Overview of Biomass Logistics

Biomass logistics include all the unit operations necessary to move biomass feedstock from the land to the biomass energy plant and to ensure that the delivered feedstock meets the specifications of the conversion process. The packaged biomass can be transported directly from farm or from stacks next to the farm to the processing plant.

Biomass may be minimally processed (i.e. ground) before being shipped to the plant, as in case of biomass supply from the stacks. Generally the biomass is trucked directly from farm to biorefinery if no processing is involved.

Another option is to transfer the biomass to a central location where the material is accumulated and subsequently dispatched to the energy conversion facility. While in depot, the biomass could be pre-processed minimally (ground) or extensively (pelletized). The depot also provides an opportunity to interface with rail transport if that is an available option.

The choice of any of the options depends on the economics and cultural practices. For example in irrigated areas, there is always space on the farm (corner of the land) where quantities of biomass can be stacked. The key components to reduce costs in harvesting, collecting and transportation of biomass can be summarized as:

  • Reduce the number of passes through the field by amalgamating collection operations.
  • Increase the bulk density of biomass
  • Work with minimal moisture content.
  • Granulation/pelletization is the best option, though the existing technology is expensive.
  • Trucking seems to be the most common mode of biomass transportation option but rail and pipeline may become attractive once the capital costs for these transport modes are reduced.

The logistics of transporting, handling and storing the bulky and variable biomass material for delivery to the bioenergy processing plant is a key part of the supply chain that is often overlooked by project developers. Whether the biomass comes from forest residues on hill country, straw residues from cereal crops grown on arable land, or the non-edible components of small scale, subsistence farming systems, the relative cost of collection will be considerable.

Careful development of a system to minimize machinery use, human effort and energy inputs can have a considerable impact on the cost of the biomass as delivered to the processing plant gate.

The logistics of supplying a biomass power plant with sufficient volumes of biomass from a number of sources at suitable quality specifications and possibly all year round, are complex. Agricultural residues can be stored on the farm until needed. Then they can be collected and delivered directly to the conversion plant on demand. Infact, this requires considerable logistics to ensure only a few days of supply are available on-site but that the risk of non-supply at any time is low.

Biomass Energy in Thailand

Thailand’s annual energy consumption has risen sharply during the past decade and will continue its upward trend in the years to come. While energy demand has risen sharply, domestic sources of supply are limited, thus forcing a significant reliance on imports.


To face this increasing demand, Thailand needs to produce more energy from its own renewable resources, particularly biomass wastes derived from agro-industry, such as bagasse, rice husk, wood chips, livestock and municipal wastes.

In 2005, total installed power capacity in Thailand was 26,430 MW. Renewable energy accounted for about 2 percent of the total installed capacity. In 2007, Thailand had about 777 MW of electricity from renewable energy that was sold to the grid.

Biomass Potential in Thailand

Several studies have projected that biomass wastes can cover up to 15 % of the energy demand in Thailand. These estimations are primarily made from biomass waste from the extraction part of agricultural activities, and for large scale agricultural processing of crops etc. – as for instance saw and palm oil mills – and do not include biomass wastes from SMEs in Thailand. Thus, the energy potential of biomass waste can be much larger if these resources are included. The major biomass resources in Thailand include the following:

  • Woody biomass residues from forest plantations
  • Agricultural residues (rice husk, bagasse, corn cobs, etc.)
  • Wood residues from wood and furniture industries    (bark, sawdust, etc.)
  • Biomass for ethanol production (cassava, sugar cane, etc.)
  • Biomass for biodiesel production (palm oil, jatropha oil, etc.)
  • Industrial wastewater from agro-industry
  • Livestock manure
  • Municipal solid wastes and sewage

Thailand’s vast biomass potential has been partially exploited through the use of traditional as well as more advanced conversion technologies for biogas, power generation, and biofuels. Rice, sugar, palm oil, and wood-related industries are the major potential biomass energy sources in Thailand. The country has a fairly large biomass resource base of about 60 million tons generated each year that could be utilized for energy purposes, such as rice, sugarcane, rubber sheets, palm oil and cassava.

