Wood Pellets are the most common type of pellet fuel and are made from compacted sawdust and related industrial waste from the milling of lumber, manufacture of wood products and furniture, and construction. In recent years, consumers have turned to wood pellets and other biomass fuel sources as an alternative to oil.
Wood pellet moisture and temperature control is one of the major challenges faced by pellet manufacturers. Being proactive with measurement can result in tremendous cost savings in the manufacturing process and help eliminate the chance of packaging wet or low quality products or losing product all together through fire. Process Sensors’ online moisture and IR temperature sensors provide continuous, non-contact measurement throughout the manufacturing process for closed loop control.
Sawdust with high moisture content should be dried since wet sawdust requires more power to be hammered than dry sawdust, and wet sawdust may impede the screening process by clogging or smearing the screen. Sawdust with lower moisture content, such as sawdust from hardwood flooring plants, can skip the initial drying procedure.
At large commercial plants, sawdust is screened to remove stones, plastics, metals, or other hard materials that may damage the equipment. Stones and stone-like hard materials are removed by a stone trap when the sawdust passes over the screen while metals are picked up by a magnet. Controlling the moisture content of the sawdust prior to the screening process ensures equipment remains unclogged and that maximum debris is removed before hammering. For smaller plants with less capital, this step is not necessary.
Hammering is the next step in the wood pellet manufacturing process prior to the formation of the pellets themselves. In this stage, the incoming raw materials are homogenized to an even-size. In the piles of sawdust there might be wood lumps, dead knots, etc. which need to be hammered so that they can pass the die holes of the sawdust pellet machines.
Next, the sawdust goes into the pelletizing chamber of the sawdust pellet machine where it is heated up to 120-130℃ at high pressure. Temperature can be measured at the exit of the Pelletizer via our Non-contact Process Sensors IR pyrometers. At this temperature, the lignin naturally present within the sawdust is plasticized and acts as a natural “glue” to bind the particles together to help to form the pellets. The pellets are molded by being pressed through the pellet dies of the sawdust pellet machine and then are cut off by the cutter at the desired length. The quality of the finished pellets is determined in large part to achieving consistent and optimal moisture content of the sawdust prior to pelletizing to ensure the lignin bonds effectively.
After the pelletizer, the pellets are hot, soft and susceptible to deformation and must be cooled to become rigid. The final wood pellet moisture content after the cooler can be as low as 6% and may increase up to 8-10 % by absorbing moisture from the surrounding air. A moisture sensor mounted at this stage provides real-time data to optimize the cooling process.
At large commercial factories, the pellets undergo one final screening before packaging to separate well-formed pellets from other fine content. Once cooled and screened, the wood pellets are packaged and ready for transport. Temperature screening is done by IR thermal imaging cameras. Even at this stage, wood pellets are capable of being hot enough to ignite. If not measured and checked, this could lead to the loss of the entire wood pellet shipment, or worse, cause death or injury. Wood pellets can hold enough heat to cause fire all the way up to the shipping port-where they again should be temperature screened to ensure worker safety and product yield.
IR temperature measuring technology is used towards the end of the wood pellet making process. The wood pellets, even after full processing, can still be hot enough to ignite. For the sake of safety and product stability, wood pellets should be temperature checked prior to the shipping and transportation process.
For the Wood Pellet industry, the ideal IR thermal imaging camera line is our PSC-X80LT/PSC-X400LT cameras. The PSC-X80LT is an industrial imager perfect for precision temperature measurement of wood pellets during loading onto rail cars. With 6,400 pixels for accurate temperature measurement from -20°C to 900°C, its autonomous operation with automatic hot spot finder and direct 4-20mA analog output make it ideal for this application. Offering a variety of lenses to match the observation area with a high-resolution distance-to-spot-ratio of up to 190:1 enables this cost-effective camera to be applied to the task at hand.
Moisture is a major consideration throughout the wood pellet manufacturing process to meet finished pellet quality goals and increase profits. Below are some of the locations where our customers have used our sensors to monitor and control moisture in wood pellet production
An MCT460-WP non-contact moisture sensor is typically mounted within 6 to 16” of the product looking directly at the sawdust. When needed, the sensor can be mounted on the exterior of a vessel and measure product moisture through a glass window or utilize a snorkel sampler to grab samples when the product flow is light or discontinuous. Depending on the environmental conditions at the plant, air purge and cooling systems are available for installations in exceptionally dusty or hot conditions. The MCT460-WP’s analog outputs are normally connected to the control room allowing plant operators and managers to monitor their process and log historical data.
For quick, accurate and reliable samples testing, the QuikCheck benchtop moisture analyzer can be used in the laboratory for precise moisture measurement of grab samples in under 10 seconds.
Moisture measurement and control is important in all phases of wood pellet manufacturing. Homes and businesses throughout the world are looking at wood pellet fuel as an alternative or supplementary source for heat. Wood pellets yield high BTU’s at an economical price. Cord wood that you might burn in a fireplace or fire pit generally has moisture from 20 to 60% and is relatively inefficient in energy conversion. Wood pellets, on the other hand, offer high BTU energy yields and are easier to burn, store and transport.
Tell us a little bit about your production process below. We have worked with dozens of wood pellets plants, both large and small, to help them optimize their process and save additional time and labor in all stages of pellet manufacturing.
Reliable moisture measurement for improved process control and consistent product quality in wood products manufacturing
Rapid moisture and constituent measurement for manufacturing processes