, marketable … fiber,” says WSM President Mark Lyman. “We focused primarily on sawmills and the wood products industry in the 1960s, the 1970s and into the early 1980s, and then as recycling started to become a thing, we jumped into the recycling world with some of our grinding machines.”

Today, the company provides a combination of mill-duty machines and systems for industries such as green waste recycling, construction and demolition (C&D) recycling, biomass and organics.

“Every day, I’m talking to customers around the world about the processing of these materials and how to get them into a form that they can make use of,” says Lyman. “Sometimes it’s for energy production, sometimes it’s for soil and mulch, and sometimes it’s for use in particle board. There are all these different markets. And that’s what we’re focused on—how to make these materials into usable products for our customers.”

AN ALTERNATIVE DEMAND

Of the various industries WSM services, Lyman says biomass in particular has been a major source of interest for customers.

“What we’ve seen with our [customers] is more people wanting to look at alternative energy and carbon-neutral fuels,” he says. “Biomass is considered a renewable fuel source, so we’ve developed some new machines and are heavily involved in … alternate bio-refining applications where people are trying to take biomass materials and convert them into a renewable gas.”

According to WSM, this increased demand for raw feed to produce a finished biomass product means the grinding, screening and processing machinery used in the process needs to excel at handling the diverse types of raw material available.

“One of the advantages of being application focused is we have a test lab here at our factory to bring in materials and do trial work with them,” Lyman says. “What it has allowed us to do is develop different types of tooling packages based on the types of materials that customers process. So, for example, if you get into some really stringy, fibrous materials, we have specific tooling packages for our grinding machines that will allow us to process that material. If we get into large pieces of solid wood, we have tooling packages to deal with that, as well.”

WSM’s wood fiber processing systems are capable of grinding pallets, pallet scrap, construction wood waste, dry trim ends and other dry waste, the company says. A typical system starts with batch loading material to a chain metering bin, which delivers waste wood to a disc screen as overs are sent to a primary grinder for material reduction.

Recyclers can produce finished-size fiber through the company’s Super Shredder with air assist or full air discharge, and fiber value can be enhanced by screening based on finished product specifications with oscillating or vibrating screens for more precise classification.

To help WSM’s wood processing customers get the most out of their residuals, the company says it starts with configuring individual components or fully engineered, integrated systems designed specifically for each application.

“We’ve got multiple machine sizes to choose from so we can handle small wood recycling operations up to some of the largest C&D facilities in North America and around the world,” says Lyman.

photos courtesy of wsm

CREATING A MARKET

An example of WSM’s system customization can be seen on a project the company is working on for Red Rock Biofuels, Fort Collins, Colorado, which is a subsidiary of IR1 Group LLC. The project, based in Lakeview, Oregon, aims to convert approximately 166,000 dry tons of waste woody biomass into 16.1 million gallons per year of low-carbon, renewable jet fuel. Red Rock’s biorefinery is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2021.

The anticipated $320 million facility will utilize the Fischer-Tropsch method, a scientific process developed by Germany during World War II to create fuel. Red Rock will intake woody biomass products and heat them to approximately 1,800 degrees in an oxygen-free, high-pressure environment, which converts the material to a gas. The liquid hydrocarbons produced are then refined into jet fuel, diesel fuel and naphtha fuels.

The woody biomass will be sourced from forest byproducts gathered from thinning projects around Lakeview to reduce fire fuels, says Red Rock CEO Terry Kulesa.

“With Red Rock, they have this diverse mix of incoming feedstocks or materials they want to be able to process, and they have a conversion process that requires a more finely ground product so that the material is consistent in particle size and shape,” says Lyman. “We did testing for them around using the various feedstock materials to show them what our machine could produce in both the product size as well as the capacity, and then based on that, our gear was selected for size reduction for getting their material ready to go to their conversion process.”

WSM’s equipment will be used to grind down the material to “half the size of a toothpick” before it goes into the gasifier, Kulesa says.

The project is being funded through grants from the U.S. military made available under the Defense Production Act, which were awarded to Emerald Biofuels, Port Arthur, Texas; Fulcrum BioEnergy, Pleasanton, California; and Red Rock. These grants go towards the construction of biorefineries that produce cost-competitive, drop-in military biofuels.

photos courtesy of wsm

With the grants, the companies are expected to produce military-spec fuel that is anticipated to cost the U.S. military, on a weighted average, less than $3.50 per gallon. Not only is this cost-competitive compared with petroleum-based fuels, it allows for a 50 percent greater reduction of emissions compared to conventional fuels.

In addition to government funding, Red Rock has also secured contracts from FedEx, Southwest Airlines and Shell for the sale of the project’s low-carbon fuel.

Southwest Airlines signed an agreement with Red Rock to purchase 3 million gallons a year of biofuel under a September 2014 contract, and FedEx soon followed with a similar contract in 2015. Most recently, Red Rock and Shell entered into a Cellulosic Fuel Purchase and Sale Agreement in October, where Shell will distribute the biofuel to Red Rock’s existing airline customers and market Red Rock’s renewable diesel fuel.

Once operational, the site will be the world’s first commercial-scale plant to utilize waste woody biomass from forests at risk of wildfire to create sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and renewable diesel. According to Kulesa, not only does this project have the potential to be economically viable, it serves as a model for environmentally conscious handling of feedstock.

“This has been one of the most devastating wildfire seasons on record,” Kulesa noted in a recent press release. “We have seen wildfires grow in intensity, acreage and damage to public health and the environment. One of the many potential benefits of the plant is to reduce the waste woody biomass lying on the forest floor, which may help to mitigate the spread of wildfires.”

The author is the assistant editor for Construction & Demolition Recycling magazine and can be reached at hrischar@gie.net.