ST. MARYS — Elk County’s recycling program received a $26,500 grant from West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund (WPPSEF) to improve the performance of its biomass furnace by installing a screening system and mechanical updates to reduce oversized biomass particles from the feedstock, according to a press release.
The county purchased the former Advanced Recycling Equipment building in St. Marys five years ago for the Elk County Recycling Center, and since that time, has worked with the WPPSEF on numerous occasions to upgrade the existing biomass system. The system is now the facility’s main source of heat.
This most recent project involved the fabrication and installation of a shaker table outside the recycling center building to remove large pieces of woodchips that get stuck in the fuel-feed auger. This problem has caused numerous ongoing call outs to the staff member who operates the furnace.
“When the fuel-feed system goes off line the staff person in charge of operating the biomass receives a call out indicating the system is experiencing mechanical issues,” said ECRC Director Bekki Titchner. “In the 2019-20 heating season there were 23 chip jams, 16 of which were after working hours.”
During the 2020-21 heating season, chip jams were reduced to five. These may have been due, in part, to leftover chips that had been in the system before the shaker table was installed.
“This is a tremendous improvement,” Titchner said. “If the system goes off line it can take nearly a full day for it to get back up to temperature. This project has all but eliminated that problem.”
In addition to providing the facility with a wonderful source of heat, the recycling department has included the biomass system in its public education efforts. “The biomass system provides us with an opportunity to add a renewable energy education component to our existing education programs,” Tichner added.
The West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund (WPPSEF) is a nonprofit organization that invests in the deployment of sustainable energy technologies that benefit West Penn Power ratepayers in Pennsylvania. WPPSEF investments are focused in three broad categories — deployment of sustainable and clean energy technologies, deployment of energy efficiency and conservation technologies and facilitating economic development, environmental betterment, and public education as they relate to sustainable energy deployment in the WPP service region.