Biomass has been a primary source of energy for many years, used for domestic heating and industrial cogeneration. For example, paddy husks are burned to produce steam for turbine operation in rice mills; bagasse and palm residues are used to produce steam and electricity for on-site manufacturing process; and rubber wood chips are burned to produce hot air for rubber wood seasoning.

In addition to biomass residues, wastewater containing organic matters from livestock farms and industries has increasingly been used as a potential source of biomass energy. Thailand’s primary biogas sources are pig farms and residues from food processing. The production potential of biogas from industrial wastewater from palm oil industries, tapioca starch industries, food processing industries, and slaughter industries is also significant. The energy-recovery and environmental benefits that the KWTE waste to energy project has already delivered is attracting keen interest from a wide range of food processing industries around the world.

Trends in Utilization of Biogas

The valuable component of biogas is methane (CH4) which typically makes up 60%, with the balance being carbon dioxide (CO2) and small percentages of other gases. The proportion of methane depends on the feedstock and the efficiency of the process, with the range for methane content being 40% to 70%. Biogas is saturated and contains H2S, and the simplest use is in a boiler to produce hot water or steam.

DaishThe gas can also be upgraded and used in gas supply networks. The use of biogas in solid oxide fuel cells is also being researched.

Biogas can be combusted directly to produce heat. In this case, there is no need to scrub the hydrogen sulphide in the biogas. Usually the process utilize dual-fuel burner and the conversion efficiency is 80 to 90%. The main components of the system are anaerobic digester, biogas holder, pressure switch, booster fan, solenoid valve, dual fuel burner and combustion air blower.

The most common method for utilization of biogas in developing countries is for cooking and lighting. Conventional gas burners and gas lamps can easily be adjusted to biogas by changing the air to gas ratio. In more industrialized countries boilers are present only in a small number of plants where biogas is used as fuel only without additional CHP. In a number of industrial applications biogas is used for steam production.

Burning biogas in a boiler is an established and reliable technology. Low demands are set on the biogas quality for this application. Pressure usually has to be around 8 to 25 mbar. Furthermore it is recommended to reduce the level of hydrogen sulphide to below 1 000 ppm, this allows to maintain the dew point around 150 °C.

CHP Applications

Biogas is the ideal fuel for generation of electric power or combined heat and power. A number of different technologies are available and applied. The most common technology for power generation is internal combustion. Engines are available in sizes from a few kilowatts up to several megawatts. Gas engines can either be SI-engines (spark ignition) or dual fuel engines. Dual fuel engines with injection of diesel (10% and up) or sometimes plant oil are very popular in smaller scales because they have good electric efficiencies up to guaranteed 43%.

The biogas pressure is turbo-charged and after-cooled and has a high compression ratio in the gas engines. The cooling tower provides cooling water for the gas engines. The main component of the system required for utilizing the technology are anaerobic digester, moisture remover, flame arrester, waste gas burner, scrubber, compressor, storage, receiver, regulator, pressure switch and switch board.

Gas turbines are an established technology in sizes above 500 kW. In recent years also small scale engines, so called micro-turbines in the range of 25 to 100kW have been successfully introduced in biogas applications. They have efficiencies comparable to small SI-engines with low emissions and allow recovery of low pressure steam which is interesting for industrial applications. Micro turbines are small, high-speed, integrated power plants that include a turbine, compressor, generator and power electronics to produce power.

New Trends

The benefit of the anaerobic treatment will depend on the improvement of the process regarding a higher biogas yield per m3 of biomass and an increase in the degree of degradation. Furthermore, the benefit of the process can be multiplied by the conversion of the effluent from the process into a valuable product.

In order to improve the economical benefit of biogas production, the future trend will go to integrated concepts of different conversion processes, where biogas production will still be a significant part. In a so-called biorefinery concept, close to 100% of the biomass is converted into energy or valuable by-products, making the whole concept more economically profitable and increasing the value in terms of sustainability.

