Potential Grows for Biomass Energy

SUBHEAD: Is homegrown, renewable, biomass incineration energy good for Kauai? image above: Wood chips piled at D. R. Johnson Co. in Prairie City, OR to be used as biomass. From http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2009/06/power_lurks_in_oregon_forests.html By Erica Gies on 2o October 2009 in The New York Times - http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/21/business/global/21renforest.html

Woody biomass provides just 0.94 percent of all U.S. energy now, supplying the equivalent of 3.5 million American homes. But Bob Cleaves, president of the Biomass Power Association, a group in Portland, Maine, that represents about 80 plant-burning incinerators in 16 states, says available raw material would allow the industry to double its output. New incinerators are already being planned in many states.

The idea of homegrown, renewable energy, is appealing. It would qualify for tax credits under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and could benefit from support for renewables in the climate bill now going through the Senate.

But many environmentalists are worried. Some, like Chris Matera, founder of Massachusetts Forest Watch, warn that biomass incineration could cause major environmental damage, including the clear cutting of forests and the use of vast quantities of water for cooling. They also say that its combustion emissions are worse than coal’s — a serious charge because in both House and Senate versions of the climate bill, the technology falls into a “biomass loophole.” Categorized as a renewable energy source, biomass would be exonerated from emission caps.

Proponents say that biomass fuel from forests is usually waste wood, the material left over after harvesting for more profitable lumber and paper pulp.

The idea that increased biomass power generation could lead to clear cutting “sounds like hyperventilation to me,” said Ian A. Bowles, secretary of energy and environmental affairs for the state of Massachusetts. “We’re not going to manage our forests to meet biomass power demands.”

“It is absolutely uneconomic to cut a tree down to make biopower,” said Mr. Cleaves of the incinerators’ group.

Biomass plants are typically small, generating less than 50 megawatts, said Jasen Stock, executive director of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association, because it is not cost effective to drive wood long distances to the plant. “The concern that it’s going to result in a moonscape around that biomass plant is really unfounded,” he said.

But environmental advocates remain skeptical. “The numbers just don’t add up,” said Mary S. Booth, the senior scientist at Massachusetts Environmental Energy Alliance, a group that opposes wood-burning power plants.

For example, a 2008 report for the Massachusetts Division of Energy Resources and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation said that four planned biomass incinerators in the state would require an estimated 1.4 million “green,” or undried, tons of biomass a year to fuel 165 megawatts of generation. A partial harvest — not clear-cutting — from forests 70 to 100 years old could net approximately 50 green tons an acre, the report said and it estimated that the haul from public forest lands and willing private landowners could be about one million green tons a year.

Ms. Booth said this plan would almost double the amount of wood harvested in current cutting practices and would expand the area harvested as well. A healthy ecosystem requires some tree waste to decompose into the soil to provide vital nutrients and forage opportunities for insects, birds, and some mammals. She and other environmental advocates question whether this level of extraction is sustainable.

Although timber managers emphasize the use of waste wood, all say that small or crooked trees with little commercial value could be used for biomass. The conditional approval report for a 50-megawatt plant in Russell, Massachusetts, says that operators expect to buy 250,000 to 350,000 green tons a year of “whole tree fuel.”

Some forestry experts say that biomass can be sustainable — if programs are small scale and carefully managed. Laurie Wayburn, president of the Pacific Forest Trust, a nonprofit organization in California, said it was possible to manage forests sustainably for both the natural ecosystem services they provide — like water storage and cleaning, biodiversity, and habitat — and for such products as timber, paper pulp and biomass.

She said forests need human management at this point because people have already distressed them so much with their activities. “Walking away and pretending that no management is a solution is a recipe for disaster.”

But Mr. Matera, of Massachusetts Forest Watch, says the idea that “‘we have to log the forest for forest health’ is nonsense. The forest doesn’t need us; we need the forest. It’s a sort of anthropocentric worldview to rationalize all this logging.”

Still, enhancing the economic base for forest land helps retain it as forest, said Eric W. Kingsley, vice president of Innovative Natural Resource Solutions, a company that works on forest-based economic development.

