Biomass Conversion: Technological Solutions

In the past century, much of the world’s energy needs have been supplied by hydrocarbon based fuels which have provided a plentiful and inexpensive energy source.

RE Insider – April 28, 2003 However concerns over the adequacy of their future supply, the increasing concern over political costs, in terms of trying to enforce political stability in politically unstable areas, and the environmental costs, in terms of human induced climate change and the effects of mining and transportation of fossil fuels, have made them a less desirable energy source. This is currently leading to an intensive investigation of all renewable energy sources and efficient energy conversion technologies. Ideal alternative and renewable energy sources are those which are plentiful, renewable, clean, inexpensive and readily dispatchable on demand. Ideal energy conversion technologies are those which prove to be clean, efficient, otherwise cost effective and dependable. None fit these criteria better than biomass. The use of renewable fuels is not problem free, however, with concerns about emissions, economic and environmental concerns with producing, gathering, storing and transporting biomass fuels and in disposing of residues from the conversion processes. The most promising process for achieving the desired results varies with the application requirements. Gasification and starved air combustion have been tried with mixed results but have not yet generally proven entirely satisfactory in consuming widely diverse fuels, some of which may be considered contaminated and/or non-homogeneous, such as municipal solid wastes. One problem has been in maximizing combustion efficiency while minimizing generation of air pollutants. Another problem is collecting and transporting these fuels over long distances between large scale incineration facilities. Another problem is that ordinary incineration of municipal solid waste and industrial waste and utilization of biomass from agricultural and lumbering operations currently cannot be done efficiently and effectively in the same conversion system. While the pollution problem can be solved to a degree by the utilization of new antipollution technologies, such measures are very expensive and their cost may completely offset the advantages of using alternative energy in the first place. What is currently needed is a new type conversion system that can utilize any combination of locally available fuels efficiently, cleanly and economically, to produce heat, steam or gas for heating spaces and domestic water supplies or for electric power generation in rural or urban applications. This is especially true with regard to small to medium scale systems, better suited to developing countries, low income areas and smaller communities. About the Author Les Blevins is President of Advanced Alternative Energy Corporation, the developer of the Sequential Grates fuels conversion system. Blevins has a career of over 40 years in various industrial environments. He can be reached at [email protected]