WHAT IS BIOMASS?

AND WHY?

Biomass is the sequestered energy from the sun, or stored solar energy. When released in a controlled way, this energy can be used to heat communities, commercial buildings, and large farming operations. The term biomass refers to structural and non-structural carbohydrates and other compounds produced through photosynthesis consisting of plant materials and agricultural, industrial, and municipal wastes and residues. The components of biomass include cellulose, hemicelluloses, lignin, lipids, proteins, simple sugars, starches, water, hydrocarbons, ash and other compounds.

Biomass consists of organic residues from plants and animals, which are obtained primarily from the harvesting and processing of agricultural and forestry crops. The most cost effective heating occurs when biomass wastes and byproducts destined for landfill are redefined and reformatted so that they become fuels for producing energy. Examples of biomass residues that are frequently wasted but could be utilized in as an energy source are forest slash, urban wood waste, lumber waste, as well as straw and other agricultural waste.

BENEFITS OF BIOMASS

  • Fuel costs are lower per BTU
  • It keeps money and jobs local
  • Carbon neutral
  • It is a locally renewable energy source

ENVIRONMENTAL ADVANTAGES

Biomass is a renewable low carbon fuel, readily available throughout most areas in North America.

It is a sustainable fuel that can deliver a significant reduction in net carbon emissions when compared with fossil fuels. Every ton of pellets used instead of oil reduces carbon emissions by 1.5 tons. (Pellet institute) Fuels are sources from wood including pellets and chips.

Biomass combustion is CO2 neutral. When biomass is burned in a furnace, it releases CO2. This is inherent to combustion. However, this same CO2 would be released whether that biomass is burned in an uncontrolled way, or if it decays naturally. The normal decay of biomass will result in more release of methane into the air than will be released if the same biomass were burned in a well-designed furnace. Methane gas is a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2. Most bio-fuels have a negligible sulfur content. A well-designed furnace will not generate smoke.

Historical trends show the volume of growing stock of hard wood and softwood tree species in the U.S. forests has increased continually over the past five decades by 49 percent between 1953 and 2006.(SAF) Trees are growing faster than they are being used.

ECONOMICS OF BIOMASS

Agricultural waste (straw) and forest waste (slash, and urban wood waste) is the cheapest available form of energy. The only cost of this energy is the cost of converting it into a useable format and transporting it to the utilization site.

With the growing concern over the long-term availability of fossil fuel, there is increasing interest in growing energy crops. Although such crops show promise, such an energy source will never be as cheap as biomass waste.

The counterpoint to this is that the construction of furnaces utilizing natural gas is relatively easy, and hence such furnaces are relatively cheap. Biomass furnaces are significantly more complex and hence significantly more expensive.

Bio-fuel dollars remain in the local economy. Biomass fuels are generated locally. Their collection, preparation, and delivery involves significant local labor input, whereas whatever benefits there are in fossil fuel distribution, they are not in the local community. The economic impact of biomass utilization activity means dollars remain in the local area, creating filter-down economic activity as well as improving the local tax base and building tax revenues.

FUEL PRICE STABILITY

Biofuels are widely available. In most parts of North America, there is a supply of available biomass materials, either forest or agriculture-based.

Biofuel prices are relatively stable and locally controlled. Prices have remained steady over the years in spite of wide fluctuations in fossil fuel prices, and are expected to increase more slowly than those of petroleum-based fuels.

HEATING COMFORT

A well-designed biomass system provides high comfort levels. Because biofuels can be inexpensive, system operators are able to justify increased building temperatures leading to greater comfort and productivity. With high-priced fossil fuels, there is greater pressure to lower temperatures for fuel cost savings.

Commercially Proven and Flexible: Biomass combustion technologies are commercially proven throughout North America, having already achieved significant market penetration in residential and large industrial applications.

Well designed biomass combustion systems are highly flexible. Solid-fuel systems can be easily converted to burn almost any conceivable fuel (solid, liquid or gaseous), thus providing the user with great flexibility in the future.

ENERGY SOURCE COST CHART

(prices will vary with time and region)

Energy Source Mega joules BTU Unit Efficiency Cost/Unit Cost per 1 million Btu
Oil 38.2 36,300 Litre 75% $ 0.70 $25.80
Electric 3.6 3,413 Kwh 95% $ 0.057 $17.60
Natural gas 37.5 35,301 M3 75% $ 0.355 $13.33
Propane 25.3 24,200 Litre 95% $ 0.41 $18.01
Hardwood 30,600 26,444,444 Cord 55% $150.0 $10.83
Softwood 18,700 16,160,494 Cord 55% $100.00 $ 9.39
Wood pellets 19,800 17,111,111 Tonne 65% $200.00 $17.21
Estevan coal 16,200 14,000,000 Tonne 65% $45.00 $ 4.86
Alberta coal 24,300 17,000,000 Tonne 80% $65.00 $ 4.98
Wheat straw 8,100 7,000,000 500 kg bale 85% $ 15.00 $ 2.09
Flax straw 9,985 8,629,012 500 kg bale 85% $ 5.00 $ 1.87