Biomass Energy is highly under-appreciated as a renewable source of energy despite being the most important source of energy during most of human history.Biomass Energy still accounts for 1/3rd of Energy requirements in a lot of countries and is the primary energy source for heating and cooking in rural communities.Biomass Electricity accounts for around 1% of the world’s electricity capacity of around 5000 GW.With advancements in gasifier technology and energy conversion,biomass power plants have become quite popular.Biomass Power Plants are increasing in scale from around 20-50 MW to more than 100 MW as the technology has advanced quite a bit.The only problem for these large plants is securing feedstock for these power plants and storing them.Biomass energy is used mainly for cooking and heating in rural areas.Now it is increasingly being used to generate power as the technology for biomass energy has advanced.Biomass Energy like other Forms of Energy has got its unique Benefits and Drawbacks which are listed below
Biomass Energy Benefits
1) Carbon Neutral- Note Biomass Energy results in no new net GHG emissions as it is part of the carbon cycle.Unlike coal and others forms of fossil fuel which have been buried millions of years ago and burning them adds to carbon in the atmosphere,responsible biomass energy generation results in no new carbon emissions or pollution
2) Use of Waste - Biomass Energy is an Efficient Process which results in the use of mostly animal and crop waster which would be converted into carbon dioxide anyway.To use to as energy before the conversion is an important use of the millions of tons of waste that is generated by human activities
3) Continuous Source of Power – Biomass Energy can be generated almost 24×7 unlike other forms of renewable energy like wind and solar that are intermittent in nature
4) Large variety of Feedstock – Biomass Energy can use a large variety of feedstock such as wood pellets,rice husk,bagasse etc.
5) Low Capital Investment - The capital investment required for biomass based power plants is relatively less at $1-2/watt of biomass capacity.Note wind energy is slightly higher while solar is even higher.Biomass Energy has similar capex characteristics as other forms of conventional energy like coal,gas,oil etc.
6) Distributed Nature – Biomass plants can be built in remote areas and used as a distributed form of power generation
7) Can be built on small scale - Biomass plants can be built in 1 Mw sizes unlike other types of power which require much larges scale.For example nuclear energy requires a typical plants size of at least 500 MW to make it economical
8 0 Reduces Methane which is a major GHG gas – Decomposition of organic matter releases methane. Capturing this methane yields energy while protecting the atmosphere.The animal industry and landfills produce significant amounts of methane.
9) Easy Availability – Biomass is readily available in almost all parts of the world except the desert areas where finding biomass is difficult
10) Low Cost Resource – Biomass Energy can be produced cheaply if there is a good availability of feedstock
Biomass Energy Drawbacks
1) Pollution in case of Poor Technology – Biomass Energy can lead to air pollution in the form of char if the biomass is not completely combusted.This happens in the case of biomass energy being produced in rural areas through bad technology
2) Feedstock Problems – One of the biggest drawbacks of biomass energy is the problem of feedstock.The plants are forced to run at lower utilization leading to higher costs if feedstock is not available due to some reason like a drought
3) Good Management Required – The operations of a biomass plant requires very good management otherwise it may run into losses or even in some cases have to shut down.It requires a skill of high order to run the plant optimally and make use of alternative feedstock in case the regular one is not available
4) Limited Potential - Biomass Energy has smaller potential than compared to other forms of energy like solar,hydro etc.
5) Controversial NIMBY - Large Biomass Plants like the one in Scotland have run into massive protests as people think it might lead to air pollution and health hazards if constructed near their homes.