Microturbines Fuel Growth of the Biomass Industry

Cogeneration is a renewable energy model capable of killing three birds with one stone. Also called “combined heat and power” (CHP), the cogeneration process takes biomass waste that would otherwise have to be discarded and transforms it into electricity. In the process, it also cuts carbon emissions – a win-win scenario that is pushing the biomass industry toward exponential global growth.

One of the leading developers of clean energy microturbines, Capstone Turbine Corporation, has at least one of its considerable feet planted firmly in that future. From pig farms to breweries, Capstone’s microturbines are making full circle cogeneration an economically and environmentally friendly reality for a diversity of industries.

In March, it was announced that the company would be installing five of its microturbines at a water recycling plant in Irvine, California. In May, Capstone made overtures to expand its presence in the European renewable energy market by cementing plans to install a large microturbine at a solid waste treatment center in Finland. And only days ago, the company secured a 4 MW order to install its microturbines in a dairy farm in Australia that will turn biomass into a source of self-supplying power.

Darren Jamison, Capstone’s president and CEO, described the technology as one capable of enabling industries to “turn waste streams into revenue streams.”

Capstone’s microturbines are made unique through the use of a proprietary “air bearing technology” that includes only a single moving part. Jamison said this gives the units a ruggedness and reliability not found in traditional internal combustion engines that require lube oil and other chemicals to function.

“We have the only turbine that doesn’t run with any lube oil, antifreeze, or coolant or grease,” Jamison said, adding that most Capstone microturbines can run for up to two years between unscheduled events. Capstone microturbines operate on a multitude of fuels including biogas, natural gas, propane, methane, diesel and kerosene.

Jamison added that installing microturbines in areas of the world far removed from the grid where traditional internal combustion engines struggle – such as palm oil processing plants in Malaysia, where Capstone microturbines enable plants to generate on-site power using waste generated in the manufacturing process – can yield “70 [percent] to 95 percent total system efficiency” and results in increased economic stability and decreased CO2 emissions.

“People are starting to realize they don’t have to generate power the way their parents and grandparents did,” Jamison said. “As the technologies that enable turning organic waste into energy improve, the costs are coming down. The economics are good, and it’s also good for the environment.”

According to a report last year from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), biomass could comprise 60 percent of the global renewable energy mix and may provide as much as 20 percent of the world’s energy by the year 2030.

In addition to stationary microturbines that can range in size from five to 30 feet deep, Capstone manufactures portable electric vehicle range extenders that can fit under the hood of a car. Jamison said the company is currently testing microturbines in two electric FedEx vehicles. Another of the company’s microturbines is now in use with Wal-Mart’s “truck of the future.”

Lead image: Close up of curious white cow in bunch of cows. Credit: Shutterstock.

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Vince Font is a freelance journalist specializing in the fields of renewable energy, high tech, travel, and entertainment. Read his blog at www.vincefont.com or follow him on Twitter @vincefont.

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