Biofuels from Syngas

An attractive approach to converting biomass into liquid or gaseous fuels is direct gasification, followed by conversion of the gas to final fuel. Ethanol can be produced this way, but other fuels can be produced more easily and potentially at lower cost, though none of the approaches is currently inexpensive.

The choice of which process to use is influenced by the fact that lignin cannot easily be converted into a gas through biochemical conversion. Lignin can, however, be gasified through a heat process. The lignin components of plants can range from near 0% to 35%. For those plants at the lower end of this range, the chemical conversion approach is better suited. For plants that have more lignin, the heat-dominated approach is more effective.

Once the gasification of biomass is complete, the resulting gases can be used in a variety of ways to produce liquid fuels discussed, in brief, below

Fischer-Tropsch (F-T) fuels

The Fischer-Tropsch process converts “syngas” (mainly carbon monoxide and hydrogen) into diesel fuel and naphtha (basic gasoline) by building polymer chains out of these basic building blocks. Typically a variety of co-products (various chemicals) are also produced.  Figure 2.1 shows the production of diesel fuel from bio-syngas by Fisher-Tropsch synthesis (FTS).

The Fisher-Tropsch process is an established technology and has been proven on a large scale but adoption has been limited by high capital and O&M costs. According to Choren Industries, a German based developer of the technology, it takes 5 tons of biomass to produce 1 ton of biodiesel, and 1 hectare generates 4 tons of biodiesel.

Methanol

Syngas can also be converted into methanol through dehydration or other techniques, and in fact methanol is an intermediate product of the F-T process (and is therefore cheaper to produce than F-T gasoline and diesel). Methanol is somewhat out of favour as a transportation fuel due to its relatively low energy content and high toxicity, but might be a preferred fuel if fuel cell vehicles are developed with on-board reforming of hydrogen.

Dimethyl ether

DME also can be produced from syngas, in a manner similar to methanol. It is a promising fuel for diesel engines, due to its good combustion and emissions properties. However, like LPG, it requires special fuel handling and storage equipment and some modifications of diesel engines, and is still at an experimental phase. If diesel vehicles were designed and produced to run on DME, they would become inherently very low pollutant emitting vehicles; with DME produced from biomass, they would also become very low GHG vehicles.

Global Trends in the Biomass Sector

There has been a flurry of activity in the biomass energy and waste-to-energy sector in recent year, with many new projects and initiatives being given the green light across the globe. This movement has been on both a regional and local level; thanks to the increased efficiency of green energy generators and a slight lowering in implementation costs, more businesses and even some homeowners are converting waste-to-energy systems or by installing biomass energy units.

Latest from the United Kingdom

Our first notable example of this comes from Cornwall in the UK. As of this week, a small hotel has entirely replaced its previous oil-based heating system with biomass boilers. Fuelled from wood wastes brought in from a neighboring forest, the BudockVean hotel has so far been successful in keeping the entire establishment warm on two small boilers despite it being the height of British winter – and when warmer weather arrives, plans to install solar panels on the building’s roof is to follow.

Similar projects have been undertaken across small businesses in Britain, including the south-coast city of Plymouth that has just been announced to house a 10MW biomass power plant (alongside a 20MW plant already in construction). These developments arein part thanks to the UK government’s Renewable Heat Incentive which was launched back in 2011. The scheme only provides funding to non-domestic properties currently, but a domestic scheme is in the works this year to help homeowners also move away from fossil fuels.

Initiatives (and Setbacks) in the US

Back across the pond, and the state of New York is also launching a similar scheme. The short-term plan is to increase public education on low-emission heating and persuade a number of large business to make the switch; in the longer term, $800m will be used to install advanced biomass systems in large, state-owned buildings.

A further $40m will be used as part of a competition to help create a series of standalone energy grids in small towns and rural areas, which is a scheme that could hopefully see adopted beyond New York if all goes well.


Unfortunately, the move away from fossil fuels hasn’t been totally plain sailing across the US. Georgia suffered a blow this week as plans to convert a 155MW coal plant to biomass have been abandoned, citing large overheads and low projected returns. The company behind the project have met similar difficulties at other sites, but as of this week are moving ahead with further plans to convert over 2000MW of oil and coal energy generation in the coming years.

