Incredible bulk

Written by: Matt Drew | Published:
Fiddlers Ferry push floor: Saxlund push floors at Fiddlers Ferry Power Station for the storage and discharge of 2000m3 of biomass

What are the key criteria to consider when selecting a bulk materials handling system? Matt Drew, MD of Saxlund International, reports

No-one would pretend that materials handling is core technology, but the mistake made by many is to assume that, because it is not core to the process, bulk material handling systems require less care and consideration at the selection and planning stage. Get this one wrong, and it will not matter how state-of-the-art your central processes are: they will not operate.

Unfortunately, this is our experience gained from more than 60 years of designing and installing systems of these types. But by keeping a few simple pointers in mind, you can make it much less likely that your white-hot technology will turn into a white elephant.


Plant operators are keenly aware that next year’s feedstock may be very different from this year’s. The ‘future-proofing’ element in facility design takes many forms, but planning to accommodate alternative fuel sources has to be one of the most important. This ability to integrate capabilities for handling different fuel characteristics was one of the considerations that helped Saxlund win three major contracts with a single client in May this year.

Galliford Try Infrastructure selected us to supply bulk fuel reception and handling at three waste wood gasification plants being built for Biomass UK in Barry, Boston and Hull.

This element of planned versatility would be important under any circumstances, but is especially relevant in the UK today. With government subsidies for renewable energy options drying up, the onus will increasingly be on plant operators to make gate fees their primary source of revenue. This in turn is likely to mean accepting feedstock across a wider quality range – and being able to handle it.

First in, first out

A second strand of technology that helped to deliver success with Galliford Try was the ability to design in systems which make the ‘first in, first out’ principle integral to biomass storage, with the ability to use RDF fuels in the future.

Why is this principle important? By its very nature, any kind of biomass/waste fuel is liable to compact and degrade over time. Consequently, it is important that this risk of degradation is minimised by limiting the length of time that the feedstock is kept in bulk storage.

Depending on the type and size of plant and the range of biomass types handled, solutions to facilitate ‘first in, first out’ include push-floor technology, sliding frames, hydraulic rotors and tube feeders.

It is important to consider the widest possible range of options across the entire facility when tailoring handling to your specific needs. Discuss with your supplier how best to ensure the smoothest flow of material, avoiding bridging in silos, eliminating narrow or inclined conveyor chutes where blockages can occur in favour of broad channels and vertical drops.

System and supplier

All of this implies that your chosen supplier has the experience, track record and available technologies to optimise your materials handling. So while the objective will be to design and implement the best possible range of solutions, achieving that objective will first hinge on choosing the right supplier.

Specialists in fuel feed and handling systems should want to be a part of pre-project discussions between the main contractor and the client from the earliest possible stage. If suppliers do not expect or ask for this level of involvement, that may imply they are not bringing a huge amount of expertise or insight to the table.

Similarly, your chosen supplier should offer all the market and technical support you would rightly demand from your principal technology partners. Look closely at their track record in operational facilities, and check provision in areas from training to spare parts.

Principal contractors and clients may have their own ideas about materials handling, but the best suppliers will challenge those assumptions, offer a range of alternatives and design routes and clearly lay out the benefits of each.

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