Bioenergy projects are plagued by several problems. This article makes an attempt at collating some of the most prominent issues associated with biomass technologies and provides plausible solutions in order to seek further promotion of biomass energy technologies. The solutions provided below are based on author’s understanding and experience in this field.
Here are the top issues in biomass energy projects around the world:
1. Large Project Costs
The project costs are to a great extent comparable to these technologies which actually justify the cause. Also, people tend to ignore the fact, that most of these plants, if run at maximum capacity could generate a Plant Load Factor (PLF) of 80% and above. This figure is about 2-3 times higher than what its counterparts wind and solar energy based power plants could provide. This however, comes at a cost – higher operational costs.
2. Lower Efficiency of Biomass Technologies
The solution to this problem, calls for innovativeness in the employment of these technologies. To give an example, one of the paper mill owners in India, had a brilliant idea to utilize his industrial waste to generate power and recover the waste heat to produce steam for his boilers. The power generated was way more than he required for captive utilization. With the rest, he melts scrap metal in an arc and generates additional revenue by selling it.
Although such solutions are not possible in each case, one needs to possess the acumen to look around and innovate – the best means to improve the productivity with regards to these technologies.
3. Immature Technologies
One needs to look beyond what is directly visible. There is a humongous scope of employment of these biomass technologies for decentralized power generation. With regards to scale, few companies have already begun conceptualizing ultra-mega scale power plants based on biomass resources. Power developers and critics need to take a leaf out of these experiences.
4. Lack of Funding Options
The most essential aspect of any biomass energy project is the resource assessment. Investors if approached with a reliable resource assessment report could help regain their interest in such projects. Moreover, the project developers also need to look into community based ownership models, which have proven to be a great success, especially in rural areas.
The project developer needs to not only assess the resource availability but also its alternative utilization means. It has been observed that if a project is designed by considering only 10-12% of the actual biomass to be available for power generation, it sustains without any hurdles.
5. Non-Transparent Trade Markets
Most countries still lack a common platform to the buyers and sellers of biomass resources. As a result of this, their price varies from vendor to vendor even when considering the same feedstock. Entrepreneurs need to come forward and look forward to exploiting this opportunity, which could not only bridge the big missing link in the resource supply chain but also could transform into a multi-billion dollar opportunity.
6. High Risks / Low Paybacks
Biomass energy plants are plagued by numerous uncertainties including fuel price escalation and unreliable biomass resource supply to name just a few. Project owners should consider other opportunities to increase their profit margins. One of these could very well include tying up with the power exchanges as is the case in India, which could offer better prices for the power that is sold at peak hour slots.
The developer may also consider the option of merchant sale to agencies which are either in need of a consistent power supply and are presently relying on expensive back-up means (oil/coal) or are looking forward to purchase “green power” to cater to their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives.
7. Resource Price Escalation
A study of some of the successful biomass energy plants globally would result in the conclusion of the inevitability of having own biomass resource base to cater to the plant requirements. This could be through captive forestry or energy plantations at waste lands or fallow lands surrounding the plant site. Although, this could escalate the initial project costs, it would prove to be a great cushion to the plants operational costs in the longer run.
In cases where it is not possible to go for such an alternative, one must seek case-specific biomass procurement models, consider help from local NGOs, civic bodies etc. and go for long-term contracts with the resource providers.