Elsewhere in the US, a company has conducted a similar study as to whether biomass plant building will be feasible in both Florida and Louisiana. Surveying has only just been completed, but if things go better than the recent developments in Georgia, the plants will go a long way to converting biomass to fertilizer for widespread use in agriculture in both states.

Far East Leading the Way

One country that is performing particularly well in biomass energy investment market is Japan. Biomass is being increasingly used in power plants in Japan as a source of fuel, particularly after the tragic accident at Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011.  Palm kernel shell (PKS) has emerged as a favorite choice of biomass-based power plants in the country. Most of these biomass power plants use PKS as their energy source, and only a few operate with wood pellets. Interestingly, most of the biomass power plants in Japan have been built after 2015..

On the contrary, the US and Europe saw a fairly big fall in financing during this period; it should be noted, however, that this relates to the green energy investment market as a whole as opposed to biomass-specific funding. The increase seen in Japan has been attributed to an uptake in solar paneling, and if we look specifically to things such as the global demand for biomass pellets, we see that the most recent figures paint the overall market in a much more favorable light for the rest of the world.

Brighter Times Ahead

All in all, it’s an exciting time for the biomass industry despite the set backs which are being experienced in some regions.  On the whole, legislators and businesses are working remarkably well together in order to pave the way forward – being a fairly new market (from a commercially viable sense at least), it has taken a little while to get the ball rolling, but expect to see it blossom quickly now that the idea of biomass is starting to take hold.

Palm Kernel Shells: An Attractive Biomass Fuel for Europe

palm-kernel-shellsEurope is targeting an ambitious renewable energy program aimed at 20% renewable energy in the energy mix by 2020 with biomass energy being key renewable energy resource across the continent. However, the lack of locally-available biomass resources has hampered the progress of biomass energy industry in Europe as compared with solar and wind energy industries. The European biomass industry is largely dependent on wood pellets and crop residues.

Europe is the largest producer of wood pellets, which is currently estimated at 13.5 million tons per year while its consumption is 18.8 million tons per year. The biggest wood pellet producing countries in Europe are Germany and Sweden. Europe relies on America and Canada to meet its wood pellet requirements and there is an urgent need to explore alternative biomass resources. In recent years, palm kernel shells (popularly known as PKS) from Southeast Asia has emerged has an attractive biomass resources which can replace wood pellets in biomass power plants across Europe.

What are Palm Kernel Shells

Palm kernel shells are the shell fractions left after the nut has been removed after crushing in the Palm Oil mill. Kernel shells are a fibrous material and can be easily handled in bulk directly from the product line to the end use. Large and small shell fractions are mixed with dust-like fractions and small fibres.

Moisture content in kernel shells is low compared to other biomass residues with different sources suggesting values between 11% and 13%. Palm kernel shells contain residues of Palm Oil, which accounts for its slightly higher heating value than average lignocellulosic biomass. Compared to other residues from the industry, it is a good quality biomass fuel with uniform size distribution, easy handling, easy crushing, and limited biological activity due to low moisture content.

Press fibre and shell generated by the palm oil mills are traditionally used as solid fuels for steam boilers. The steam generated is used to run turbines for electricity production. These two solid fuels alone are able to generate more than enough energy to meet the energy demands of a palm oil mill.

Advantages of Palm Kernel Shells

PKS has almost the same combustion characteristics as wood pellets, abundantly available are and are cheap. Indonesia and Malaysia are the two main producers of PKS. Indonesian oil palm plantations cover 12 million hectares in Indonesia and 5 million hectares in Malaysia, the number of PKS produced from both countries has exceeded 15 million tons per year. Infact, the quantity of PKS generated in both countries exceeds the production of wood pellets from the United States and Canada, or the two largest producers of wood pellets today.

Interestingly, United States and Canada cannot produce PKS, because they do not have oil palm plantations, but Indonesia and Malaysia can also produce wood pellets because they have large forests. The production of wood pellets in Indonesia and Malaysia is still small today, which is less than 1 million tons per year, but the production of PKS is much higher which can power biomass power plants across Europe and protect forests which are being cut down to produce wood pellets in North America and other parts of the world.

PKS as a Boiler Fuel

Although most power plants currently use pulverized coal boiler technology which reaches around 50% of the world’s electricity generation, the use of grate combustion boiler technology and fluidized bed boilers is also increasing. Pulverized coal boiler is mainly used for very large capacity plants (> 100 MW), while for ordinary medium capacity uses fluidized bed technology (between 20-100 MW) and for smaller capacity with combustor grate (<20 MW). The advantage of boiler combustion and fluidized bed technology is fuel flexibility including tolerance to particle size.