“Biomass adds a new potential market to land owners, adding value to timber — and to timber-producing land,” Mr. Kingsley said. “That allows land owners to leave the forest taking up carbon, providing wildlife habitat, recreation opportunities, clean air, clean water; the hundreds of things we rely on forests for.”

In addition to the argument over logging, ecologists worry about water use for cooling. For example, the Russell plant would extract as much as 885,000 gallons, or 3.35 million liters, a day from the nearby Westfield River, of which 85 percent would be lost to evaporation. Such losses are typical of biomass plants, said Margaret E. Sheehan, a lawyer who represents opponents of the Russell plant.

Burning biomass also releases emissions. Like other renewable energy technologies, however, it is widely presumed to be carbon neutral. The carbon absorbed in growing plants is considered to offset the releases.

Still, that equivalence “is purely hypothetical,” said Ms. Booth, the Massachusetts environmental scientist. New trees take time to grow, and scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say time for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is short — perhaps as short as 40 years.

“Our position is that we’re in a climate crisis now,” Ms. Sheehan said. “It only takes a minute to burn a 70-year-old tree, and it takes 70 years to grow it back.”

Moreover, figures derived from government and power plant data show that burning woody biomass releases 1.5 times as much carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour generated as coal, according to the Massachusetts Environmental Energy Alliance.

These emissions would escape regulation under cap proposals in the climate bill. “It’s a critical problem that this area isn’t regulated under the cap,” said Nathanael Greene, director of renewable energy policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “In the long run, as our pressure on fossil fuel emissions gets tighter and tighter, the incentive to shift to the unregulated source of energy, the biomass, will get higher and higher.”

[Editor's note: The article above lists many negative reasons that we should consider bringing to the attention ofPacific West Energy and KIUC (see http://pacificwestenergy.com/KauaiProject.aspx). If this project were to be developed for biomass gasification rather than an incineration project it would be vastly superior. A gasification system tied into agricultural production demonstrates a closed loop process. Agricultural byproduct, such as bagasse, the sugarcane fiber remaining after water and sugar is eliminated and woodchips, are processed and dried; then the byproduct is heated to release gases. Biochar, which contains carbon, is applied to the soil in order to absorb, store, and release soil nutrients. This can potentially increase agricultural yield, which in turn provides more byproducts, which are then dried and fed into the gasifier, thus completing the energy loop and demonstrating a carbon neutral system.]

Biomass Gasification

SUBHEAD: Biomass gasification, biochar show commercial promise

By Paul Schattenberg on 08 October 2009 in AgriLife - http://agnews.tamu.edu/showstory.php?id=1462

Biomass gasification and the resulting production of “biochar” were among the topics addressed at the Texas Animal Manure Management Issues Conference Sept. 29-30 in Round Rock, north of Austin.

The conference was attended by about 175 beef, poultry and dairy industry producers, researchers, engineers, regulators and others involved in environmental, regulatory and energy related aspects of manure management.

During a technical session devoted to advanced manure conversion/bioenergy, Dr. Sergio Capareda with Texas AgriLife Research spoke about how animal manure and other biomass can be converted into useful energy. He also noted the commercial possibilities of the biochar which is produced from biomass gasification.

“On-site animal manure conversion into heat and energy is possible with the use of high-throughput fluidized-bed gasification system,” said Capareda, who works in the department of biological and agricultural engineering at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University.

He said the gasifier can thermally convert relatively dry manure or other biomass into heat, synthesis gas or electrical power.

“The conversion process is endothermic – formed by the production of heat – so no external energy source is required, except during initial startup of the biomass gasifier," Capareda said.

According to its proponents, gasification also is an environmentally sound process because it produces clean air emissions and no water discharge. It also allows for the efficient disposal of animal waste and helps reduce odors emanating from agricultural operations.

“Biomass, like fossil fuels, contains a lot of carbon and hydrogen and can be a good alternative energy source,” Capareda said. “But while biomass produces less energy, unlike fossil fuels this is a renewable resource, and enormous reserves exist.”

Capareda, who has more than 20 years experience in biomass, biofuels and alternative energy, said his research on biomass gasification and biochar includes analysis of the various biomass “feedstocks.” Some of the feedstock material he has tested includes wood chips, poultry litter, dairy manure, sorghum crop residue, switchgrass and cotton gin residue.

