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USE OF BIOMASS AS AN ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCE IN THERMAL POWER PLANTS

Is it possible to consider biomass as an alternative energy source to replace fossil fuels which have a greater environmental impact? How do technological developments impact on the competitiveness of biomass energy? Can we consider this alternative in order to supply existing thermal power plants in regions with deficient provision and with biomass availability, or for private industries? In this Lab we explore all elements that illustrate the great potential of this alternative energy source.

 

Three business models

There are increasing opportunities to use biomass to generate energy in a cost effective and environmentally friendly way. In Bereco Labs we have explored three business models related to these possibilities:

1) The use of biomass as an alternative fuel for thermal plants existing power generation, with the advantage that derives from it, as it can be used with competitive prices compared to alternative sources and also a decreases the impact associated with the emission of greenhouse gases such as C02 and its negative effects on climate change.

2) The possibility of building power generation plants based on biomass to provide all or part of the demand of large energy companies or groups of companies. In this case oftenly the enterprises can turn their organic waste - as a result of their own productive activity - generating the dual benefit of energy and reduction of the risks, or environmental impacts, associated with such residues.

3) Development of biomass power plants that generate energy in remote areas which are isolated from the main power transmission lines. This situation often occurs in regions of large countries with low population density, as is the case of Argentina and many other regions of Latin America.

For Argentina this is a energy generation source which results particularly attractive as it faces a backdrop of structural supply deficit of electricity, a situation that will become even more relevant towards scenarios of economic growth in the coming years.

 

Energy crops versus food crops

Different uses have been explored for the plantation of biomass, also known as "Energy Crops" (EC), taking importance during the last years as a possible alternative to a natural replacement of fossil fuels for power generation.

This trend was reinforced by conditions of depletion of fossil fuels, increasing oil prices and global warming, due to the buildup of greenhouse gases emissions. However, this has brought great ethical contradictions as some argue that the EC could be seen as a competition for grain-growing land devoted to food, being world hunger one of the biggest concerns of mankind.

The low operating cost during the harvest, minimal soil maintenance, high yields per hectare and a potential increased demand, as a result of policies, make the EC and its possible scenarios a key development issue in BerecoLabs.

We analyze what should be the price and yield of biomass for the return per hectare of a field located in major producing areas of Argentina results more attractive than traditional grain crops like corn, soybeans and wheat.

 

Biomass Energy in Argentina.

In a context where the discussion on climate change is present and the energy deficit is a thriving and decisive factor in the development of a country and in the welfare of his inhabitants, this Lab aims to explore the possibility of combining the strengths of the agroindustrial sector of Argentina (47/125 position as the Energy Performance Index) to provide a solution for two problems: the mitigation of greenhouse gas and energy supply.

Moreover, such development is enhanced by a framework of initiatives and policies such as PROBIOMASA - Project for the promotion of energy from biomass -, or the enactment of Law 26190 which establishes the regime of national promotion for the use of renewable sources of energy for electricity production, including investment benefits and additional compensation in their market. In relation to the stated before, the advantages, in terms of CO2 reduction and increased profitability in the price of energy, are explored, based on the use of biomass as a fuel for a power generation model.

Figure 1 shows a diagram with the main aspects to be studied in order to determine the economic viability of a project of this nature. These are:

- The development of a plantation intended to provide biomass (farming).

- Transportation of production.

- The adaptations or modifications to be made to the power plant for it to receive, handle, treat and combust the biomass.


Figure 1. Schematic illustration of the aspects to determine the feasibility of the project.

 

The use of biomass has three defined scope than previously established. First, its use to generate electricity from waste and recycling, for example, the use of waste from sugar cane to supply the mills. Second, a model in which areas agriculturally relegated but are conducive to growing pastures, such as switchgrass, in order to replace some of the fossil fuel energy matrix of power plants that supply business clusters . Finally, there is the possibility of generating energy which is then turned over to a satellite network to supply regions that are isolated.

 

A proposal for the littoral area of Paraná

Analyzing in detail the second model mentioned above, for the case of the Argentine litoral, in the Parana Delta, where there are lands that currently are not exploited, it would be feasible to produce switchgrass without it resulting in a competition for agricultural production for food. This crop, known as switchgrass is perennial, low maintenance and allows for an average yield of 15 dry tons per year per harvested hectare, equivalent to 6 tons of fuel oil or 238 MMbtu of natural gas.

Figure 2. Production process biogas cogeneration.

 

One of the emerging technologies for converting biomass into energy is gasification (a low calorific gas but with good combustion characteristics is obtained). This process is highly efficient, with a yield between 65% and 85%. Furthermore, the use of biomass reduces CO2 emissions because the carbon released into the atmosphere during combustion was previously acquired it during the growing season, ie not reserves but carbon burn already in this cycle, which is why the balance turns out to be zero in terms of emissions.

Figure 3. Carbon footprint or CO2 equivalent emissions model for biogas as a replacement for fossil fuels.

 

Figure 4. Economic competitiveness of the model in terms of biogas energy unit.

In addition to being a form of clean energy as shown in Figure 4, it is to be competitive in terms of cost of energy, including in relation to cheap fuels such as natural gas.

In conclusion, we can state that besides being beneficial environmental and economic, parameters, this type of project is positive in its social impact. This is because it is based on regional integration, using infrastructure river delta, which makes a revaluation of land currently unused and, furthermore, improves the quality of life of the inhabitants of the region, allowing them to access energy, a healthy environment, with incentives for the development of technologies and consequent generation of jobs. In Bereco Labs we are studying this and other options, that show of great interest and potential to the intelligent use of biomass as alternative energy source.