When the pulverized coal boiler requires a small particle size (1-2 cm) like sawdust so that it can be atomized on the pulverizer nozzle, the combustor grate and fluidized bed the particle size of gravel (max. 8 cm) can be accepted. Based on these conditions, palm kernel shells has a great opportunity to be used as a boiler fuel in large-scale power plants.

Use of PKS in pulverized coal boiler

There are several things that need to be considered for the use of PKS in pulverized coal boilers. The first thing that can be done is to reduce PKS particle size to a maximum of 2 cm so that it can be atomized in a pulverized system. The second thing to note is the percentage of PKS in coal, or the term cofiring. Unlike a grate and a fluidized bed combustion that can be flexible with various types of fuel, pulverized coal boilers use coal only. There are specific things that distinguish biomass and coal fuels, namely ash content and ash chemistry, both of which greatly influence the combustion characteristics in the pulverized system.

PKS-biomass

PKS has emerged as an attractive biomass commodity in Japan

Coal ash content is generally greater than biomass, and coal ash chemistry is very different from biomass ash chemistry. Biomass ash has lower inorganic content than coal, but the alkali content in biomass can change the properties of coal ash, especially aluminosilicate ash.

Biomass cofiring with coal in small portions for example 3-5% does not require modification of the pulverized coal power plant. For example, Shinci in Japan with a capacity of 2 x 1,000 MW of supercritical pulverized fuel with 3% cofiring requires 16,000 tons per year of biomass and no modification. Similarly, Korea Southeast Power (KOSEP) 5,000 MW with 5% cofiring requires 600,000 tons per year of biomass without modification.

PKS cofiring in coal-based power plants

Pulverized coal-based power plants are the predominant method of large-scale electricity production worldwide including Europe. If pulverised fuel power plants make a switch to co-firing of biomass fuels, it will make a huge impact on reducing coal usage, reducing carbon emissions and making a transition to renewable energy. Additionally, the cheapest and most effective way for big coal-based power plants to enter renewable energy sector is biomass cofiring. Palm kernel shells can be pyrolyzed to produce charcoal while coal will produce coke if it is pyrolyzed. Charcoal can be used for fuel, briquette production and activated charcoal.

Energy Potential of Bagasse

Sugarcane is one of the most promising agricultural sources of biomass energy in the world. Sugarcane produces mainly two types of biomass, Cane Trash and Bagasse. Cane Trash is the field residue remaining after harvesting the Cane stalk while bagasse is the fibrous residue left over after milling of the Cane, with 45-50% moisture content and consisting of a mixture of hard fibre, with soft and smooth parenchymatous (pith) tissue with high hygroscopic property. Bagasse contains mainly cellulose, hemi cellulose, pentosans, lignin, Sugars, wax, and minerals. The quantity obtained varies from 22 to 36% on Cane and is mainly due to the fibre portion in Cane and the cleanliness of Cane supplied, which, in turn, depends on harvesting practices.

The composition of Bagasse depends on the variety and maturity of Sugarcane as well as harvesting methods applied and efficiency of the Sugar processing. Bagasse is usually combusted in furnaces to produce steam for power generation. Bagasse is also emerging as an attractive feedstock for bioethanol production. It is also utilized as the raw material for production of paper and as feedstock for cattle. The value of Bagasse as a fuel depends largely on its calorific value, which in turn is affected by its composition, especially with respect to its water content and to the calorific value of the Sugarcane crop, which depends mainly on its sucrose content.

Moisture contents is the main determinant of calorific value i.e. the lower the moisture content, the higher the calorific value. A good milling process will result in low moisture of 45% whereas 52% moisture would indicate poor milling efficiency. Most mills produce Bagasse of 48% moisture content, and most boilers are designed to burn Bagasse at around 50% moisture. Bagasse also contains approximately equal proportion of fibre (cellulose), the components of which are carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, some sucrose (1-2 %), and ash originating from extraneous matter. Extraneous matter content is higher with mechanical harvesting and subsequently results in lower calorific value.

