Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Baseload Trumps Intermittency

Intermittent energy production from wind and solar is a headache for utility managers and grid managers. The sheer unpredictability of these "green" power sources is driving energy managers from Denmark to Ireland to Texas to distraction. Despite anything that Obama claims, you cannot replace baseload power with intermittent power and expect good results. That is why interest in bioenergy continues to grow.
World biofuel production will track increases in demand as most countries seek to foster domestic biofuel industries, both to reduce reliance upon imported oil, and to foster domestic economic development. This will continue to favor the development of cereal-based (maize and wheat) bioethanol capacity in North America and Western Europe, as well as sugarcane-based bioethanol production in Latin America. Likewise, biodiesel production will center on soy oil in the Americas, rapeseed oil in Europe, and palm (and increasingly jatropha) in the Asia/Pacific. Third-generation cellulosic bioethanol and algae biodiesel technologies will remain an increasingly significant part of any sustainable energy plans. _Bioenergy
Big money investors are beginning to involve themselves in bioenergy. Chevron Oil and Weyerhauser have teamed to create Catchlight Energy. Catchlight plans to utilise "intercropping" of switchgrass and rapidly growing trees to provide for maximum biomass production per acre.
To grow sufficient biomass, Catchlight is going back to an old but proven sustainable agricultural model, moving away from monoculture to growing several crops on the same site. Burnside framed Catchlight’s land husbandry breakthrough, called intercropping, as a new concept.

Weyerhaeuser intends to grow a native American prairie grass call switchgrass between the trees planted on its southern U.S. lands. The grass grows fast and can be harvested every year, roughly doubling the biomass grown per hectare.

Weyerhaeuser provides a ready source of biomass but it’s up to Chevron to develop the key to making a fuel that can go straight into a car, truck or jet airliner.

This next-generation biofuel is based on chemical conversion technologies similar to those found in the petrochemical industry. The advantage is that they can directly replace fossil fuels using existing infrastructure. Green hydrocarbon fuels, according to the National Science Foundation of the United States, are essentially the same as those currently derived from petroleum except that they are made from biomass. _Bioenergy
Paradoxically, success in bioenergy may allow for successful incremental expansion of wind and solar. Wind and solar require reliable backup, which bioenergy can provide. New solar thermal plants are beginning to use biomass firing and co-firing with coal to provide backup energy and 24 hour energy.

The key is to match local and regional needs with local and regional resources. The idea that one particular energy source is the magic bullet to supply everyone with everything they need is absurd.



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