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Localized energy in Hungary

June 2, 2015

Veolia’s subsidiary Pannonpower is the sole provider of heat and energy for the Hungarian city of Pécs, using locally sourced biomass. It is one of the only cities of its size in Europe in which energy production is based completely upon renewables.

PÉCS – A queue of trucks stand lined up outside a massive storage hall. The long open trailers are filled with bales of straw, the key energy source for the power plant boiler working at full capacity in the next building. The plant – operated by energy company Pannonpower, a local subsidiary of Veolia Environnement – provides all the energy needed by the city of Pécs, using steam from locally sourced straw and woodchips.

One by one, the trucks are let inside, taking their position on the lane, which runs between the towering masses of straw. A Konecranes overhead crane comes down from above, clamping an 18-meter-long block of bales and lifts it high into the air.

From here, the bales are moved to a designated storage area. At the same time, a second crane shifts straw from the storage on the conveyor belt, which transports the fuel towards the boiler building. The overhead crane lifts the supplied straw bales and moves them to storage.

Shifting to the age of renewable energy

In the safe zone below the conveyor belt, and between the two 75-meter crane runways, stands Róbert Bősz, Power Plant Chief Engineer for Pannonpower. During the past ten years he has overseen the complete transformation of the old coal plant into a state-of-the-art renewable energy production facility.

“It became obvious after 2004 that a renewable alternative to gas heating was needed, considering the EU goal of decreasing greenhouse gases by 20 percent, climbing gas prices and the local heating demands. Pécs is the first Hungarian city in which the energy supply is entirely based upon renewables. In terms of cities of this size, Pécs is unique in this respect within Europe,” he explains.

The woodchip-fired biomass unit of the power plant started operating in 2004 using a mix of woodchips and gas. To replace the gas capacity, the baled biomass-fired unit was inaugurated in 2013. Konecranes contributed with the delivery of a turnkey solution in the form of two automated crane units, the conveyor belt and an IT system to manage the fuel logistics. During the first year, the operation time was 6,000 hours, but by 2014 it had reached 8,000 hours.

Locally sourced, locally used

The city of Pécs has a significant demand for district heating with up to 31,000 flats and 450 public institutions.

Biomass is considered a premium product in Hungary and as a result the plant can offer a stable tariff-supported price for local producers. Straw was chosen as the primary fuel for the new boiler because it is plentiful in the region. Even though the fuel demand is consistently high, it can be met locally.

“We purchase nearly 400,000 tons of hard-stem biomass and nearly 200,000 tons of baled biomass from the region in a year,” says Mr Bősz. “For these two types of fuel we pay a total of 11 billion forints (approximately EUR 34.5 million) to our local suppliers. As a result, Pannonpower is a significant partner for the farmers and wood suppliers in the region.”

Added value with automation and sensors

The logistics around the new boiler were designed to be almost fully automatic. When there are no fuel shipments, only a single person is needed to operate the facility. When the bales are coming in, two persons are required, mostly for administrative tasks.

There is more than meets the eye to a stack of bales hanging in mid-air in the large storage hall. For a short while before moving the fuel to storage, ultrasound sensors inside the grabber measure the weight and moisture content of the stock.

This information is forwarded to the TRUCONNECT console inside the control booth below the conveyor belt. The data will be compared to the order ID the truck driver for the shipment has registered before entering the building.

After this completely automated process, the crane driver standing at ground level will be immediately notified whether he should accept or decline the shipment. If the shipment is accepted, the billing account of the supplier will be updated automatically and the necessary documentation produced. While all this is happening, the logistics IT system also maintains information about the stock in storage.

Adjusting to the forces of nature

The moisture of the fuel has a critical impact on the process, because the boiler relies on a steady supply of material. In 2014 it rained over twice as much as usual, and as a result the moisture level of the fuel was higher than expected.

Nevertheless, the logistics system was able to cope with the situation well, and the system was modified according to the changing circumstances.

“At first we operated with two-year-old bales with a high moisture content,” Mr Bősz tells us. “This caused problems because the base of the bales could fall out.

Konecranes then implemented hydraulic support features into the main system. This was the first case in which they had to face such a problem. Some software changes were also made to meet our requirements.” Konecranes had delivered similar solutions to Denmark and Spain in the past, but this was the first time it had implemented a complete logistics system for a power plant. A maintenance contract allows the system to be monitored and improved continually. Mr Bősz considers this to be imperative when working with innovative industrial solutions.

“Konecranes is an ideal partner because it can cooperate flexibly in these constantly evolving situations, modify the system and reconstruct it.”


Text: Markus Karlqvist
Photos: János Kummer

3 facts

  • The Pannonpower project was the first time Konecranes had implemented a complete logistics system for a power plant.
  • Normally, only one employee is needed to handle the system. During fuel shipments two persons are required.
  • The logistics can easily be modified to fit the environment and changing circumstances.