Tuesday, December 23, 2008

53% of All US Renewables Came from Biomass

Biomass gets no respect, even from self-described engineers who should know better. And yet biomass is the workhorse of renewable energy, with the greatest near and intermediate-term promise for substantial replacement of fossil fuels.
Around the nation, biomass plants have a long, well established history. More than half -- 53 percent -- of all renewables nationwide in 2007 came from biomass, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Biomass advocates point out that this waste produces baseload power -- meaning it can fuel plants around the clock -- while solar power usually operates about 20 to 25 percent of the time.

In Burlington, Vt., the 50-megawatt McNeil power station has been operating successfully since 1984, using mostly left-over branches, leaves and stumps generated by people harvesting firewood or lumber.

Plant manager John Irving says McNeil breaks even at 5.5 cents per kilowatt/hour. (To compare, the typical Florida utility customer pays the utility 10 to 13 cents/kWh.)

...Meanwhile, Georgia Power proposes changing its 96-megawatt Mitchell Plant from burning coal to biomass. This would not only eliminate a source of the worst emitter of greenhouse gases but would also reduce fuel costs by 30 percent and operating-maintenance costs by 13 percent over the life of the plant, according to spokesman Jeff Wilson.

Most of the wood fuel would come from sources considered unusable by timber companies, Georgia Power says. The switch to biomass is estimated to create 50 to 75 new jobs.

In Florida, Biomass Gas & Electric has deals to build three plants, including a 42-megawatt generator in Tallahassee. BG&E spokesman Keith McDermott says the contract will pay BG&E 7.2 cents/kWh. ``Obviously we know we can make the economics work. We're in the business to make money.''

... _MiamiHerald
Biomass has particular advantages and disadvantages, like all forms of energy. It will take time to fit biomass into the best and most economical niches. Time will also be required to determine the best fit of all the various approaches to turning biomass into energy.

Thermochemical conversion of biomass to biofuels and electricity should happen soon and expand quickly to fill available niches. Algal fuels and synthetic microbe generated advanced fuels from lignocellulose will take longer to perfect and mature to production scales. But they will happen. The Earth is a biological planet. Between abundant sunlight, abundant nutrients including atmospheric CO2, and an incredibly stable climate other than glaciations, the potential for production of bioenergy on land, sea, and up into the sky (3D agriculture, aquaculture, and microculture) is virtually unlimited.

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