For every 100 tons of Sugarcane crushed, a Sugar factory produces nearly 30 tons of wet Bagasse. Bagasse is often used as a primary fuel source for Sugar mills; when burned in quantity, it produces sufficient heat and electrical energy to supply all the needs of a typical Sugar mill, with energy to spare. The resulting CO2 emissions are equal to the amount of CO2 that the Sugarcane plant absorbed from the atmosphere during its growing phase, which makes the process of cogeneration greenhouse gas-neutral.

35MW Bagasse and Coal CHP Plant in Mauritius

Cogeneration of Bagasse is one of the most attractive and successful energy projects that have already been demonstrated in many Sugarcane producing countries such as Mauritius, Reunion Island, India and Brazil. Combined heat and power from Sugarcane in the form of power generation offers renewable energy options that promote sustainable development, take advantage of domestic resources, increase profitability and competitiveness in the industry, and cost-effectively address climate mitigation and other environmental goals.

PSA System for Biogas Upgradation

Pressure swing adsoprtion, also known as PSA, is emerging as the most popular biogas upgradation technology in many parts of the world. A typical PSA system is composed of four vessels in series that are filled with adsorbent media which is capable of removing water vapor, CO2, N2 and O2 from the biogas stream.

During operation, each adsorber operates in an alternating cycle of adsorption, regeneration and pressure buildup. Dry biogas enters the system through the bottom of one of the adsorbers during the first phase of the process. When passing through the vessel, CO2, N2 and O2 are adsorbed onto the surface of the media. The gas leaving the top of the adsorber vessel contains more than 97% CH4

Biogas upgradation through PSA takes place over 4 phases: pressure build-up, adsorption, depressurization and regeneration. The pressure buildup is achieved by equilibrating pressure with a vessel that is at depressurization stage. Final pressure build up occurs by injecting raw biogas. During adsorption, CO2 and/or N2 and/or O2 are adsorbed by the media and the gas exits as CH4.

Depressurization is performed by equalizing with a second pressurizing vessel, and regeneration is achieved at atmospheric pressure, leaving a gas that contains high concentrations of CH4 to be re-circulated. During the regeneration phase, the bed must be regenerated by desorbing (or purging) the adsorbed gases. Purging is accomplished by reducing the pressure in the bed and back-flushing it with some of the concentrated gas product. The gas pressure released from one vessel is used by the other, thus reducing energy consumption and compressor capital costs.

Special adsorption materials are used as a molecular sieve, preferentially adsorbing the target gas species at high pressure. The adsorbent media is usually zeolites (crystalline polymers), carbon molecular sieves or activated carbon. Aside from their ability to discriminate between different gases, adsorbents for PSA-systems are usually very porous materials chosen because of their large surface areas.

How Batteries Can Benefit From Biomass Energy

Organisations and more importantly, battery manufacturers are recognising the need to overcome the problem of global warming. The objective is to develop ways of producing carbon-neutral sources of energy. One of the areas currently being explored is the use of biomass resources to create sustainable, eco-friendly batteries which are suitable for use across a wide range of business sectors. With different forms of biomass energy available, the challenge is finding products that provide high performance along with being commercially viable.

Biomass-Resources

A quick glance at popular biomass resources

What is Biomass Energy?

Biomass is something that we are all familiar with. It is derived from plants and animals and is now becoming an increasingly viable form of renewable energy. Initially, the energy comes from the sun, and in plants, it is converted via photosynthesis.

Regardless of its origin, the biomass will either be converted into biogas, biofuels or burnt directly to create heat. Of course, different sources of biomass produce varying amounts of energy, affecting their efficiency. As a result, high precision battery testing equipment is required to ascertain their viability.

Forms of Biomass Used for Energy

Wood and Products: Renewable sources of timber and the by-products of wood such as wood chip are burned in the home to create heat and in industry, burned to generate electricity. Typically, softwood such as pine is used as it is quicker to replenish than hardwood such as oak.

Agricultural Crops and Waste: With large amounts of waste produced from the farming sector, it is natural that this is an ideal source of energy. The materials are either converted to liquid biofuels or burned directly to generate heat or electricity.

Food and Household Waste: The amount of waste households produced has been increasing annually, and up until recently, the majority was disposed of it landfill sites. Nowadays, this garbage is burned at power stations to produce electricity or converted into biogas at existing landfill sites.

Animal Manure and Human Waste: We frequently hear about the link between animal waste and global warming. Inevitably, the same is also true of human waste. Both can be converted into biogas and burned as a fuel.

