Biomass energy, especially woody biomass fuels, is our cleanest combustion solution to heating buildings and generating electricity through combined heat and power (CHP). Unfortunately, there is no powerful lobby to promote biomass heating or CHP. So most people do not know the benefits of woody biomass, and how it will help the nation’s energy future.
Sustainable Biomass Fuels
Biomass fuels are useful in a variety of ways, and from a variety of sources.
Wood heating —
Modern wood stoves burn wood at more than 70 percent efficiency. Wood is often less expensive to harvest or buy than fossil fuels when forests are close to residences and businesses.
Wood chipping and pelletizing —
Wood provides feedstock for wood fuel production. Wood chips are a very economical fuel and wood pellets are only slightly less economical fuel because of the additional processing they require. Using chips or pellets for heat or CHP produces 6 to 12 times the useful energy compared to liquid fuels from coal, corn, or wood.
Biomass combined heat and power (CHP) —
Leinz, Austria and Helsinki, Finland burn wood chips at 85 percent efficiency, generating electricity and heating water for buildings. Biomass CHP may be the highest and best use of biomass solid fuel. American and European industry is introducing a wide variety of CHP unit sizes and operating methods.
Ethanol and other fuels from cellulose —
Cellulosic ethanol has created new hope for the sustainable liquid-fuel production for internal combustion vehicles. Ethanol from cellulose was accomplished in 1898, and many energy experts question why cellulosic ethanol isn’t already commercially viable. Maybe this small industry needs more research and demonstration projects to push it into commercial viability.
However, all liquid transportation fuels require substantial energy input for refining, as well as the transportation of raw materials and finished products. Waste heat from fuel combustion can’t be captured from the thousands of individual vehicles as it can in a central electrical generating plants (CHP).
Using recycled vegetable oil for diesel transportation makes perfect sense. Unfortunately the relatively small supply of recycled oil limits the impact of biodiesel in the transportation market.
Biomass composting for fertilizer —
Chemical fertilizer prices are volatile because of the fluctuating price of natural gas and rising demand for food. Biomass handling generates a lot of biomass byproducts that aren’t suitable for combustion, including bark, ash, and partially composted wood waste. These by-products can be combined with other biomass materials including: agricultural waste, animal manure, tree trimmings, and lawn waste to produce organic fertilizer for field crops and greenhouse crops, using well-known composting procedures. Combined with fertilizer conservation, and minimizing the transportation costs of fertilizers, organic fertilizers can make a significant contribution to world-wide food production.
Biomass energy can replace part of our fossil-fuel energy, but we can’t put too much pressure on our fragile soil to produce the biomass. Combined heat and power (CHP) can help to use the biomass fuels at the highest thermal efficiency.
Biomass energy, coupled with proper energy conservation, will play a big part in the energy future of America.