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Algoa expands biomass fuel capacity

In 2017, Algoa Brick’s Plant 2 tunnel kiln was upgraded add sawdust biomass capabilities. The Bernini oil-fired furnaces were supplemented with 4 new Bernini solid fuel zones firing on a hybrid mix of coal and biomass (sawdust). The benefits were significant and the updated system was instantly successful. However the amount of biomass the hybrid system could handle was limited at about 1 metric tonne per day, and Algoa was keen to further improve it's sustainable firing goals.

In mid-2020, Algoa Brick took delivery of a Bernini sawdust burning system capable of firing a complete zone of the Plant 2 tunnel kiln.

With the pandemic crisis in Italy, the EU-based Bernini team could not travel to South Africa to integrate the sawdust unit into the existing Bernini kiln control system. Algoa Brick made the daunting decision to handle the installation in-house. 

"Bernini provided continual technical support and advice online," says MD Nico Mienie. "We have worked with them for years, so there was a good rapport build over many years, and they know all our systems. It took considerably more effort, and I have a great deal of respect and admiration for their ability to talk up through complex technical equipment!

The installation was successful and between November 2020 and August 2021, Algoa Brick was able to increase biomass use to 4t per day.

The remainder of the tunnel kiln was predominantly fired on coal (4 zones with hybrid capability) with a single heavy furnace oil zone tuned to consume the minimum possible (around 1kl per day of oil).

In early 2021, the last remaining fuel oil zone on the kiln was retired, and replaced with an additional solid fuel zone again with hybrid capacity. This time, the Bernini team was welcomed in person, and they integrated the electrical controls of all the duty firing systems.

After 9 months of experience using 4t per day of biomass, Algoa Brick was also able to make improvements to its in-house biomass feeding system while having all the electrical controls integrated into a single Human Machine Interface (HMI).

"We are now set up for remote monitoring," reports Nico. "Not only can Algoa Brick management monitor the kiln online, but the Bernini team can also log into the system from Italy and provide assistance if required.

Currently, Algoa Brick’s Plant 2 tunnel kiln is being fired exclusively on solid fuels – a combination of coal and biomass is used with the total amount of biomass dependent on availability (obtaining sawdust of the right consistency is more challenging than ordering coal!). Heavy furnace oil burning equipment remains installed underneath the sawdust unit in case of inclement weather – Algoa Brick currently only has capacity to store about 3 days’ worth of sawdust due to the high volume required (>60m3).

Even though Algoa are still using exclusively solid fuel firing, the Plant 2 tunnel kiln meets the new emissions requirement for ceramic processes. With their commitment to improving sustainability, this is a critical consideration for the Algoa Brick team.

"We are proud to remain at the forefront of the clay brick industry's sustainability drive in South Africa and the world. Every fossil fuel Megajoule that can be substituted with a biomass Megajoule is a win - for us AND for the world. Although the carbon tax saving makes great business sense, the real savings will be enjoyed by our descendants," concludes Nico.



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