Typical layout of a modern biogas facility

One example of such biorefinery concept is the Danish Bioethanol Concept that combines the production of bioethanol from lignocellulosic biomass with biogas production of the residue stream. Another example is the combination of biogas production from manure with manure separation into a liquid and a solid fraction for separation of nutrients. One of the most promising concepts is the treatment of the liquid fraction on the farm-site in a UASB reactor while the solid fraction is transported to the centralized biogas plant where wet-oxidation can be implemented to increase the biogas yield of the fiber fraction. Integration of the wet oxidation pre-treatment of the solid fraction leads to a high degradation efficiency of the lignocellulosic solid fraction.

Your Choices for Alternative Energy

While using alternative sources of energy is a right way for you to save money on your heating and cooling bills, it also allows you to contribute in vital ways to both the environment and the economy.  Alternative energy sources are renewable, environmentally sustainable sources that do not create any by-products that are released into the atmosphere like coal and fossil fuels do.

Burning coal to produce electricity releases particulates and substances such as mercury, arsenic, sulfur and carbon monoxide into the air, all of which can cause health problems in humans.

Other by-products from burning coal are acid rain, sludge run-off and heated water that is released back into the rivers and lakes nearby the coal-fired plants.  While efforts are being made to create “clean coal,” businesses have been reluctant to use the technology due to the high costs associated with changing their plants.

If you are considering taking the plunge and switching to a renewable energy source to save money on your electric and heating bills or to help the environment, you have a lot of decisions to make. The first decision you need to make is which energy source to use in your home or business.  Do you want to switch to solar energy, wind power, biomass energy or geothermal energy?

Emissions from homes using heating oil, vehicles, and electricity produced from fossil fuels also pollute the air and contribute to the number of greenhouse gases that are in the atmosphere and depleting the ozone layer.  Carbon dioxide is one of the gases that is released into the air by the burning of fossil fuels to create energy and in the use of motor vehicles.  Neither coal nor fossil fuels are sources of renewable energy.

Replacing those energy sources with solar, biomass or wind-powered generators will allow homes and businesses to have an adequate source of energy always at hand.  While converting to these systems can sometimes be expensive, the costs are quickly coming down, and they pay for themselves in just a few short years because they supply energy that is virtually free.  In some cases, the excess energy they create can be bought from the business or the homeowner.

While there are more than these three alternative energy options, these are the easiest to implement on an individual basis.  Other sources of alternative energy, for instance, nuclear power, hydroelectric power, and natural gas require a primary power source for the heat so it can be fed to your home or business.  Solar, wind, biomass and geothermal energy can all have power sources in your home or business to supply your needs.

Solar Energy

Solar power is probably the most widely used source of these options.  While it can be expensive to convert your home or business over to solar energy, or to an alternative energy source for that matter, it is probably the most natural source to turn over to.  You can use the sun’s energy to power your home or business and heat water.  It can be used to passively heat or light up your rooms as well just by opening up your shades.

Wind Power

You need your wind turbine to power your home or office, but wind energy has been used for centuries to pump water or for commercial purposes, like grinding grain into flour.  While many countries have wind farms to produce energy on a full-scale basis, you can have your wind turbine at home or at your business to provide electricity for your purposes.

The cost of alternative energy systems has dropped sharply in recent years

Biomass Energy

Biomass energy has rapidly become a vital part of the global renewable energy mix and account for an ever-growing share of electric capacity added worldwide. Biomass is the material derived from plants that use sunlight to grow which include plant and animal material such as wood from forests, material left over from agricultural and forestry processes, and organic industrial, human and animal wastes. Biomass comes from a variety of sources which include wood from natural forests and woodlands, agricultural residues, agro-industrial wastes, animal wastes, industrial wastewater, municipal sewage and municipal solid wastes.

