FARMERS WEEKLY reports that 1.8% of arable land in the UK was used to produce bioenergy in 2011. Approximately 8,000 hectares of oilseed rape, 14,000 hectares of sugar beet and 7,5oo hectares of wheat were used to produce some 1.3 million tonnes of feedstock for the UK road transport market. In England, 9,000 hectares of miscanthus and 3,000 hectares of short rotation coppice were grown for electricity production. In addition, around 200,000 tonnes of straw (2% of typical production) was used as fuel in English biomass power stations.

Electricity generated from biomass increased in the US in 2012 over 2011 says BIOMASS Magazine. While the output of power from woody biomass stayed constant at 37.5 TW hours, power from other biomass increased 4.2% to 20 TW hours. The “other” category includes landfill to energy plants, anaerobic digesters, and fuel cells.

There were several posts this week about the negative impact on the environment and food production from burning biofuels to produce energy:

Policy makers in the US and Europe, concerned about the impact the production of biofuels will have on food security, have come to the realization that increased production of biofuels must take place on “marginal land”, acreage not suitable for growing food crops. Such land is capable of growing switch grass, Indian beech trees and Barbados nut trees which can be used to produce biofuels. Science Daily notifies us of a recent study which concludes the amount of additional land available for growing bioenergy crops is 80% smaller that previously thought. The authors concluded that previous studies had vastly overestimated the amount of total land available for both arable crops and biofuels.

The revised estimates show that 140 million to 2.6 billion acres of additional land could be cultivated for biofuel production. That compares with previous estimates of 800 million to 3.5 billion acres.

In a related post Clean Technica informs us biofuel policies in the US are leading to the fastest rate of gressland destruction since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. A new study from South Dakota State University has discovered another significant downside to the large-scale production of biofuel — the rapid destruction of grasslands in America’s Western Corn Belt region — North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Iowa. The rate at which grasslands were converted to corn and soy production to produce ethanol between the years 2006 and 2011 exceeded the rate of deforestation in Brazil, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

The primary driving factors of this rapid conversion seem to be the price boost for growing biofuels (subsidies), the subsidized crop insurance, and a lack of incentives for farmers to preserve the grasslands.

Environmental Research Web finds burning biomass is worse than burning coal. A new report from Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and RSPB argues that current government policies to promote the use of forests to provide biomass to generate electricity are flawed. They do not take into account the significant greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere when electricity is generated from wood harvested from forests. The report concludes these emission are actually much worse than from coal combustion. Not only will there be  be emissions resulting from energy used in harvesting, transport and processing forest products; there will also be more emissions once the forests are cut down and new trees are planted and reach maturity.  It will take some time, perhaps decades, before the new forests can absorb as much C02 from the atmosphere as the old forests.

Meanwhile, EurActiv notes research is confirming feedstock-based biofuels will indirectly cause net greenhouse gas emissions. Two new studies of past land use change could cause the European Union to initiate a review into whether indirect land use change factors should be included in EU bioenergy legislation. The studies have found that expected carbon gains from switching to biofuels disappear if land use change effects are taken into account when forests and grasslands are converted to food production for bioenergy. According to the post: “Direct emissions from land use change have not been challenged by the agricultural and bioenergy industries”

Energy Global discusses co-firing biomass and how it is being used in Europe, the US, Australia and China to produce base load electricity and the government policies in place to encourage this form of energy. Under co-firing, a small percentage of biomass is mixed with coal to produce electricity with lower greenhouse gas emissions from the facility. (As the previous entries suggest, however, biomass is causing net C02 emissions elsewhere in its life-cycle.)  The EU leads the world in biomass/coal co-firing in terms of both technology development and installation capacities. There is considerable experience in Finland, Germany, the UK, Sweden, Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands with this technology.

From the Selby Times we learn Drax Group plc announced it is ready to start converting its coal generating plant in the UK to biomass in April.  The company plans to convert a second unit  in 2014 and the third unit in 2015.  The plant is one of the largest electric power plants in Europe and will use wood pellets sourced from the UK, Russia, the Baltic countries and Africa as its fuel.

The South Pacific nation of Fiji is going to export wood pellets reports BIOMASS Magazine. Tropik Wood Industries Fiji Ltd. and South Korea’s GIMCO Company Ltd.  have created a joint venture to manufacture and distribute wood pellets on the global market. The pellets will be made from “everything that is thrown away in the forestry and agriculture sectors in Fiji.”  See also RENEWABLE ENERGY MAGAZINE Fijian firm inks JV deal with Korean Co. for biomass exports.

The Choronicle Herald tells us Nova Scotia will soon be exporting wood pellets to Europe. The Scotia Atlantic Biomass plant in the Canadian province expects to be operational in June and the first 25,000-metric-tonne shipload is expected to head to Europe in September.  With a capacity to produce 10,000 tonnes of wood pellets a month, the company expects shipments every three months. Total world consumption of wood chips is estimated at $14 million, with about 80% purchased in Europe, mostly by electrical utilities to replace the burning of coal. The value of the market is expected to exceed $80 million by 2020.

The Bangor Daily News reports on a planned wood pellet plant for the US state of Maine. Thermogen Industries announced its plans to build a large wood pellet plant near the Port of Eastport marine cargo terminal for export to Europe. The facility will produce between 200,000 and 300,000 tons of torrefied wood pellets each year. Construction is expected to begin in 2014. Thermogen will make pellets with biomass material left over from wood harvesting operation. The torrefaction process changes the properties of the harvested wood by using microwave technology to create a black pellet which burns with heat output and handling characteristics similar to coal, but much cleaner.

The Nicaragua Dispatch says Giant King Grass is going to be used to fuel a biomass electric power plant in that country. Giant King Grass is said to be the highest yielding biomass crop in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

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