In July 2014, DECC published the Bioenergy Emissions and Counterfactual (BEAC) model, which investigates the impact on carbon emissions of various ways of sourcing woody biomass from North America to produce electricity in the UK. The calculator estimates the greenhouse gas intensity by taking into account the counterfactual land use for the scenario (i.e. what the land or wood would have been used for if it was not used for bioenergy). BEAC shows that some scenarios could save considerable carbon emissions compared to fossil fuels, whilst if others occurred they could cause emissions greater than fossil fuels. BEAC did not assess the likelihood of particular scenarios so, in spring 2015, DECC commissioned an independent study (led by Ricardo-AEA and including North American forestry experts) to assess the likelihood that the most carbon intensive BEAC scenarios are happening now or if they might happen in the future, and what might drive or constrain them.
The study found that the majority of the high carbon scenarios identified in the BEAC report are unlikely to occur, but there are four that may be already happening or may happen in the future, although their scale is likely to be limited or uncertain.
The research identified economic decision making as driving forestry practices: the main value of a tree is in sawtimber, not biomass for wood pellet production. It is therefore unlikely that demand for biomass would cause foresters to change behaviour to harvest sooner than they intended, or to switch to supplying wood for bioenergy, but they may increase the intensity with which they manage forests.
As the world works to replace fossil fuels, wood pellets are playing a key role in decarbonizing power grids. European nations, in particular, have invested heavily in pellets for both heating and electricity generation. To supply this increased demand, global trade in pellets has doubled since 2012, with U.S., Canadian and European producers all playing a role. How this supply stream may evolve is the focus of the European Pellet Supply and Cost Analysis, a new study from RISI, an information provider for the global forest products industry.
ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng., 2016, 4 (12), pp 6355–6361
The use of renewable biomass for production of heat and electricity plays an important role in the circular economy. Degradation of wood biomass to produce heat is a clean and novel process proposed as an alternative to wood burning, and could be used for various heating applications. So far, wood degradation has mostly been studied at ambient temperatures. However, the process needs to occur at elevated temperatures (40–55 °C) to produce useable heat. Our objective was to study wood degradation at elevated temperatures for its potential application on heat production. Two (a thermotolerant and a thermophilic) fungi with different degradation strategies were chosen: lignin-degrading Phanerochaete chrysosporium and cellulose-degrading Chaetomium thermophilum. Each fungus was inoculated on nonsterile and sterile birch woodblocks to, respectively, study their wood degradation activity with and without natural biota (i.e., microorganisms naturally present in wood). The highest wood decay rates were found with C. thermophilum in the presence of natural biota, followed by P. chrysosporium under sterile conditions. The estimated theoretical value of heat production with C. thermophilum under nonsterile conditions was 0.6 W kg–1 wood. In conclusion, C. thermophilum seems to be a promising fungus to degrade wood together with natural biota, as sterilization of wood is not feasible in practice. Further testing on a larger scale is needed to implement the obtained results and validate the potential of biological wood degradation for heat production.
By DONG Energy
For the past 18 months, Avedøre Power Station has been converting its coal-fired power station unit, and the entire combined-heat-and-power plant is now able to produce electricity and heat based on wood pellets and straw, rather than coal and gas.
“Following the conversion of unit 1 at Avedøre Power Station, we can produce heat for more than 215,000 Danish households in the Greater Copenhagen area without using coal or gas. The conversion is a major contribution to achieving a green district heating system in the Greater Copenhagen area as well as a green electricity system, supplementing solar and wind power,” says Thomas Dalsgaard, executive vice president at DONG Energy.
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.
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.”