FutureMetrics recently published a white paper, titled “The Lowest Cost Solution for Maximum Decarbonization of the Power Sector While Maintaining Grid Reliability,” that compares two scenarios for powering carbon emissions in the power generation sector.
The first scenario assumes coal plants are retired and replaced with new combined cycle natural gas generation stations. The second assumes that existing pulverized coal plants are modified to use wood pellets rather than coal. Within the paper, author William Strauss notes his analysis shows converting coal plants to wood pellets is the solution that provides significantly higher carbon dioxide reduction at a lower net monetary cost per avoided ton.
As wood pellet imports in Japan begin to accelerate, industry professionals offer cautious optimism that an Asian market opportunity for North American producers has arrived.
In July, Japan imported 52,000 tons of wood pellets, eclipsing the previous monthly high of 51, 500 tons set in December 2015. Additionally, monthly volumes in 2016 have been more consistent in contrast to the peaks and valleys that defined 2014 and 2015. As a result, Japan is expected to finish 2016 having imported between 350,000 and 400,000 tons of wood pellets and producers around the world are optimistic that Japan’s wood pellet demand is set to rise steadily to 1 million tons per year within the next handful of years.
Wood pellet imports to the U.K. fell 24 percent year-over-year in August after record high imports during the first half of 2016, but are expected to reach a new all-time high this year, according to the North American Wood Fiber Review.
Maine is poised to finally begin shipping wood chips to Europe for power generation next year if plans underway at Eastport and Searsport stay on schedule.
After years of false starts, these developments would be especially welcome now, as the ongoing decline of the paper and in-state biomass power industries has hit hundreds of loggers and truckers who used to harvest and move fiber to Maine mills and generators. The value of U.S.-based wood fuel sent to the European Union in 2015 exceeded $684 million, according to export research firm WISERtrade, but none of it came from Maine.
The state’s first opportunity could come next year in Eastport, where the port authority has been working on export plans since 2009. A company it has partnered with is building special equipment that processes the chips to standards required in Europe. Chris Gardner, the authority’s director, said that while the equipment may be ready by year’s end, he thinks it’s more realistic to begin exporting wood chips in 2017.
US utility company Duke Energy Carolinas (DEC) has issued a request for 750,000MWh of energy located in its territory, including biomass and landfill gas installations.
Results from the request for proposals (RFP) will help DEC meet North Carolina’s 2007 Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS), which mandates the company generate 12.5% of its retail sales in the state by renewable energy or energy efficiency programmes by 2021.
The RFP is open to biomass, landfill gas, solar, wind, and other facilities that qualify as a renewable energy resource under REPS requirements, excluding swine and poultry waste.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, together with leading petroleum refining technologies supplier W.R. Grace, and leading pilot plant designer Zeton Inc., built a unique pilot-scale facility that can produce biomass-derived fuel intermediates with existing petroleum refinery infrastructure. This pilot plant, constructed in part with funding from the Bioenergy Technologies Office, combines biomass pyrolysis together with fluid catalytic cracking—one of the most important conversion processes used in petroleum refineries—to demonstrate the potential to co-process biomass-derived streams with petroleum, at an industrially-relevant pilot scale.
There are 110 domestic fluid catalytic cracking units currently operating in the United States. Using them to co-produce biofuel could enable production of more than 8 billion gallons of bio-derived fuels, without construction of separate biorefineries. This would significantly contribute to the renewable fuel standard mandate set by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 to produce 21 billion gallons of advanced renewable transportation fuels by 2022.
The UK’s renewable energy industry has hit back at new economic analysis which finds that biomass power could be causing more carbon pollution than burning coal or natural gas, claiming it is “distorting the facts”.
A study released today (17 October) by US-based environmental organisation the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) examines the ‘full system costs’ of wind and solar energy relative to biomass for replacing coal and meeting the UK’s clean energy targets for the period 2020-25.
Considering the latest technology costs; the cost of ensuring reliability of supply, and carbon costs, the NRDC concludes that wind and solar power are likely to be less expensive than burning trees for biomass, and that many forms of biomass – such as that from forests – have been producing higher carbon emissions than coal and natural gas for decades.
However, the report has been discredited by the Renewable Energy Association (REA), which in 2013 founded the Wood Heat Association to support the modern wood heat & biomass generation.
The REA’s head of policy and external affairs James Court told edie: “It is a shame that yet again, misleading reports are fundamentally distorting the facts with a misunderstanding of how the biomass industry works. The REA and wider industry are always eager to engage with any report into the carbon savings that biomass can achieve, something this organisation did not try to obtain.”
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd, the leading research and technology company in the Nordic countries, is seeking a carbon capture technology for Finnish power and heat production plants. The first pilots were implemented, using wood pellets, at VTT’s Bioruukki and the results are promising.
Finland is well on its way to achieving the 2020 climate goals, but it is already clear that the goals for 2050 are impossible to attain without major changes in energy production and other industries.
VTT has calculated that Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) could cost-effectively cover one third of Finland’s share of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. More than 80 per cent of carbon capture measures would concern the burning or refining biomass, and the rest would concern the coal-intensive industry. Biomass is a renewable natural fuel that binds carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it grows. If the carbon dioxide generated by burning of biomass is captured and permanently stored deep in bedrock, carbon dioxide can be removed from the atmosphere.
Chemical Looping Combustion (CLC) is a promising carbon capture technology suitable for new plants. This technology produces flue gas that consists of carbon dioxide and water vapour as a by-product. Since the gas contains no nitrogen, carbon dioxide is easy to separate and capture – unlike in alternative technologies. Biomass burning with the help of the CLC technology (Bio-CLC) is a new research area, and VTT’s experiments in the sector are pioneering on a global scale.
A set of newly published studies evaluated nearly forty years of data on the impacts of biomass utilization on soil, tree, and plant recovery and found minimal impact using certain forest harvesting techniques.
The experiments, initiated in 1974, were conducted by scientists from the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station on the Coram Experimental Forest, located in Northwestern Montana. In order to evaluate the ecological consequences of large-scale biomass harvesting, scientists implemented three different tree removal techniques on the landscape – group selection (remove small groups of trees), clearcut (remove all timber), and shelterwood (retain some trees for shade and structure) – all using cable logging. On all three sites the soil was left relatively undisturbed from the harvesting and varying amounts of downed wood were left to promote soil organic matter and wildlife habitat. For some sites, prescribed fire was applied to reduce fuels and fire danger. Scientists then tracked these sites over 38 years to provide a contemporary look at the long-term impacts of biomass utilization on forest productivity (e.g., tree growth).
The USDA Foreign Agricultural Service recently released a Global Agricultural Information Network report on Japan’s renewable fuel industry, which reviews the country’s renewable fuel mandates/policy and progress toward meeting them.
The report provides an overview of Japan’s current plan to introduce 500 million liters of crude oil equivalent biofuel by 2017, the country’s sustainability standards and incentives for biofuels, and touches on other renewable policies and programs, including a goal to increase Japan’s power supply from renewable energy sources to 22-24 percent by 2030.