Geothermal Energy

A heat pump helps cool or heat your home or office using the earth’s heat to provide the power needed to heat the liquid that is run through the system to either heat your home in the winter or cool it off in the summer.  While many people use it, it doesn’t provide electricity, so you still need an energy source for that.

Could Biomass Be The Answer To South Africa’s Energy Problem?

South Africa is experiencing a mammoth energy crisis with its debt-laden national power utility, Eskom, being unable to meet the electricity needs of the nation. After extensive periods of load shedding in 2018 and again earlier this year, it is becoming increasingly important to find an alternative source of energy. According to Marko Nokkala, senior sales manager at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, South Africa is in the perfect position to utilize biomass as an alternative source of energy.

Things to Consider

Should South Africa choose to delve deeper into biomass energy production, there are a few things that need to be considered. At present, a lot of biomass (such as fruit and vegetables) is utilized as food. It will, therefore, be necessary to identify alternative biomass sources that are not typically used as food, so that a food shortage is never created in the process.


One alternative would be to use municipal solid waste from landfills and dumpsites as well as the wood waste from the very large and lucrative forestry industry in the country. It is also essential to keep in mind that an enormous amount of biomass will be needed to replace even a portion of the 90 million tons of coal that Eskom utilizes every year at its various power stations.

Potential Biomass Conversion Routes

There are a number of processing technologies that South Africans can utilize to turn their biomass into a sustainable energy source. Biochemical conversion involving technology such as anaerobic digestion and fermentation makes use of enzymes, microorganisms, and bacteria to breakdown the biomass into a variety of liquid or vaporous fuels.


Fermentation is especially suitable when the biomass waste boasts a high sugar or water content, as is the case with a variety of agricultural wastes. By placing some focus on microbial fermentation process development, a system can effectively be created that will allow for large-scale biofuel production. Other technologies to consider include thermal methods like co-firing, pyrolysis, and gasification.

Future of biomass energy in South Africa

Despite the various obstacles that may slow down the introduction of large-scale biomass energy production in the country, it still promises to be a viable solution to the pressing energy concern. Biomass energy production does not require any of the major infrastructures that Eskom is currently relying on.

Although the initial setup will require a substantial amount of electricity, running a biomass conversion plant will cost significantly less than a coal-powered power plant in the long run. With the unemployment rate hovering around 27.1% in South Africa at present, any jobs created through the implementation of biomass energy conversion will be of great benefit to the nation.


Without speedy intervention, South Africa may very soon be left in the dark. Although there are already a number of wind farms in operation in the country, the addition of biomass conversion facilities will undoubtedly be of great benefit to Africa’s southernmost country.

Biomethane Industry in Europe

Biomethane is a well-known and well-proven source of clean energy, and is witnessing increasing demand worldwide, especially in European countries. Between 2012 and 2016, more than 500 biomethane production plants were built across Europe which indicates a steep rise of 165 percent. The main reasons behind the growth of biomethane industry in Europe is increasing interest in industrial waste-derived biogas sector and public interest in biogas.  Another important reason has been the guaranteed access to gas grid for all biomethane suppliers.

Biomethane production in Europe has swiftly increased from 752 GWh in 2011 to 17,264 GWh in 2016 with Germany being the market leader with 195 biomethane production plants, followed by United Kingdom with 92 facilities. Biogas generation across Europe also witnessed a rapid growth of 59% during the year 2011 and 2016. In terms of plant capacities, the regional trend is to establish large-scale biomethane plants.

Sources of Biomethane in Europe

Landfill gas and AD plants (based on energy crops, agricultural residues, food waste, industrial waste and sewage sludge) are the major resources for biomethane production in Europe, with the predominant source being agricultural crops (such as maize) and dedicated energy crops (like miscanthus). In countries, like Germany, Austria and Denmark, energy crops, agricultural by-products, sewage sludge and animal manure are the major feedstock for biomethane production. On the other hand, France, UK, Spain and Italy rely more on landfill gas to generate biomethane.

