PKS From Africa Can Fuel Biomass Power Plants in Japan

Japan’s biomass fuel requirement is estimated to be tens of millions of tons each year on account of its projected biomass energy capacity of 6,000MW by the year 2030. To achieve this capacity, more than 20 million tons of biomass fuel will be needed every year which will be mainly met by wood pellets and palm kernel shell (PKS). The similarity of the properties of wood pellets with PKS makes PKS the main competitor of wood pellets in the international biomass fuel market.

PKS-biomass

PKS has emerged as an attractive biomass commodity in Japan

Canada and USA are the biggest suppliers of wood pellets to the Japanese biomass market while PKS mainly comes from Indonesia and Malaysia. With the size of the material almost the same as wood pellets, but at a cheaper price (almost half the wood pellets) and also available in abundance, PKS is the preferred biomass fuel for the Japanese market. PKS can be used 100% in power plants that use fluidized bed combustion technology, while wood pellets are used in pulverized combustion.

Although there is abundant PKS in CPO (crude palm oil) producing countries, but fluctuations in CPO production and increase in domestic demand has led to reduction in PKS exports in Southeast Asia. In palm oil plantations, it is known as the low crop season and peak crop season. When the low crop season usually occurs in the summer or dry season, the supply of fruit to the palm oil mills decreases so that the CPO production decreases and also the supply of PKS automatically reduces, and vice versa in the peak crop season. When demand is high or even stable but supply decreases, the price of PKS tends to rise.

In addition, a wide range of industries in Indonesia and Malaysia have also began to use PKS as an alternative fuel triggering increased domestic demand. In recent years, PKS is also being processed into solid biomass commodities such as torrified PKS, PKS charcoal and PKS activated carbon. Thus, there is very limited scope of increasing PKS supply from Southeast Asia to large-scale biomass consumers like Japan and South Korea.

Palm oil mills process palm oil fruit from palm oil plantations, so the more fruit is processed the greater the PKS produced and also more processors or mills are needed. At present it is estimated that there are more than 1500 palm oil mills in Indonesia and Malaysia. Palm kernel shells from Indonesia and Malaysia is either being exported or used domestically by various industries. On the other hand, in other parts of the world PKS is still considered a waste which tends to pollute the environment and has no economic value.

Palm Oil Producers

Top palm oil producers around the world

West African countries, such Nigeria, Ghana and Togo, are still struggling to find a sustainable business model for utilization of PKS. Keeping in view the tremendous PKS requirements in the Asia-Pacific region, major PKS producers in Africa have an attractive business opportunity to export this much-sought after biomass commodity to the Japan, South Korea and even Europe.

Simply speaking, PKS collected from palm oil mills is dried, cleaned and shipped to the destination country. PKS users have special specifications related to the quality of the biomass fuel used, so PKS needs to be processed before exporting.

PKS-export

PKS exports from Indonesia and Malaysia to Japan are usually  with volume 10 thousand tons / shipment by bulk ship. The greater the volume of the ship or the more cargo the PKS are exported, the transportation costs will generally be cheaper. African countries are located quite far from the Asia-Pacific region may use larger vessels such as the Panamax vessel to export their PKS.

Biomass Energy in Nigeria: An Overview

Oil and gas accounts for over 70% of energy consumed in Nigeria, according to the World Bank. Considering this dependency on fossil oil and possibility of it running out in the future, there should be an urgent intervention to look into other ways to generate energy in Nigeria. The world is moving away gradually from fossil oil and aligning towards sustainable energy resources to substitute conventional fuel, Nigeria should not be exempted from this movement. Biomass, a popular form of renewable energy, is considered as a credible and green alternative source of energy which many developed and developing countries have been maximizing to its potential.

biomass-sustainability

Power generation and supply have been inadequate in Nigeria. This inadequacy of power limits human, commercial and industrial productivity and economic growth . What is the use of infrastructure without constant electricity? Even God created light first. Sustainable and constant supply of power should be one of the priority of government in nation development. Investing in biomass will cause an increase in the amount of power generated in Nigeria. Infact, biomass energy has the potential to resolve the energy crisis in the country in the not so distant future.

What is Biomass

The word biomass refers to organic matter (mainly plants) which acts as a source of sustainable and renewable energy. It is a renewable energy source because the plants can be replaced as oppose to the conventional fossil fuel which is not renewable. Biomass energy is a transferred energy from the sun; plants derives energy from the sun through photosynthesis which is further transferred through the food chain to animals’ bodies and their waste.

Biomass has the potential to provide an affordable and sustainable source of energy, while at the same time help in curbing the green house effect. In India the total biomass generation capacity is 8,700 MW according to U.S. of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, whereas the generating capacity in U.S. is 20,156  MW with 178 biomass power plants, according to Biomass Magazine.

Power Sector in Nigeria

Unfortunately, the total installed electricity capacity generated in Nigeria is 12,522 MW, well below the current demand of 98,000MW . The actual output is about 3,800MW, resulting in a demand shortfall of 94,500MW throughout the country. As a result of this wide gap between demand and output, only 45% of Nigeria’s population has access to electricity. Renewable energy contributed 19% of total electricity generated in Nigeria out of which biomass contribution is infinitesimal.