How is Biomass Converted to Energy?

Biomass can be converted to energy using different methods depending on the source. Solid forms of biomass such as garbage and wood are generally burned to created heat while other types will be initially converted into either biogas or biofuels such as ethanol or other biodiesel-related fuels used to power vehicles or generators.

Human sewage and animal manure are placed in vessels known as digesters to create biogas. Liquid fuels such as biodiesel are derived from oils and animal fats. Any form of biomass must be burned at some point to generate energy.

Biomass and Batteries

The most common form of battery used in domestic appliances and mobile devices is lithium-ion batteries. However, the performance and capacity are still below what is demanded by manufacturers and consumers. As a result, manufacturers are investigating alternatives such as biomass. Naturally, high precision testing equipment such as that produced by Arbin is required to assess their potential and commercial viability accurately.

The potential of elemental sulphur has been explored although due to its poor electrical conductivity, has failed to make it onto the mass market. A composite of sulphur and porous carbon appears to be a far more viable option although this is a complicated and time-consuming process. Carbon is one of the best conductors available, albeit at a relatively high cost. Therefore, the objective is to source carbon from biowaste, such as popular catkin that can be combined with sulphur. Popular catkin is a highly porous carbon and ideal for Li/S batteries.

High Precision Battery Testing

High precision battery testing is required to establish the commercial viability of popular catkin and other biowaste products. Marginal improvement could have a significant impact and give cell manufacturers a competitive advantage over their rivals.

Naturally, extensive research needs to be conducted to assess a variety of bioproducts that are presenting themselves as potentially viable alternative products. Increasing battery capacity and battery life is something that is required in several sectors such as with EVs, mobile devices and home appliances. Major manufacturers will be eagerly awaiting the findings of testing that is currently ongoing.

Renewable Energy Trends in Germany

Germany has been called “the world’s first major renewable energy economy” as the country is one of the world’s most prolific users of renewable energy for power, heating, and transport. Germany has rapidly expanded the use of clean energy which now contributes almost one-fourth to the national energy mix. Renewable energy contribute as much as one-fourth of the primary energy mix and the country has set a goal to producing 35 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and 100 percent by 2050.

Solar Energy

Germany is the world’s biggest solar market and largest PV installer with a solar PV capacity of more than 32.3 GW in December 2012. The German new solar PV installations increased by about 7.6 GW in 2012, with a record 1.3 million PV systems installed across the country. Germany has nearly as much installed solar power generation capacity as the rest of the world combined and gets about 5 percent of its overall annual electricity needs from solar power alone.

Wind Energy

Germany’s wind energy industry is one of the world’s largest, and it is at the forefront of technological development.  Over half of all wind turbines in Germany are owned by local residents, farmers and local authorities which have tremendously improved the acceptance of wind turbines among local communities as they directly profit.

Being Europe’s primary wind energy market, Germany represents around 30 percent of total installed capacity in Europe and 12 percent of global installed capacity. Total wind energy capacity in Germany was 31.32 GW at the end of year 2012. Currently Germany is ranked third worldwide in installed total wind capacity with its share of total domestic electricity production forecasted to reach 25 percent by 2025.

Biomass Energy

Biomass energy is making a significant contribution to renewable energy supply in Germany and accounts for about 5.5 percent of the total electricity production in the country. Germany is the market leader in biogas technology and is also Europe’s biggest biogas producer. Last year around 7,600 systems with a cumulative capacity of 3,200 MW generated 21.9 billion kWh in the country, thus consolidating Germany’s status as a pioneer in clean energy technologies.

Renewable Energy Investment

Germany’s plan to phase out all 17 of its nuclear power plants and shift to renewable energy by 2022 is the largest infrastructure investment program in Europe since World War II. The country’s transition from nuclear energy-based power network to renewable energy systems will require investments of much as $55 billion by 2030.

Germany is the world’s third largest market for renewable energy investment which totalled $31billion in 2011. Sixty-five percent of investment in Germany was directed toward solar, with 29 percent ($8.5 billion) directed to wind. In addition, 700 MW of biomass capacity was added in 2011

The country offers generous feed-in-tariffs for investors across all renewable energy segments which is attracting huge private capital in cleantech investments. In 2010, the majority ($29 billion) of cleantech investment came from corporate investors across all sectors of the economy, including farmers, energy utilities, and industrial and commercial enterprises.

