Thursday, February 6, 2014

Farm Bill to help US biomass industry

One of the main topics of the upcoming 2014 International Biomass Conference and Expo which will take place March 24-26 in Orlando, Florida will no doubt be the passage of the Farm Bill, which is expected to provide a significant boost to US biomass industry.

This long-awaited bill means that the US government will do its share to ensure rapid development of the domestic biomass industry as an important part of the nation's desire to have more energy from renewable energy sources in years to come.

Several major US biomass companies had nothing but the words of praise for this bill which should give close to $900 million in dedicated funding to programs such as Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels, Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) and the Community Wood Energy Program (CWEP).

US biomass industry is one of the fastest growing renewable energy sectors that doesn't just provide bigger share of renewables in nation's energy mix, it also provides economic benefits in terms of new jobs, particularly in rural areas.

Unlike some other renewable energy sources biomass fuel is very efficient and reliable though there are still some controversies such as whether biomass is carbon neutral or not. In any case, it is lot cleaner fuel than coal and oil.

The International Biomass Conference will not only discuss the Farm Bill's impact on the biomass industry, but also the current state of biomass industry, and the future development. Biomass is certainly one of the most important renewable energy sources, trailing only hydropower as the second most important renewable energy source in the country.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Germany wants more sustainable biomass

Sustainable biomass production is a way to go in years to come, and Germany is one of the countries making push for more sustainable biomass production. It has been reported that German chemical companies alone use around three million tons of raw plants in their production processes each year.

The demand for plant matter continues to grow almost each year, and the production process, if not done in a sustainable matter, can lead to negative consequences for environment. Palm oil plantations, are often the negative examples, as people cut rainforests to make more room for biomass production which not only destroys ancient forests but also leads to massive biodiversity loss.

In October 2013, the list of German industrial companies settled on a new list of criteria for sustainable biomass production which include not only land use but also planting and harvesting methods for biomass crop. Each of these criteria needs to be met in order for biomass production to be considered sustainable.

There are 25 different ecological criteria such as ban on rainforest destruction and protection for biodiversity valuable savannah areas. These criteria also oblige the protection of soil integrity by for instance avoiding  the nitrate leaching.

The criteria is set but these standards are yet to be put under practice.  The plan for German companies is that lubricants and plastics produced in Germany will be tested and certified under the agreed biomass sustainability criteria starting from this year.

These are of course voluntary standards as there is still no law that would oblige German companies to obey these criteria. Obeying all these criteria should likely lead to increase in prices of many products as it has been calculated that a ton of sustainably-produced palm oil costs some $40 to 50 more than non-certified palm oil.

The further goal is to develop new technologies that would enable both cost-effective and sustainable biomass production


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

There could be more wood boilers in United States

Using wood as a source of energy, if done in sustainable manner, can help replace fossil fuels. Wood could be also used as the main power source for boilers. In fact, Charles Ray, assistant professor of wood products operations, Penn State, believes that there is a significant number of companies that would be able to economically convert their operations to wood boilers for heat and power.

This mainly refers to companies that have access to large timber resources and a friendly regulatory environment. Of course, as already said above, only a sustainable management of wood resources could serve as a solution to replace fossil fuels.

Natural gas still has the edge in terms of cost-competitiveness  when compared to wood but in some areas wood could be competitive with other fuel sources, such as oil, propane and coal. Ray said that the best US states for conversion to wood boilers would be Maine, Texas, New York, Florida and Georgia.

According to data from Energy Information Administration there are 63,000 industrial and commercial boilers in use in the United States. Half of this (31,776) are powered by oil, coal and propane, generating the energy equivalent of 287 million barrels of oil a year.

It is unlikely to expect that all these boilers could be converted to wood because this would lead to a massive wood consummation of approximately about three times the wood available in the area. However, this doesn't mean that the certain amount of companies, particularly the large ones with the adequate resources to receive, store and load tons of wood chips and wood pellets, couldn't make a sustainable switch to wood boilers.

Ray also pointed to the fact that the country's paper industry once consumed the largest portion of wood chips to make paper, but the remaining paper mills need far less wood now making wood more accessible for other purposes, including power and heat generation.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

New biomass power plant in Wisconsin

It took more than two years of construction for $268 million biomass power plant in north-central Wisconsin to start producing power. The sawmills and forests of northern Wisconsin will provide fuel for this plant which will provide electricity for We Energies and steam for Domtar's paper mill.

