As concerns about global climate change increase, many of the world’s governments are mandating increasing utilization of biomass in their energy portfolio. Many utilities are following suit, constructing biomass power plants or co-firing biomass with coal to reduce their carbon footprint.
However, the unique characteristics of biomass provide limited opportunities for co-firing and centralized biomass power production. Unlike coal, which has high energy density and can be mined en mass from a single location, biomass is generally highly distributed and has low energy density. This limits the potential of co-firing and centralized biomass power production to a small fraction of available biomass around the world. Transporting biomass for co-firing becomes economically prohibitive beyond a radius of around 50 miles from the power plant. For centralized biomass power production, the plant must be co-located near a large source of readily available biomass, such as a paper mill or large sawmill.
This leaves the majority of potential biomass resources non-economical for power conversion. In the U.S., up to 6,000 GWh of potential biomass power annually is disposed of. Developing technology that can utilize this resource provides dual economic and environmental benefits. Disposal costs are reduced and the sale of electricity provides a secondary income source. From an environmental perspective, not only is landfill space reduced, but emissions from transporting the biomass to the landfill are eliminated and power is produced with zero net greenhouse gas emissions.
However, conventional boiler systems are non-economical in sizes below approximately 10 MW. Development of a distributed power system, optimized for power production at 1 MW to 5 MW, would provide the enabling technology to utilize these biomass resources near the point of resource production.