In Bonfire of the subsidies the Economist questions the wisdom of Europe focusing its energy policy on renewables.

In 2009 the European Union set itself the target of getting 20% of its energy from renewable sources.  For all the fields and roofs covered with solar panels and the once-empty uplands enlivened by wind turbines, by far the biggest power source in the plans is biomass: wood, crop residues and other burnable recently living stuff. The EU’s planners want to get 1,210 terawatt hours of energy from biomass in 2020, compared with 494TWh from wind. About 80% of that biomass energy would be used to heat things—wood-burning stoves and boilers are widely used in many European countries. But the 20% used to generate electricity would still equal all the energy expected from solar panels and offshore wind. With wind power not growing at the rate that planners want, biomass may be called on to do even more.

The post points out that there is a large downside to using biomass on a massive scale including a drain on the public treasury for subsidies, the high cost of importing from other countries (eg. wood pellets from North America), the negative economic impact on other uses of wood in the economy, and the unintended consequence that some biomass programmes end up emitting more CO2 than the fossil fuels they are being subsidised to replace.

In a related post Woodworking Network notes that North America exported 3.2 million tons of wood pellets to Europe in 2012. The wood pellet export industry in North America has grown exponentially in a relatively short period of time. The export value has increased from an estimated 40 million dollars in 2004 to almost 400 million dollars in 2012 as European utilities rush to replace coal with biomass to generate electricity. With limited domestic wood raw-material sources, countries such as the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands have increasingly relied on the importation of industrial wood pellets from the Canadian province of British Columbia and the southern US states where wood products are much cheaper than in Europe. Some European utilities are also building wood pellet production facilities in North America to supply their European operations such as Germany’s German Pellets GmbH (see here and here).

Biomass Magazine reports UK electricity production from biomass doubled in 2012. The UK Department of Energy & Climate Change reports power generation from plant biomass more than doubled in 2012, from 1.7 TWh in 2011 to 4.2 TWh last year.

Whisky byproducts are generating electricity in Scotland says Energy Live News. The newly opened 8.32 MW Helius CoRDe Ltd plant and animal feed processing unit is expected to generate enough electricity to power 9,000 homes as well as produce heat. The plant uses by-products from local whisky distilleries as an input. See also OILPRICE, The Biomass Power Plant that Runs on Single Malt Whiskey.

environmental LEADER directs us to a map that shows algae biomass projects around the world. It is hoped that algae algae will produce a wide variety of products including renewable fuels, feeds, fertilizers and chemical.  The Algae Biomass Organization has published an online map showing algae production facilities and research projects worldwide. You can access the map here.



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,