Biomass promises to be one of the most feasible carbon-neutral ways to wean the nation off of fossil fuels. More practical at the moment than solar, and more reliable than wind, biomass has enormous potential – and researchers around the globe are working around the clock to come up with new ways to scale up biomass as a wide-scale energy source.
The Department of Energy has been studying biomass for years, and recently issued a request for information (RFI) to “understand research, capabilities and yet-to-be addressed challenges pertinent to production scale-up of catalysts for the conversion of biomass and waste streams.” Specifically, they’re looking for insight to scale up lignocellulosic, waste and algal feedstocks as viable fuel sources for biofuels.
Biomass and the Importance of Scale
The problem of scale is one that has proved to be a major challenge for the biomass industry – although it’s one that the industry as a whole is close to solving. Other countries have made significant leaps; China has over 30 million biogas digesters that produce heat and energy from animal waste, and Brazil has over six million vehicles that run on an ethanol/gas mixture from sugarcane biomass.
In the United States, the bottleneck is mostly technological. Most biomass-produced energy comes in the form of woody biomass, either harvested directly from forests or gathered from wood waste. It takes a large amount of biofuel to provide commercially-viable energy to consumers, so producers are looking to lignocellulosic and algal biomass to provide additional fuel sources.
Lignocellulosic biomass – like sugarcane bagasse – is plentiful and energy-dense. Algal biomass can be quickly grown and is more affordable to produce. Both have benefits, but wide-scale adaptation isn’t there yet.
There also needs to be a large-scale boiler system that can accommodate diverse types of biomass fuel, since utilities that service a large amount of customers may very well use different types of biomass in order to get enough fuel to produce enough power.
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that both waste biomass and wood biomass will see increases in consumption from 2017 to 2019. Technology developing further could lead to a more significant increase, mainly because it’ll give the energy sector – and thereby governments – more confidence in the scalability of the industry.
ProcessBarron engineers, constructs, and installs air, ash, and material handling equipment for biomass plants. Contact the team for more information.