A large number of biogas plants in Europe are located in agricultural areas having abundant availability of organic wastes, such as grass silage and green waste, which are cheaper than crops. Maize is the most cost-effective raw material for biomethane production. In many parts of Europe, the practice of co-digestion is practised whereby energy crops are used in combination with animal manure as a substrate. After agricultural biogas plants, sewage sludge is one of the most popular substrates for biomethane production in Europe.

Biomethane Utilization Trends in Europe

Biomethane has a wide range of applications in the clean energy sector. In Europe, the main uses of biomethane include the following:

  1. Production of heat and/or steam
  2. Power generation and combined heat and power production(CHP)
  3. Replacement for natural gas (gas grid injection)
  4. Replacement for compressed natural gas & diesel – (bio-CNG for use as transport fuel)
  5. Replacement for liquid natural gas – (bio-LNG for use as transport fuel)

Prior to practically all utilization options, the biogas has to be dried (usually through application of a cooling/condensation step). Furthermore, elements such as hydrogen sulphide and other harmful trace elements must be removed (usually trough application of an activated carbon filter) to prevent adverse effects on downstream processing equipment (such as compressors, piping, boilers and CHP systems).


Biomethane is getting popularity as a clean vehicle fuel in Europe. For example, Germany has more than 900 CNG filling stations, with a fleet of around 100,000 gas-powered vehicles including cars, buses and trucks. Around 170 CNG filling stations in Germany sell a blend mixture of natural gas and biomethane while about 125 filling stations sell 100% biomethane from AD plants.

Barriers to Overcome

The fact that energy crops can put extra pressure on land availability for cultivation of food crops has led many European countries to initiate measures to reduce or restrict biogas production from energy crops. As far as waste-derived biomethane is concerned, most of the EU nations are phasing out landfill-based waste management systems which may lead to rapid decline in landfill gas production thus putting the onus of biomethane production largely on anaerobic digestion of food waste, sewage sludge, industrial waste and agricultural residues.

The high costs of biogas upgradation and natural gas grid connection is a major hurdle in the development of biomethane sector in Eastern European nations. The injection of biomethane is also limited by location of suitable biomethane production facilities, which should ideally be located close to the natural gas grid.  Several European nations have introduced industry standards for injecting biogas into the natural gas grid but these standards differ considerably with each other.

Another important issue is the insufficient number of biomethane filling stations and biomethane-powered vehicles in Europe. A large section of the population is still not aware about the benefits of biomethane as a vehicle fuel. Strong political backing and infrastructural support will provide greater thrust to biomethane industry in Europe.

Overview of Biomass Energy Systems

Biomass is a versatile energy source that can be used for production of heat, power, transport fuels and biomaterials, apart from making a significant contribution to climate change mitigation. Currently, biomass-driven combined heat and power, co-firing, and combustion plants provide reliable, efficient, and clean power and heat.

Feedstock for biomass energy plants can include residues from agriculture, forestry, wood processing, and food processing industries, municipal solid wastes, industrial wastes and biomass produced from degraded and marginal lands.

The terms biomass energy, bioenergy and biofuels cover any energy products derived from plant or animal or organic material. The increasing interest in biomass energy and biofuels has been the result of the following associated benefits:

  • Potential to reduce GHG emissions.
  • Energy security benefits.
  • Substitution for diminishing global oil supplies.
  • Potential impacts on waste management strategy.
  • Capacity to convert a wide variety of wastes into clean energy.
  • Technological advancement in thermal and biochemical processes for waste-to-energy transformation.

Biomass can play the pivotal role in production of carbon-neutral fuels of high quality as well as providing feedstock for various industries. This is a unique property of biomass compared to other renewable energies and which makes biomass a prime alternative to the use of fossil fuels. Performance of biomass-based systems for heat and power generation has been already proved in many situations on commercial as well as domestic scales.

Biomass energy systems have the potential to address many environmental issues, especially global warming and greenhouse gases emissions, and foster sustainable development among poor communities. Biomass fuel sources are readily available in rural and urban areas of all countries. Biomass-based industries can provide appreciable employment opportunities and promote biomass re-growth through sustainable land management practices.