This biomass power plant will not only provide the state with more renewable energy thus helping her achieve its renewable energy goal but should also help diversify its energy portfolio with more focus on renewables. The state's renewable energy mandate requires the utility to generate 8.2% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2015.

As compared to solar and wind energy projects in the state, there is also an advantage in the fact that this plant can produce renewable energy on demand because biomass isn't intermittent energy source like solar and wind.

In over two years that were needed to construct this plant, 450 workers were employed. Though this project is significantly more expensive than the construction of wind farm of similar capacity the Public Service Commission still announced that the higher costs were justified because of the ability to generate power on demand thus being more reliable than wind farm.

It has been said that this biomass power plant will burn 500,000 tons of biomass a year with supply coming from many sawmills, paper mills and loggers. The total costs connected with this project are said to be $268 million, but a federal grant that is expected to be awarded in 2014 should reduce this number by about $80 million.

The plant is expected generate enough power to supply 32,000 homes.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Converting biomass into urea fertilizer

Biomass technology can be used for various useful purposes because there are different conversion methods enabling production of various useful materials. One of the very interesting new technologies comes from Florida-based BioNitrogen Corp.

This company patented its brand new technology which enables them to convert biomass feedstocks into urea fertilizer.

The company announced that this technology is capable to convert 1,000 tons of residual biomass, among other also sugarcane bagasse, palm waste, corn stover and rice hulls, to produce 520 tons of granulated urea with 46 percent nitrogen content.

In the process of conversion biomass gets dried, cleaned, ground and then gasified which leads to production of synthetic gas (syngas). Once the gas is produced it gets cleaned and is afterwards processed through catalytic reaction stages to produce the fertilizer.

It is also important to mention that any byproducts of the vent streams are recycled back through the system to produce electricity and 60 tons of ash, which is sold as a concrete additive.

Bryan Kornegay, president and chief financial officer of BioNitrogen said how "this patent is a key intellectual property asset and the one that significantly enhances our competitive position in the marketplace.”


Thursday, August 22, 2013

UK plans to reduce biomass greenhouse gas emissions

Biomass still represents controversial clean energy option, because burning biomass creates harmful greenhouse gas emissions just like this is the case with fossil fuels like coal. There were even some reports claiming that burning biomass could do more harm to environment than burning coal.

In light of this controversy, British government wants to reduce emissions from biomass power plants. The statement from UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change says that biomass power plants will have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 72% below the average output of fossil fuel-fired plants by 2020 and 75% by 2025.

These new targets will apply to generators with a capacity of 1 megawatt or higher, and those who will not comply to these targets will lose government support. The UK government thinks that this will be a very important step towards the sustainable biomass production.

As already said above there are still some major controversies about biomass as environmentally friendly energy option.  While burning wood emits carbon dioxide, it is generally considered to result in lower emissions than those coming from fossil fuel fired power plants as new trees are planted to replace those used for biomass production.

This latest UK action is said to be prompted by the last year report that came from Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the Royal Society, and in which biomass was characterized as dirties than coal mostly because of transportation, which also contributes in increase of greenhouse gas emissions associated with biomass.

Biomass is very important renewable energy source in United Kingdom, representing approximately one third of total UK renewable energy power.


Thursday, July 4, 2013

EU wants efficient and environmentally friendly biomass production

EU wants biomass production to become more environmentally friendly and more efficient if biomass wants to play more important role in EU renewable energy mix.

The latest study by the European Environment Agency (EEA) has concluded that biomass production needs to become not only more efficient but it also needs to avoid negative environmental effects as much as possible.

The current biomass production methods offer great room for improvement in efficiency because generating electricity by burning pure biomass is only 30% to 35% efficient. For comparison purposes, burning the same material for heating purposes is 85-90% efficient.

EU believes that both European forests as well as productive land are limited resources that deserve more rational approach, especially in terms of efficiency. What this means is that existing biomass resources need to be used efficiently before imposing additional demands on land for increased energy production.

Also, the current energy crop mix is not good for environment and there is said to be a need for broader mix of crops to reduce negative environmental impacts and offer sustainable production.

According to this latest study "high-yielding systems with efficient conversion can deliver more than 20 times more energy compared with low-yielding inefficient systems using the same land area."

One of the proposals  by EEA is to focus on growing perennial crops because they are not harvested annually and can thus enhance ecosystems as well as provide various useful services such as flood prevention and water filtration.