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Friday, March 11, 2011

Size Matters

I cringe when I see the announcements of mega-biomass plants, those 50 megawatts and up.  First of all, the PR can be a nightmare, as city planners in Southhampton, UK are finding out. The vision can be great...
"The electricity generating station would be fed by up to 800,000 tonnes of fuel, mostly wood, and Helius says it would produce enough electricity for 200,000 homes."
But biomass energy is better delivered as heat to 200,000 homes via a hundred district heating projects, each serving 2,000 homes, with the best-suited projects producing power to the grid. Or as pellets (or firewood) to individual homes. The visual and environmental footprint of the smaller projects is cleaner, more manageable, and more sensitive to supply and demand fluctuations. And beyond the environmental fears of the community, the long-term supply logistics of mega-plants are increasingly difficult to support, and this problem increases in magnitude exponentially with size. The capital risk of these large projects ensures that they will dominate the regional biomass market, driving up wood costs for smaller, more efficient facilities and any sawmills, pulp mills, pellet mills, or wood panel plants in the area. And ultimately, it ensures that they will fail to deliver on expectations, and give biomass energy a black eye.

Big power is better suited to more energy-dense feedstock, such as coal, natural gas, or nuclear. Smaller is better when it comes to biomass energy.  Come over and sit with me in front of my wood stove sometime, and we'll discuss it over a couple of Yuenglings; that's as good as it gets.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting points. Another aspect to consider is the energy required to move the wood to these large facilities. Smaller and more localized distribution could require less energy to transport the feedstock.

One challenge is that we are seeing more and more communities trying to limit the burning of wood.

Could you provide information about cleaner burning wood furances and wood stoves for home and commercial use?

Chuck said...

"Smaller and more localized distribution could require less energy to transport the feedstock."

Not only could, it does.

Great point on the emissions factor. I'll put it on the list...

Gary Gilmore glgilmore@comcast.net said...

Are you serious about the Yunegling? I need to talk to someone about processing wood into a form that can be used in a wood gasifier I'm using. So far I've used it to power a VW beetle, a model t truck and small generators. Why can't it also be used to produce electricity with the waste heat captured to heat a home? Talk about a small district CHP unit. I'd like to talk to someone like you who is knowledgeable in the wood biomass arena to see if what I have is worth pursuing. If you need references before you invite me in for a beer in front of your "dirty wood stove" (I heat exclusively with indoor wood stoves), just ask Finley or Jackson.
PS. It has been a long winter and there are only two wheel barrows left of my 6 cords. The ground hog got it wrong this time.
Until later,
Gary