The negative aspects of traditional biomass utilization in developing countries can be mitigated by promotion of modern waste-to-energy technologies which provide solid, liquid and gaseous fuels as well as electricity as shown. Biomass wastes can be transformed into clean and efficient energy by biochemical as well as thermochemical technologies.

The most common technique for producing both heat and electrical energy from biomass wastes is direct combustion. Thermal efficiencies as high as 80 – 90% can be achieved by advanced gasification technology with greatly reduced atmospheric emissions. Combined heat and power (CHP) systems, ranging from small-scale technology to large grid-connected facilities, provide significantly higher efficiencies than systems that only generate electricity.  Biochemical processes, like anaerobic digestion and sanitary landfills, can also produce clean energy in the form of biogas and producer gas which can be converted to power and heat using a gas engine.

In addition, biomass wastes can also yield liquid fuels, such as cellulosic ethanol, which can be used to replace petroleum-based fuels. Cellulosic ethanol can be produced from grasses, wood chips and agricultural residues by biochemical route using heat, pressure, chemicals and enzymes to unlock the sugars in lignocellulosic biomass. Algal biomass is also emerging as a good source of energy because it can serve as natural source of oil, which conventional refineries can transform into jet fuel or diesel fuel.

Biological Desulphurization of Biogas

The most valuable component of biogas is methane (CH4) which typically makes up 60%, with the balance being carbon dioxide (CO2) and small percentages of other gases. However, biogas also contain significant amount of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas which needs to be stripped off due to its highly corrosive nature. Hydrogen sulfide is oxidized into sulfur dioxide which dissolves as sulfuric acid. Sulphuric acid, even in trace amounts, can make a solution extremely acidic. Extremely acidic electrolytes dissolve metals rapidly and speed up the corrosion process.

The corrosive nature of H2S has the potential to destroy expensive biogas processing equipment. Even if there is no oxygen present, biogas can corrode metal. Hydrogen sulphide can become its own electrolyte and absorb directly onto the metal to form corrosion. If the hydrogen sulphide concentration is very low, the corrosion will be slow but will still occur due to the presence of carbon dioxide.


The obvious solution is the use of a biogas cleanup process whereby contaminants in the raw biogas stream are absorbed or scrubbed. Desulphurization of biogas can be performed by biological as well as chemical methods. Biological treatment of hydrogen sulphide typically involves passing the biogas through biologically active media. These treatments may include open bed soil filters, biofilters, fixed film bioscrubbers, suspended growth bioscrubbers and fluidized bed bioreactors.

Biological Desulphurization

The simplest method of desulphurization is the addition of oxygen or air directly into the digester or in a storage tank serving at the same time as gas holder. Thiobacilli are ubiquitous and thus systems do not require inoculation. They grow on the surface of the digestate, which offers the necessary micro-aerophilic surface and at the same time the necessary nutrients. They form yellow clusters of sulphur. Depending on the temperature, the reaction time, the amount and place of the air added the hydrogen sulphide concentration can be reduced by 95 % to less than 50 ppm.

Most of the sulphide oxidising micro-organisms belong to the family of Thiobacillus. For the microbiological oxidation of sulphide it is essential to add stoichiometric amounts of oxygen to the biogas. Depending on the concentration of hydrogen sulphide this corresponds to 2 to 6 % air in biogas. Measures of safety have to be taken to avoid overdosing of air in case of pump failures.


Biofiltration is one of the most promising clean technologies for reducing emissions of malodorous gases and other pollutants into the atmosphere. In a biofiltration system, the gas stream is passed through a packed bed on which pollutant-degrading microbes are immobilized as biofilm. A biological filter combines water scrubbing and biological desulfurization.