He said his tests have shown that the “synthesis gas” produced by gasification of poultry litter and wood chips has produced a high-heating value, HHV, of about 150 British thermal units per cubic foot. A somewhat lower energy value was produced by manure gasification.

“Generally speaking, if an operation could just obtain a 15 percent efficiency in energy conversion from biomass, it could produce enough to be self-sustaining,” he said. “And any extra energy produced, depending on what form it’s in, could be sold back and put on the grid.”

Capareda added that biomass gasification also produces biochar, a carbon-rich product that can be used for many commercial applications. In agriculture, biochar has been shown to have a significant impact on replenishing soil, improving the growth rate of crops and reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

“Biochar is already known to be a useful soil supplement, especially around the Amazon rainforest, where its continued use creates what is called ‘terra preta’ or black earth,” he said. “This black earth allows crops to grow or crop production to increase by making nutrients more available through a type of carbon sequestration.”

Biochar from biomass gasification could be sold as fertilizer or soil amendment, or used as an ingredient in garden soil, he said. Many other possible commercial applications are still being analyzed and explored.

Much of the biochar being used today is the result of wood used as the fuel source, said Michael McGolden, president and CEO of Coaltec Energy USA in Carterville, Ill.

“Using animal manure in the gasification process will not only produce the carbon needed for nutrient uptake, it will provide many of the nutrients crops need as well,” he added.

McGolden said Coaltec has developed agriculture-based biomass gasification projects for the past five years, and has built on-site systems at poultry operations over the past two years.

“The main goal of these projects has been to make manure a valuable resource to these operations, even a key component of generating revenues,” McGolden said.

He added that different animal manures have been scientifically tested and proven to be a good fuel source for gasification, providing sustainable results.

“Potential revenue from biomass gasification can be derived from energy value, manure management cost reductions, mortality disposal, improved animal performance, environmental benefits, labor and cost reduction and the value of the biochar produced,” he said.

He also noted that while the marketing of biochar is still being fleshed out, it likely will provide producers with a significantly greater commercial potential than the value of the energy produced by biomass gasification.

“Along with other applications, biochar also has commercial possibility as a water filtration medium because the phosphorus in it also increases the ability to capture heavy metal particles,” he said.

McGolden added that other benefits of the gasification process may include disease control and biosecurity improvement, the potential for energy credits, and enhanced ability to increase operational capacity by improving manure-management capabilities.

To help prove the commercial viability of biomass gasification, Capareda is in the process of building a “mobile conversion system” at Texas A&M. The system, a portable biomass gasification unit that can be hauled to different locations, will be used to demonstrate the efficacy of biomass-to-energy conversion.

Capareda also is investigating how the synthesis gas combustible material can be removed from gasified biomass so the gas can be pumped through a pipeline in a manner similar to natural gas.

“The gas is combustible and may be cleaned and used to run internal combustion engines that are coupled with generators,” he said. “We’re also looking into condensing the gas to make what’s known as bio-oil or black oil, which looks similar to crude oil and can be used directly as fuel or converted into other valuable chemicals.”

Capareda noted that while much research on biomass energy conversion remains to be done, his research shows it holds significant direct and spin-off commercial potential.

“Right now, we’ve just scratched the surface of the potential from the entire biomass energy conversion process,” he said.



Viert├╝rmeblog said...


Greatings from Germany! I have made an informationpage about an german recycling- and waste- management- idea in german and english language (kryo- recycling). It includes the win of biogas. Pleace spread this infomation to all persons, you know, that many people get knowkedge about this idea and good alternatives to incineration.

If you and others have some more or new information, pleace send the information to my adress. .

Here is the link to my informationpage:

With best Greatings, Felix Staratschek, Freiligrathstr. 2, D- 42477 Radevormwald

Bala said...

Biomass renewable energy is an eco-friendly and environmental-friendly recycling process.

Unknown said...

I think we can approach all the natual resources like solar energy or win energy. But never waste all this good alternative that we have. Actually i visited a site called costa rica investment opportunities result very interesting most of all their natural resources this country presents.

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