In the first six months of 2012, the amount of electricity produced from renewable resource rose from 20% to 25%, bringing Germany closer to its targets of 35% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. According to figures released by the government agency Germany Trade and Invest, 38% of the electricity produced by renewable energy during that period was through wind power, and almost 16% from solar.

Biomass Exchange – Key to Success in Biomass Projects

Biomass exchange is emerging as a key factor in the progress of biomass energy sector in a particular country. The supply chain management in any biomass project is a big management conundrum. The complexity deepens owing to the large number of stages which encompass the entire biomass value chain. It starts right from biomass resource harvesting and goes on to include biomass collection, processing, storage and eventually its transportation to the point of ultimate utilization.

Owing to the voluminous nature of the resource, its handling becomes a major issue since it requires bigger modes of logistics, employment of a larger number of work-force and a better storage infrastructure, as compared to any other fuel or feedstock. Not only this their lower energy density characteristic, makes it inevitable for the resource to be first processed and then utilized for power generation to make for better economics.

All these problems call for a mechanism to strengthen the value chain. This can be done by considering the following:

  • Assuring a readily available market for the resource providers or the producers
  • Assuring the project developers of a reliable chain and consistent feedstock availability
  • Awareness to the project developer of the resources in closest proximity to the plant site
  • Assurance to the project developer of the resource quality
  • Timely pick-up and drop of resource
  • Proper fuel preparation as per technology requirements
  • Removal of intermediaries involved in the process – to increase value for both, the producers as well as the buyers
  • No need for long term contracts (Not an obligation)
  • Competitive fuel prices
  • Assistance to producers in crop management

The figure below gives a general understanding of how such a model could work, especially in the context of developing nations where the size of land holdings is usually small and the location of resources is scattered, making their procurement a highly uneconomic affair. This model is commonly known as Biomass Exchange

In such a model, the seed, fertilizer shops and other local village level commercial enterprises could be utilized as an outreach or marketing platform for such a service.  Once the producer approves off the initial price estimate, as provided by these agencies, he could send a sample of the feedstock to the pre-deputed warehouses for a quality check.

These warehouses need to be organized at different levels according to the village hierarchy and depending on the size, cultivated area and local logistic options available in that region. On assessing the feedstock sample’s quality, these centers would release a plausible quote to the farmer after approving which, he would be asked to supply the feedstock.

On the other hand, an entity in need of the feedstock would approach the biomass exchange, where it would be appraised of the feedstock available in the region near its utilization point and made aware of the quantity and quality of the feedstock. The entity would then quote a price according to its suitability which would be relayed to the primary producer.

An agreement from both the sides would entail the placement of order and the feedstock’s subsequent processing and transportation to the buyer’s gate. The pricing mechanisms could be numerous ranging from, fixed (according to quality), bid-based or even market-driven.

Roadblocks

The hurdles could be in the form of the initial resource assessment which could in itself be a tedious and time consuming exercise. Another roadblock could be in the form of engaging the resource producers with such a mechanism. Since these would usually involve rural landscapes, things could prove to be a little difficult in terms of implementation of initial capacity building measures and concept marketing.

Benefits

The benefits of  a biomass exchange are enumerated below:

  • Support to the ever increasing power needs of the country
  • Promotion of biomass energy technologies
  • Development of rural infrastructure
  • Increased opportunities for social and micro-entrepreneurship
  • Creation of direct and indirect job opportunities
  • Efficient utilization of biomass wastes
  • Potential of averting millions of tonnes of GHGs emissions

Conclusions

In India alone, there has been several cases where biomass power projects of the scale greater than 5 MW are on sale already, even with their power purchase agreements still in place. Such events necessitate the need to have a mechanism in place which would further seek the promotion of such technologies.

Biomass Exchange is an attractive solution to different problems afflicting biomass projects, at the same time providing the investors and entrepreneurs with a multi-million dollar opportunity. Although such a concept has been in existence in the developed world for a long time now, it has not witnessed many entrepreneurial ventures in developing nations where the need to strengthen the biomass supply chain becomes even more necessary.

However, one needs to be really careful while initiating such a model since it cannot be blindly copied from Western countries owing to entirely different land-ownership patterns, regional socio-political conditions and economic framework. With a strong backup and government support, such an idea could go a long way in strengthening the biomass supply chain, promotion of associated clean energy technologies and in making a significant dent in the present power scenario in the developing world.

