September 26 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy Year: General Rating: 8 Hot
We have ‘Big Oil’, so why not ‘Big Biopower’? (And what does it mean for the solar and wind industry?)
ADAGE will be focused on enabling green biopower energy solutions for the US electricity market tapping waste organic materials like wood chips.
BioPower via Waste to Energy?
Bio energy means many things. While most people think of biofuels from corn, this first generation ‘food crop’ source is not the future of bioenergy. (Don’t get distracted by corn ethanol, bio energy potential is vast!)
Real bio energy growth is likely to come from a combination of plant, algae/bacteria and organic waste sources. A leading ‘non-food’ crop resource is Jatropha, but biofuels can also use enzyme supported systems (cellulosic ethanol) or applying chemistry to create hydrogen rich fuels from waste streams.
Bio energy also uses the higher conversion efficiencies of carbon-eating algae to produce biodiesel, and hydrogen-breathing bacteria for electricity.
Adage’s bio source will be organic waste materials like wood chips and other combustible organic matter. It is a large utility scale waste to energy strategy. The company has plans to develop standards for a 50 megawatt (MW) plant that would feed directly into the US electrical grid. This biopower plant would deliver electricity to 40,000 households and ‘avoid 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per year compared to coal.’
Organic material supplies would come from regional industrial suppliers with excess wood wastes and ‘forestry operations within about a 50-mile radius around the biomass power plant.‘
So Adage will develop projects in regions with well established industries that can deliver steady streams of organic waste. [And it is important to note that waste to energy strategies have an obvious limitation based on amount of waste available.)
‘Combustion() based BioPower, but Carbon Neutral‘
Today, electricity is produced by burning things. The energy released from burning off carbon-hydrogen bonds leads to steam that spins turbines to produce electricity. Adage’s form of ‘waste to energy’ is in essence – carbon neutral.
Adage will be burning (I am verifying this claim. See comment section) organic material (trees / plant material) resulting in CO2 emissions, but that carbon is recaptured by trees and plant life. (Assuming more trees, crops and plant life are replaced!)
It might sound sketchy, but the burning of biomass waste is much better than releasing the massive amount of energy of coal that have been locked away in ground deposits for millions of years. So it is a step forward!
Despite its carbon neutral approach, Big BioPower might be a hard pill to swallow for eco-purists which favors non combustion power generation of solar and wind. The prospect of ‘Big BioPower’ could bring an unexpected twist for solar and wind producers looking to tap ‘renewable energy’ credits for state utilities.
More on Big Biopower’s opportunities and challenges ahead for solar and wind
Opportunities – Greening Electrical Grid
The form of BioPower is ideal for the electric utilities sector and traditional base load strategies of delivering electricity. It is also a solid ‘renewable’ resource for regions that might not have ample solar or wind energy resources.
And it will help expand the base of ‘green’ jobs in regions that could use some positive pro-job news.
Challenges – Costs and Impact on Solar/Wind Sector
The energy roadmap for ‘waste to energy’ is not a simple story.
Organic waste does get absorbed into the marketplace. There are companies that utilize wood chips and organic matters. So not all wood chips end up in landfills.
Re-directing wood chips into power generation will likely translate into cost challenges for producers and higher than expected prices for customers. But time will tell if organic waste supplies can compete against other resources.
Biopower could also derail efforts for solar and wind. While more states are setting ‘clean’ and ‘renewable’ energy percentage targets for 2020, it is not a given that these ‘clean’ energy sources will come from the sun and wind.
If states classify biomass to energy under ‘green’ and ‘renewable’ power generation, it might deter investments in solar and wind power generation. So it is hard to imagine 100% support from other sectors.
But ‘Big Biopower’ is certainly a step forward. It helps to close a loop in the carbon cycle and expands our options for cleaner utility power generation. And electricity production could use some cleaner sources!
So we will be watching as this Energy Roadmap unfolds.
Image grendelkhan Flickr/CC-Remix