Biogas and the separated digestate meet in a counter-current flow in a filter bed. The biogas is mixed with 4% to 6% air before entry into the filter bed. The filter media offer the required surface area for scrubbing, as well as for the attachment of the desulphurizing microorganisms. Microorganisms in the biofilm convert the absorbed H2S into elemental sulphur by metabolic activity. Oxygen is the key parameter that controls the level of oxidation.

The capital costs for biological treatment of biogas are moderate and operational costs are low. This technology is widely available worldwide. However, it may be noted that the biological system is capable to remove even very high amounts of hydrogen sulphide from the biogas but its adaptability to fluctuating hydrogen sulphide contents is not yet proven.

A Primer on Biofuels

The term ‘Biofuel’ refers to liquid or gaseous fuels for the transport sector that are predominantly produced from biomass. A variety of fuels can be produced from biomass resources including liquid fuels, such as ethanol, methanol, biodiesel, Fischer-Tropsch diesel, and gaseous fuels, such as hydrogen and methane. The biomass resource base for biofuel production is composed of a wide variety of forestry and agricultural resources, industrial processing residues, and municipal solid and urban wood residues.


The agricultural resources include grains used for biofuels production, animal manures and residues, and crop residues derived primarily from corn and small grains (e.g., wheat straw). A variety of regionally significant crops, such as cotton, sugarcane, rice, and fruit and nut orchards can also be a source of crop residues.

The forest resources include residues produced during the harvesting of forest products, fuelwood extracted from forestlands, residues generated at primary forest product processing mills, and forest resources that could become available through initiatives to reduce fire hazards and improve forest health. Municipal and urban wood residues are widely available and include a variety of materials — yard and tree trimmings, land-clearing wood residues, wooden pallets, organic wastes, packaging materials, and construction and demolition debris.

Globally, biofuels are most commonly used to power vehicles, heat homes, and for cooking. Biofuel industries are expanding in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Biofuels are generally considered as offering many priorities, including sustainability, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, regional development, social structure and agriculture, and security of supply.

First-generation biofuels are made from sugar, starch, vegetable oil, or animal fats using conventional technology. The basic feedstocks for the production of first-generation biofuels come from agriculture and food processing. The most common first-generation biofuels are:

  • Biodiesel: extraction with or without esterification of vegetable oils from seeds of plants like soybean, oil palm, oilseed rape and sunflower or residues including animal fats derived from rendering applied as fuel in diesel engines
  • Bioethanol: fermentation of simple sugars from sugar crops like sugarcane or from starch crops like maize and wheat applied as fuel in petrol engines
  • Bio-oil: thermo-chemical conversion of biomass. A process still in the development phase
  • Biogas: anaerobic fermentation or organic waste, animal manures, crop residues an energy crops applied as fuel in engines suitable for compressed natural gas.

First-generation biofuels can be used in low-percentage blends with conventional fuels in most vehicles and can be distributed through existing infrastructure. Some diesel vehicles can run on 100 % biodiesel, and ‘flex-fuel’ vehicles are already available in many countries around the world.

Second-generation biofuels are derived from non-food feedstock including lignocellulosic biomass like crop residues or wood. Two transformative technologies are under development.

  • Biochemical: modification of the bio-ethanol fermentation process including a pre-treatment procedure
  • Thermochemical: modification of the bio-oil process to produce syngas and methanol, Fisher-Tropsch diesel or dimethyl ether (DME).

Advanced conversion technologies are needed for a second generation of biofuels. The second generation technologies use a wider range of biomass resources – agriculture, forestry and waste materials. One of the most promising second-generation biofuel technologies – ligno-cellulosic processing (e. g. from forest materials) – is already well advanced. Pilot plants have been established in the EU, in Denmark, Spain and Sweden.

Third-generation biofuels may include production of bio-based hydrogen for use in fuel cell vehicles, e.g. Algae fuel, also called oilgae. Algae are low-input, high-yield feedstock to produce biofuels.

The Impact of Machine Learning on Renewable Energy

Machine learning, as well as its endgame, artificial intelligence, is proving its value in a wide variety of industries. Renewable energy is yet another sector that can benefit from machine learning’s smart data analysis, pattern recognition and other abilities. Here’s a look at why the two are a perfect match.

