Bucket elevators are a common sight across many industries. Its no wonder: they are versatile machines. They can be designed for small, batch processes or mill-scale operations, and they boast similar versatility in terms of materials they can handle. Plus, it goes without saying that they excel in elevating material in confined spaces. But familiarity, versatility, and the ability to elevate do not mean, by default, that bucket elevators are the best system for your application, as other solutions are available that may better meet your needs, and there are limitations with bucket elevators of which you should be aware.
We can add to this list difficulty handling certain fibrous materials like biomass: raw cellulosic material including wood chips, veneer waste, shavings, straw, stover, bagasse, and other woody or grassy substances. Bucket elevators do not work well for these materials because the materials do not easily break apart, they do not fill buckets well (e.g. voluminous materials like straw), and their abrasive nature tends to quickly wear buckets (e.g. buckets collecting from a pit of chipped wood).
Fibrous material also proves problematic in that some material inevitably spills over the buckets at the chute and falls to the bottom of the housing. There, buckets going around the tail scoop up this material. This isnt a problem with free-flowing grains, but for fibers and strong materials that arent free flowing, it causes huge stresses on bucket chains.
Beyond considering the disadvantages, its good to gain perspective on some of the advantages to bucket elevators. First is their efficiency. Compared to a pneumatic system, bucket elevators are, of course, much more efficient. But when compared belt or advanced drag conveyor systems, their superiority diminishes. Belt conveyors and drag conveyors, especially BE&Es SMART Conveyors, are much more efficient than pneumatic systems, as well.
It should be noted that the efficiency of individual systems differs dramatically, and our statements about efficiencies are general in nature. Many drag conveyors, for example, are incredibly inefficient. Weve encountered systems for which 90 percent of the energy was being used to operate the system while empty. With this in mind, always compare equipment when purchasing a material handling system.
Another advantage worth analyzing is bucket elevators ability to move material vertically. Belt conveyors are impractical for this due to their limited ability to elevate material. But some drag conveyors can elevate materials at steep inclines like bucket elevators. Certain manufacturers like Biomass Engineering & Equipment offer drag conveyors that can convey at angles of 75 and 90.
A drag conveyor that can elevate vertically is worth considering as an alternative to a bucket elevator. SMART Conveyors from BE&E lack the pulleys, belts, gears, bucket assemblies, and transitional pulleys of bucket elevators and are easier to maintain. And they are extremely efficient. Plus, they are dust tight and will gently handle material without degrading it.
SMART Conveyors are also worth considering because they can simplify a system configured with a bucket elevator. Often, by using a SMART Conveyor, a system will not require the infeed and outfeed conveyors associated with bucket elevators. Thus, a single SMART Conveyor can replace three conveyors.
There are other advantages to SMART Conveyors that make them an excellent alternative to bucket elevators. Learn more by contacting us. Lets discuss whether SMART Conveyors are the right solution for your project.
Whether in packaging production, pulp and paper processing, biomass fuel generation or otherwise, wood-based biomass products are handled in a variety of settings and forms, from bark to shredded wood, and perhaps most often, wood chips. The unique characteristics of wood biomass materials require careful consideration in equipment design to achieve seamless material flow with minimal issue.
Like most bulk solids, a few key pieces of equipment make up the majority of the equipment used to move wood chips around a processing facility. The most common bulk material handling equipment includes:
Troughed belt conveyors are the most widely used type of bulk handling equipment when working with wood chips, shredded wood biomass, bark, and the like. These material handling workhorses carry material at grade, or at angles up to 20 (or 30 when cleated/chevron belting is used). Conveyors can be equipped with a wide range of accessories and customizations in order to further tailor equipment to the application at hand.
The concave profile of the conveyor, created by troughed idlers, helps to keep material on the conveyor and provides some protection from wind or nearby process exhaust. Additional protection can be achieved with weather covers or gallery enclosures.
Numerous customizations are available in order for handling systems to better work with wood-based materials. Oil-resistant belting, for instance, is recommended to protect conveyor belts against the woods natural sap, oil, and moisture content.
Skirtboards at load zones minimize fugitive dust, with full-length skirting options available. A slider bed trough that provides a tight seal with the skirtboard can also be implemented to prevent fugitive material from clogging up equipment. Elevated dust settling chambers minimize dusting after the loading zone.
Belt trippers are an excellent device in wood chip storage applications, extending the functionality of a belt conveyor. Belt trippers, or traveling trippers, can be fixed or movable on the conveyor. The tripper redirects material off of the conveyor at predesignated points, or along the entire length of the conveyor, to be discharged as desired.
Similar to trippers, belt plows promote material discharge from a conveyor at predetermined points, but the points are fixed and ultimately less flexible. When handling wood biomass, belt plows are often used to feed bins or silos with a single-point feed opening.
Bucket elevators are another commonly used type of handling equipment when working with wood chips and biomass products; unlike belt conveyors, bucket elevators transport material vertically. Although they are a fit for some wood products, more stringy materials may be better served by other types of equipment.
While bucket elevators are available in a variety of configurations, centrifugal discharge belt elevators are the configuration of choice when working with wood-based materials. Centrifugal discharge elevators are chosen because they allow for large amounts of material to be moved very quickly.
The belt-type elevator is chosen over the chain-type for a few reasons. The belt design prevents material from otherwise becoming caught up in the chain or getting pinched in the sprocket. The belt design wont grab the chips like a chain might, and the standard boot pulley in a belt elevator is a self-cleaning wing, allowing chips to be shed as they pass over the pulley.
The unique physical characteristics of the material must be considered in any bulk handling objective, but they can be especially influential when designing a system for handling wood chips and other wood-based biomass materials.
These materials bring unique challenges to the table that will need to be countered with ingenuity in design. In addition to all the typical factors that must be taken into account when designing a bulk solids handling system, special attention should be paid to the following when handling wood-based products:
Depending on the end use of the wood, and the stage of processing it is in, it may hold a higher or lower moisture content. The moisture content should be considered in belt selection; as mentioned, oil-resistant belts should be chosen for high-moisture applications in order to protect the belt from the inherent sap and oil that is characteristic of a high-moisture wood.
Due to the nature of wood products, they generally exhibit very poor flowability. This can make transfer points difficult and increase the need for belt cleaning systems. Transfer points such as feeders and chutes will need to be designed to minimize friction to prevent material from getting caught up and blocking passages.
Wood products can also be quite abrasive. This may require customizations such as abrasion-resistant liners, reinforced high-wear areas, as well as careful bucket selection (here again, nylon is a recommended choice, as it is naturally resistant to abrasion).
Wood-based materials such as wood chips, bark, shredded wood, and more, are an integral part of the energy, pulp and paper, and packaging industries, with a wide variety of roles to fill. The unique characteristics of wood-based biomass materials can make handling such products especially challenging if such characteristics are not factored in to the original design. A variety of configurations and customizations can be used to work with these qualities to create a fluid and efficient handling system.
FEECO is a leader in custom bulk solids handling equipment and systems. Our extensive experience around wood chips and other wood-based materials gives us an unmatched advantage in engineering and fabricating handling equipment that provides superior performance and reliability. For more information on our wood chip conveyors, contact us today!
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