Biomass Conference and Expo
St. Louis, Missouri USA
Biomass power is the use of biomass to generate electricity. These technologies include direct firing, cofiring, gasification, anaerobic digestion and other technologies. While many biomass power plants today use direct-fired systems, more advanced approaches—many including combined heat and power—are being deployed worldwide. In combined heat and power (CHP) systems, for example, a power plant's spent steam is also used for manufacturing processes and/or building heat, boosting the overall efficiency of the system.
While many of today's biomass power plants are small, industrial cogeneration or heating applications, utility-scale plants with capacities in excess of 80 megawatts have been commissioned. That's not all. In Brazil, the United States and other nations, biofuels plants are becoming true biorefineries, incorporating the production of fuels, chemicals and power at a single location.
With massive government investments in green infrastructure and renewable energy expected to take place in the United States, interest in biomass power is on the rise. Although the primary driver to consider biomass power has been its potential to lower heat and power production costs, the anticipation of global carbon markets and renewable power mandates is spurring a new wave of investment in this sector. These facilities can generate electricity at any time, unlike most other renewable sources of energy. In the United States, biomass power plants currently represent 11,000 megawatts of capacity, the second largest amount of renewable energy in the nation.
As almost everyone on the planet now knows, biomass can be converted directly into liquid fuels—"biofuels"—that help meet the world's transportation fuel needs. Biofuels are defined as solid, liquid or gaseous fuels derived from relatively recently dead biological material and are distinguished from fossil fuels, which are derived from long dead biological material. Theoretically, biofuels can be produced from any biological carbon source (i.e., biomass waste and non-food energy crops). Various plants and plant-derived materials are used for biofuels manufacturing.
Globally, biofuels are most commonly used to power vehicles and heat homes and buildings. While the two most common types of biofuels are ethanol and biodiesel derived from grains, the era of advanced biofuels—cellulosic ethanol, biomass-based diesel, biobutanol, bio-oil, green gasoline and biobased jet fuel—is drawing nearer. The U.S. Renewable Fuels Standard requires the use of 600 million gallons of advanced biofuels in 2009, increasing to 21 billion gallons by 2022. The Obama Administration has pledged to push for a flexible fuel vehicle mandate and an enhanced RFS calling for 60 billion gallons of biofuels by 2030.
The petrochemical industry manufactures innumerable products from fossil fuels: plastics, chemicals, and other products that are integral to modern life. Today, nearly all of these products can be made from renewable, carbon neutral biomass. The processes are similar. The petrochemical industry breaks oil and natural gas down to base chemicals and then builds desired products from them. Biorefining technology breaks biomass down to component sugars. Fermentation, chemical catalysis, and other processes can then be used to create new products such as valuable chemical intermediates that can be used in manufacturing processes.
Given the current robust forces driving sustainable bioproducts production, biomass-based routes are expected to make a significant impact on the production of bulk chemicals in the next decade, and a huge impact within 20 to 30 years. About 5 percent of global chemical sales currently are made up of "green products," but the market share could rise to 20 percent by 2010 and may reach 66 percent of the total global economy. According to some scientists, 10 percent to 15 percent of fossil oil-based bulk chemicals could be replaced in the near term by biobased bulk chemicals, especially for oxygenated bulk chemicals.
As a source of chemicals, biomass has several intrinsic advantages over fossil mass: it is renewable, flexible through crop switching, and adaptable through genetic manipulation. Direct and indirect strategies to substitute biobased chemicals for petrochemicals are being based on sustainable ecological succession concepts, and the proliferation of lignocellulosic fractionation processes is arising from the need for inexpensive, chemically useful biomass feedstocks.