Biomass for energy: from field to fuel

5 years ago  By  Iuliana Velniciuc     No comments

Agricultural, forestry and residential waste can provide fuel for transport, heat for homes and electricity for businesses, reducing Europe’s dependence on imported fossil fuels and lowering green house gas emissions. EU-funded researchers are overcoming challenges to making residual biomass a technically viable and cost-competitive source of renewable energy.

Biomass currently accounts for almost two thirds of renewable energy generation in Europe, mostly in the form of pellets, charcoal and wood for heating homes. Sustainably sourced agricultural and forestry by-products such as straw, tree cuttings and surplus manure, as well as biodegradable residential and food industry waste, can also be used to produce other forms of energy, from biofuels for transport to bio-coal and bio-gas for electricity generation. However, getting biomass from ‘field to fuel’ economically has been one of the biggest impediments to more widespread use.

Working in the EU-funded BIOBOOST project, academic and industrial partners from six EU countries have addressed the main technological and logistical challenges, identifying the most promising biomass feedstock (sources) and the best ways of processing it into bio-energy products. They have also devised an innovative logistics system to reduce transport costs.

“We studied the main technologies for the conversion of dry and wet residual biomass and waste to intermediate energy carriers, and identified how best these can be implemented close to sources of biomass feedstock to create fuels that can either be used locally or transported more efficiently and cost-effectively for further refinement,” explains Nicolaus Dahmen, project coordinator at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany.

The BIOBOOST team optimised approaches for turning farm and forestry-sourced straw and wood cuttings, for example, into a useful medium for fuel. They applied catalytic pyrolysis, which uses high temperatures to quickly decompose organic matter in the absence of oxygen. And they researched hydrothermal carbonisation, which efficiently replicates the natural process of coal generation, to create synthetic bio-coal for heat and power generation from organic municipal waste.

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