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Biomass Fuel Foibles

Fuel-supply risks stunt the growth of biomass power.

Fortnightly Magazine - December 2007

can yield successful projects. Grain mills, ethanol plants and wastewater treatment facilities represent possible options for partners. Others include farm-based methane or digester gas at wastewater treatment facilities.

Maturing Crop

As the biomass-fired power industry grows, better harvesting, collection, transport, and other techniques will allow greater exploitation of agricultural, forest, and other residues, and should provide ample volume for the biomass industry to continue developing. In the long term, as the industry matures, projects likely will burn more dedicated crops, and will expand the types and sources of other fuels they use.

Until then, however, project operators must rely on existing sources of fuel to meet their day-to-day needs. Securing such fuel sources requires a thorough, micro-level evaluation, and a siting process that places the plant close enough to the fuel supply, and far enough away from the next plant.

In addition, utilities must have realistic expectations about plant size. Biomass facilities simply won’t be nearly as large as centralized power stations, and that represents a practical limitation for the potential of biomass-fired power generation. “The sweet spot for biomass is 20 to 30 MW,” Bodington says. “It kind of levels off when you get to 30, 40, 50 MW.”