Electricity generation for Nigeria’s grid is largely dominated by two sources; non-renewable thermal (natural gas and coal) and renewable (hydro). Nigeria depends on non-renewable energy despite its vast potential in renewable sources such as solar, wind, biomass and hydro. The total potential of these renewables is estimated at over 68,000MW, which is more than five times the current power output.

Biomass Resources in Nigeria

Biomass can come in different forms like wood and wood waste, agriculture produce and waste, solid waste.

Wood

Electricity can be generated with wood and wood product/waste(like sawdust) in modern day through cogeneration, gasification or pyrolysis.

Agriculture Residues

In Nigeria, agricultural residues are highly important sources of biomass fuels for both the domestic and industrial sectors. Availability of primary residues for energy application is usually low since collection is difficult and they have other uses as fertilizer, animal feed etc.

However secondary residues are usually available in relatively large quantities at the processing site and may be used as captive energy source for the same processing plant involving minimal transportation and handling cost.

Municipal Solid Waste

Back then in secondary school, I learnt that gas could be tapped from septic tank which could further be used for cooking.  Any organic waste (like animal waste, human waste) when decomposed by anaerobic microorganisms releases biogas which can be tapped and stored for either cooking or to generate electricity.

Biomass can be used to provide heat and electricity as well as biofuel and biogas for transport. There are enough biomass capacity to meet our demand for electricity and other purposes. From climatic point of view, there is a warm climate in Nigeria which is a good breeding ground for bacteria to grow and decompose the wastes. There are plant and animal growth all year round which in turn create waste and consequently produce biomass.

In November 2016, The Ebonyi State Government  took over  the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) demonstration biomass gasifier power plant located at the UNIDO Mini -industrial cluster in Ekwashi Ngbo in Ohaukwu Local Government Area of the State. The power plant is to generate 5.5 Megawatt energy using rice husk and other available waste materials available. More of these type of power plants and commitment are needed to utilize the potential of biomass fully.

Why Biomass Energy?

Since biomass makes use of waste to supply energy, it helps in waste management. It also has the potential to supply more energy (10 times) than the one produced from sun and wind. Biomass will lead to increase in revenue generation and conserves our foreign exchange. Increase in energy generation will yield more productivity for industries and the rate at which they are shutting down due to the fact that they spend more on power will be reduced to minimal.

Many local factories/companies will spring up and foreign investors will be eager to invest in Nigeria with little concern about power. Establishment of biopower plants will surely create more jobs and indirectly reduce the number of people living in poverty which is increasing everyday at an alarming rate.

Africa’s most populous country needs more than 10 times its current electricity output to guarantee supply for its 198 million people – nearly half of whom have no access at all, according to power minister Babatunde Fashola. Biomass energy potential in Nigeria is promising –  with heavy investment, stake holder cooperation and development of indigenous technologies. The deployment of large-scale biomass energy systems will not only significantly increase Nigeria’s electricity capacity but also ease power shortages in the country.

Use of Palm Kernel Shells in Circulating Fluidized Bed Power Plants

Palm kernel shells are widely used in fluidized bed combustion-based power plants in Japan and South Korea. The key advantages of fluidized bed combustion (FBC) technology are higher fuel flexibility, high efficiency and relatively low combustion temperature. FBC technology, which can either be bubbling fluidized bed (BFB) or circulating fluidized bed (CFB), is suitable for plant capacities above 20 MW. Palm kernel shells (PKS) is more suitable for CFB-based power plant because its size is less than 4 cm.

palm-kernel-shell-uses

Palm kernel shells is an abundant biomass resource in Southeast Asia

With relatively low operating temperature of around 650 – 900 oC, the ash problem can be minimized. Certain biomass fuels have high ash levels and ash-forming materials that can potentially damage these generating units. In addition, the fuel cleanliness factor is also important as certain impurities, such as metals, can block the air pores on the perforated plate of FBC unit. It is to be noted that air, especially oxygen, is essential for the biomass combustion process and for keeping the fuel bed in fluidized condition.

The requirements for clean fuel must be met by the provider or seller of the biomass fuel. Usually the purchasers require an acceptable amount of impurities (contaminants) of less than 1%. Cleaning of PKS is done by sifting (screening) which may either be manual or mechanical.

In addition to PKS, biomass pellets from agricultural wastes or agro-industrial wastes, such as EFB pellets which have a high ash content and low melting point, can also be used in CFB-based power plants. More specifically, CFBs are more efficient and emit less flue gas than BFBs.

The disadvantages of CFB power plant is the high concentration of the flue gas which demands high degree of efficiency of the dust precipitator and the boiler cleaning system. In addition, the bed material is lost alongwith ash and has to be replenished regularly.

A large-scale biomass power plant in Japan

The commonly used bed materials are silica sand and dolomite. To reduce operating costs, bed material is usually reused after separation of ash. The technique is that the ash mixture is separated from a large size material with fine particles and silica sand in a water classifier. Next the fine material is returned to the bed.

Currently power plants in Japan that have an efficiency of more than 41% are only based on ultra supercritical pulverized coal. Modification of power plants can also be done to improve the efficiency, which require more investments. The existing CFB power plants are driving up the need to use more and more PKS in Japan for biomass power generation without significant plant modifications.

Global Trends in the Biomass Sector

There has been a flurry of activity in the biomass 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 biomass 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.

biomass-power-trends

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.