Biomass as Renewable Energy Resource

biomass_resourcesBiomass is a key renewable energy resource that includes plant and animal material, such as wood from forests, material left over from agricultural and forestry processes, and organic industrial, human and animal wastes. The energy contained in biomass originally came from the sun. Through photosynthesis carbon dioxide in the air is transformed into other carbon containing molecules (e.g. sugars, starches and cellulose) in plants. The chemical energy that is stored in plants and animals (animals eat plants or other animals) or in their waste is called biomass energy or bioenergy

What is Biomass

Biomass comes from a variety of sources which include:

  • Wood from natural forests and woodlands
  • Forestry plantations
  • Forestry residues
  • Agricultural residues such as straw, stover, cane trash and green agricultural wastes
  • Agro-industrial wastes, such as sugarcane bagasse and rice husk
  • Animal wastes (cow manure, poultry litter etc)
  • Industrial wastes, such as black liquor from paper manufacturing
  • Sewage
  • Municipal solid wastes (MSW)
  • Food processing wastes

Biomass energy projects provide major business opportunities, environmental benefits, and rural development.  Feedstocks for biomass energy project can be obtained from a wide array of sources without jeopardizing the food and feed supply, forests, and biodiversity in the world.

Agricultural Residues

Crop residues encompasses all agricultural wastes such as bagasse, straw, stem, stalk, leaves, husk, shell, peel, pulp, stubble, etc. Large quantities of crop residues are produced annually worldwide, and are vastly underutilised. Rice produces both straw and rice husks at the processing plant which can be conveniently and easily converted into energy.

Significant quantities of biomass remain in the fields in the form of cob when maize is harvested which can be converted into energy. Sugar cane harvesting leads to harvest residues in the fields while processing produces fibrous bagasse, both of which are good sources of energy. Harvesting and processing of coconuts produces quantities of shell and fibre that can be utilized.

Current farming practice is usually to plough these residues back into the soil, or they are burnt, left to decompose, or grazed by cattle. These residues could be processed into liquid fuels or thermochemically processed to produce electricity and heat. Agricultural residues are characterized by seasonal availability and have characteristics that differ from other solid fuels such as wood, charcoal, char briquette. The main differences are the high content of volatile matter and lower density and burning time.

Animal Waste

There are a wide range of animal wastes that can be used as sources of biomass energy. The most common sources are animal and poultry manure. In the past this waste was recovered and sold as a fertilizer or simply spread onto agricultural land, but the introduction of tighter environmental controls on odour and water pollution means that some form of waste management is now required, which provides further incentives for waste-to-energy conversion.

The most attractive method of converting these organic waste materials to useful form is anaerobic digestion which gives biogas that can be used as a fuel for internal combustion engines, to generate electricity from small gas turbines, burnt directly for cooking, or for space and water heating.

Forestry Residues

Forestry residues are generated by operations such as thinning of plantations, clearing for logging roads, extracting stem-wood for pulp and timber, and natural attrition. Harvesting may occur as thinning in young stands, or cutting in older stands for timber or pulp that also yields tops and branches usable for biomass energy. Harvesting operations usually remove only 25 to 50 percent of the volume, leaving the residues available as biomass for energy.

Stands damaged by insects, disease or fire are additional sources of biomass. Forest residues normally have low density and fuel values that keep transport costs high, and so it is economical to reduce the biomass density in the forest itself.

Wood Wastes

Wood processing industries primarily include sawmilling, plywood, wood panel, furniture, building component, flooring, particle board, moulding, jointing and craft industries. Wood wastes generally are concentrated at the processing factories, e.g. plywood mills and sawmills. The amount of waste generated from wood processing industries varies from one type industry to another depending on the form of raw material and finished product.

Generally, the waste from wood industries such as saw millings and plywood, veneer and others are sawdust, off-cuts, trims and shavings. Sawdust arise from cutting, sizing, re-sawing, edging, while trims and shaving are the consequence of trimming and smoothing of wood. In general, processing of 1,000 kg of wood in the furniture industries will lead to waste generation of almost half (45 %), i.e. 450 kg of wood. Similarly, when processing 1,000 kg of wood in sawmill, the waste will amount to more than half (52 %), i.e. 520 kg wood.

