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Power from Biomass

Faced with the need to make steep carbon emissions cuts under either national or transnational mandates, one  weapon  countries have in the arsenal for de-carbonizing their energy portfolios is biomass substitution.

Essentially, biomass can be be substituted for or supplemented into any mode of fossil fuel burn, through either pulverisation and firing or cofiring, or prior gasification . Use of biomass helps produce power with lower net carbon emissions since, although biomass fuels  emit greenhouse gases, their carbon comes from the existing surface-atmosphere cycle, making the combustion carbon neutral.

Biomass fuel can be derived from any number of sources, including:

  • trees and wood;
  • crops, plants and fruits;
  • animal waste;
  • paper and packaging;
  • household and garden waste;
  • construction and demolition

One concern cited is the possible effect on crop economics; i.e., combustion of what might have otherwise been  agricultural products can distort the markets for food or other staples.  It has been argued, for instance,  that ethanol production has inflated the price of corn in certain markets.  While such distortions are a genuine concern, more sustainable biomass generation can rely upon waste and byproducts such as husks, manure, recycling paper and deadwood.

One other issue is that biomass has a lower energy density than traditional fossil fuels, which might make it more expensive to burn per gigajoule than imported coal, for instance.  As with other renewable sources, this will probably have to be addressed partially through fiscal incentives, sale of "green electricity", and targets, at least for the time being. 

In a 2006 study, the European Environment Agency projected that " up to 15 per cent of energy demand in 2030 could be covered by bioenergy based on EU resources in an environmentally compatible way".  The EEA also has declared that, right now, the use of biomass for cogeneration can lead to higher reduction in GHG emissions at  lower costs than would the use of such fuels for transportation.

Energy Edge Partner Martin Bloemendal is an internationally-known expert on the issues surrounding  biomass firing and cofiring.   If you have questions concerning power from biomass, please feel free to contact  him  today.



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