Predicting and Fine-Tuning Energy Production

One of the biggest misconceptions about solar power is that it’s only realistic in parts of the world known for year-round heat and intense sunshine. According to Google, around 80% of rooftops they’ve analyzed through their Sunroof mapping system “are technically viable for solar.” They define “viable” as having “enough unshaded area for solar panels.”

Even with this widespread viability, it’s useful to be able to predict and model the energy yield of a renewable energy project before work begins. This is where machine learning enters the equation.

Based on the season and time of day, machine learning can produce realistic and useful predictions for when a residence or building will be able to generate power and when it will have to draw power from the grid. This may prove even more useful over time as a budgeting tool as accuracy improves further. IBM says their forecasting system, powered by deep learning, can predict solar and wind yield up to 30 days in advance.

Machine learning also helps in the creation of solar installations with physical tracking systems, which intelligently follow the sun and angle the solar panels in order to maximize the amount of power they generate throughout the day.

Balancing the Smart Energy Grid

Predicting production is the first step in realizing other advantages of machine learning in clean energy. Next comes the construction of smart grids. A smart grid is a power delivery network that:

  • Is fully automated and requires little human intervention over time
  • Monitors the energy generation of every node and the flow of power to each client
  • Provides two-way energy and data mobility between energy producers and clients

A smart grid isn’t a “nice to have” — it’s necessary. The “traditional” approach to building energy grids doesn’t take into account the diversification of modern energy generation sources, including geothermal, wind, solar and hydroelectric. Tomorrow’s electric grid will feature thousands and millions of individual energy-generating nodes like solar-equipped homes and buildings. It will also, at least for a while, contain coal and natural gas power plants and homes powered by heating oil.

Machine learning provides an “intelligence” to sit at the heart of this diversified energy grid to balance supply and demand. In a smart grid, each energy producer and client is a node in the network, and each one produces a wealth of data that can help the entire system work together more harmoniously.

Together with energy yield predictions, machine learning can determine:

  • Where energy is needed most and where it is not
  • Where supply is booming and where it’s likely to fall short
  • Where blackouts are happening and where they are likely
  • When to supplement supplies by activating additional energy-generating infrastructure

Putting machine learning in the mix can also yield insights and actionable takeaways based on a client’s energy usage. Advanced metering tools help pinpoint which processes or appliances are drawing more power than they should. This helps energy clients make equipment upgrades and other changes to improve their own energy efficiency and further balance demand across the grid.

Automating Commercial and Residential Systems

The ability to re-balance the energy grid and respond more quickly to blackouts cannot be undersold. But machine learning is an ideal companion to renewable energy on the individual level as well. Machine learning is the underlying technology behind smart thermostats and automated climate control and lighting systems.

Achieving a sustainable future means we have to electrify everything and cut the fossil fuels cord once and for all. Electrifying everything means we need to make renewable energy products more accessible. More accessible renewable energy products means we need to make commercial and residential locations more energy-efficient than ever.

Machine learning gives us thermostats, lighting, and other products that learn from user preferences and patterns and fine-tune their own operation automatically. Smart home and automation products like these might seem like gimmicks at first, but they’re actually an incredibly important part of our renewable future. They help ensure we’re not burning through our generated power, renewable or otherwise, when we don’t need to be.

Bottom Line

To summarize all this, machine learning offers a way to analyze and draw actionable conclusions from energy sector data. It brings other gifts, too. Inspections powered by machine learning are substantially more accurate than inspections performed by hand, which is critical for timely maintenance and avoiding downtime at power-generating facilities.

Machine learning also helps us predict and identify factors that could result in blackouts and respond more quickly (and with pinpoint accuracy) to storm damage.

Given that the demand for energy is only expected to rise across the globe in the coming years, now is an ideal time to use every tool at our disposal to make our energy grids more resilient, productive and cost-effective. Machine learning provides the means to do it.