Industrial Wastes

The food industry produces a large number of residues and by-products that can be used as biomass energy sources. These waste materials are generated from all sectors of the food industry with everything from meat production to confectionery producing waste that can be utilised as an energy source.

Solid wastes include peelings and scraps from fruit and vegetables, food that does not meet quality control standards, pulp and fibre from sugar and starch extraction, filter sludges and coffee grounds. These wastes are usually disposed of in landfill dumps.

Liquid wastes are generated by washing meat, fruit and vegetables, blanching fruit and vegetables, pre-cooking meats, poultry and fish, cleaning and processing operations as well as wine making.

These waste waters contain sugars, starches and other dissolved and solid organic matter. The potential exists for these industrial wastes to be anaerobically digested to produce biogas, or fermented to produce ethanol, and several commercial examples of waste-to-energy conversion already exist.

Pulp and paper industry is considered to be one of the highly polluting industries and consumes large amount of energy and water in various unit operations. The wastewater discharged by this industry is highly heterogeneous as it contains compounds from wood or other raw materials, processed chemicals as well as compound formed during processing.  Black liquor can be judiciously utilized for production of biogas using anaerobic UASB technology.

Municipal Solid Wastes and Sewage

Millions of tonnes of household waste are collected each year with the vast majority disposed of in open fields. The biomass resource in MSW comprises the putrescibles, paper and plastic and averages 80% of the total MSW collected. Municipal solid waste can be converted into energy by direct combustion, or by natural anaerobic digestion in the engineered landfill.

At the landfill sites, the gas produced, known as landfill gas or LFG, by the natural decomposition of MSW (approximately 50% methane and 50% carbon dioxide) is collected from the stored material and scrubbed and cleaned before feeding into internal combustion engines or gas turbines to generate heat and power. The organic fraction of MSW can be anaerobically stabilized in a high-rate digester to obtain biogas for electricity or steam generation.

Sewage is a source of biomass energy that is very similar to the other animal wastes. Energy can be extracted from sewage using anaerobic digestion to produce biogas. The sewage sludge that remains can be incinerated or undergo pyrolysis to produce more biogas.

Clean Cookstoves: An Urgent Necessity

Globally, three billion people in the developing nations are solely dependent on burning firewood, crop residues, animal manure etc for preparing their daily meals on open fires, mud or clay stoves or simply on three rocks strategically placed to balance a cooking vessel.  The temperature of these fires are lower and produce inefficient burning that results in black carbon and other short-lived but high impact pollutants.

These short-lived pollutants not only affect the persons in the immediate area but also contribute much harmful gases more potent than carbon dioxide and methane. For the people in the immediate area, their health is severely hampered as this indoor or domestic air pollution results in significantly higher risks of pneumonia and chronic bronchitis.

To remedy the indoor air pollution (IAP) and health-related issues as well as the environmental pollution in the developing world, clean cookstoves are the way to advance. But to empower rural users to embrace the advanced cookstoves, and achieve sustainable success requires a level of socio-cultural and economic awareness that is related directly to this marginalized group. The solution needs to be appropriate for the style of cooking of the group which means one stove model will not suit or meet the needs and requirements of all developing nation people groups.

Clean cookstoves can significantly reduce health problems caused by indoor air pollution in rural areas

Consideration for such issues as stove top and front loading stove cooking, single pot and double pot cooking, size of the typical cooking vessel and the style of cooking are all pieces of information needed to complete the picture.  Historically, natural draft systems were devised to aid the combustion or burning of the fuels, however, forced draft stoves tend to burn cleaner with better health and environmental benefits. Regardless of cookstove design, the components need to be either made locally or at least available locally so that the long term life of the stove is maintainable and so sustainable.

Now, if the cookstove unit can by powered by  simple solar or biomass system, this will change the whole nature of the life style and domestic duties of the chief cook and the young siblings who are typically charged with collecting the natural firewood to meet the cooking requirement.

Therefore the cookstoves need to be designed and adapted for the people group and their traditional cooking habits, and not in the reverse order. To assess the overall performance of the green cooking stoves requires simple but effective measures of the air quality. The two elements that need to be measured are the black carbon emissions and the temperature of the cooking device.  This can be achieved by miniature aerosol samplers and temperature sensors. The data collected needs to be transmitted in real-time via mobile phones for verification of performance rates.  This is to provide verifiable data in a cost effective monitoring process.