Friday, May 08, 2009

Biomass for Fuel, Power, Heat, and Chemicals

Academics and policy wonks may argue about whether biomass energy works better via fuels or via electricity, but that is just another "angels on the head of a pin" argument. Academics and policy wankers get paid for wrangling, regardless of the outcome. For them, the argument itself is the point -- the bread and butter.

For those of us who live in the real world, who must get results for our work, the question is not an either-or issue. Biomass works quite well for fuels (liquid and gaseous) and for electricity. Biomass will also work for high-value chemicals, for plastics, for heating, and other uses.

Bioelectricity will find increasing use as better methods of farming and cultivating land, ocean, and microbial biomass take root. Torrefied biomass can be co-fired with coal for integrated gasification combined cycle CHP applications, pyrolysis oil can be fired in oil-burners for heat, power, and CHP, and synthesis gas can be fired in place of natural gas for industrial and utility purposes.

What all of the highly paid policy wanks, consultants, and academicians appear to be missing is that for the foreseeable future, biomass will be a solution to local and regional problems -- not a global solution. These academically lobotomised psychological neotenates are well programmed to think in terms of the "magic bullet" compleat solution.

That is not what the world needs at all. The world is a hodge-podge of needs and requirements, badly in need of local and regional economic, industrial, energy, and social solutions. Biomass -- whether grown on land, in the sea, or in tanks -- can be made to fit the needs of a particular climate and terrain. Transport expenses should be minimal because only the absolute excess not needed locally will be transported.

Growing, harvesting, pre-processing, processing, and refining of biomass to fuels, electricity, chemicals, materials, heat, etc. will be scaled up or down according to available growing area and regional needs.

Thinking on the appropriate scale answers most of the questions being thrown about by self-important analysts and policy-makers.

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