Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bio-Coal-Based Energy Could be Third World Game Changer

Projects Could Also Appeal to Large U.S. Timberland Owners 

Good news for energy-deprived developing nations that have been blessed with abundant supplies of biomass.

Several  international energy firms are working on revolutionary processes for converting sustainable biomass, including forestry and agricultural wastes, into renewable fuels.

At least three companies, including a U.S. startup, are looking to produce renewable diesel, which, unlike biodiesel, can be used in unmodified engines without blending with petroleum diesel.

Other companies plan to produce bio-methanol and bio-gasoline.

All the projects involve gasification to produce syngas, also known as synthesis gas, from which it is possible to make renewable diesel or bio-methanol or even bio-gasoline.

Biomass to Bio-Coal to Liquid Fuels 

A few projects first convert, or refine, the biomass into bio-coal. Gasification of coal for energy dates to the 1800s; and the added step addresses technical problems that have long plagued biomass gasification projects. In contrast with, say, woodchips, or chopped-up energy crops, bio-coal is a homogeneous fuel that can be pulverized prior to gasification.

Some green fuel projects also aim to produce a valuable byproduct--green electricity.

Energy poverty is a huge problem across the developing world. Nearly 1.6 billion people have no access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency. Diesel fuel is typically imported and burned to produce electricity in addition to being used for motor transport. So the promise of converting biomass into diesel and electricity is, well, electrifying.

In the United States, where responsible forestry is a mature industry and supplies of woody biomass can be certified for sustainability without difficulty, bio-coal-based fuels (and chemicals) is an appealing concept that appears to make the highest and best use of the basic resource.