Thursday, November 26, 2009

Why Biomass Energy is Important (Part 1) -- CO2 Emissions from Coal Use in Generating Electricity

My Grandfather used to tell me -- "Don't strain at gnats when elephants are running through your garden". The simple message is to focus on the big things first in dealing with a problem.

We spend a lot of time talking about coal use in the U.S. to generate electricity, and we don't do this with any intent to bash the coal industry or electric utilities. We present coal data to explain to Policymakers and Environmentalists where the problem is (the "Elephant") in greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation.

The below graph from U.S. Department of Energy 2007 data shows that coal fired resources represent ~51% of all electricity generation -- and that ~82% of all CO2 emissions from electricity generation come from these coal fired units.

Understanding this above point is key in understanding why biomass energy technologies are so important.

First, through biomass co-firing at an existing coal power plant the existing fuel mix is changed from 100% coal to approximately 90% coal and 10% biomass -- directly reducing coal consumption and its resulting CO2 emissions.

Second, biomass electricity generation units (as well as geothermal) are typically base load facilities which will directly displace base load coal fired generation. Conversely, wind and solar power are typically peaking or intermediate generation resources and will displace natural gas units (not coal base load units).

Electricity generation by fuel sources in the U.S.
CO2 Emissions from electricity generation by fuel source in the U.S.
Biomass Energy Quick Facts


Erich J. Knight said...

I just saw your home page and love your local focus for Biomass energy solutions. Your basic run down on Biochar is excellent.

I understand the merits of co-combustion of biomass,but I pray combustion does not become your "Elephant" ruining my Biochar garden.

Biotic Carbon, the carbon transformed by life, should never be combusted, oxidized and destroyed. It deserves more respect, reverence even, and understanding to use it back to the soil where 2/3 of excess atmospheric carbon originally came from.

We all know we are carbon-centered life, we seldom think about the complex web of recycled bio-carbon which is the true center of life. A cradle to cradle, mutually co-evolved biosphere reaching into every crack and crevice on Earth.

It's hard for most to revere microbes and fungus, but from our toes to our gums (onward), their balanced ecology is our health. The greater earth and soils are just as dependent, at much longer time scales. Our farming for over 10,000 years has been responsible for 2/3rds of our excess greenhouse gases. This soil carbon, converted to carbon dioxide, Methane & Nitrous oxide began a slow stable warming that now accelerates with burning of fossil fuel. Agriculture allowed our cultural accent and Agriculture will now prevent our descent.

Wise Land management; Organic farming and afforestation can build back our soil carbon,

Biochar allows the soil food web to build much more recalcitrant organic carbon, ( living biomass & Glomalins) in addition to the carbon in the biochar.

All political persuasions agree, building soil carbon is GOOD.
To Hard bitten Farmers, wary of carbon regulations that only increase their costs, Building soil carbon is a savory bone, to do well while doing good.

Biochar provides the tool powerful enough to cover Farming's carbon foot print while lowering cost simultaneously.

Another significant aspect of bichar is removal of BC aerosols by low cost ($3) Biomass cook stoves that produce char but no respiratory disease emissions. At Scale, replacing "Three Stone" stoves the health benefits would equal eradication of Malaria.
:// and village level systems ://
The Congo Basin Forest Fund (CBFF).recently funded The Biochar Fund $300K for these systems citing these priorities;
(1) Hunger amongst the world's poorest people, the subsistence farmers of Sub-Saharan Africa,
(2) Deforestation resulting from a reliance on slash-and-burn farming,
(3) Energy poverty and a lack of access to clean, renewable energy, and
(4) Climate change.

The Biochar Fund :
Exceptional results from biochar experiment in Cameroon
The broad smiles of 1500 subsistence farmers say it all ( that , and the size of the Biochar corn root balls )

This authoritative PNAS article should cause the recent Royal Society Report to rethink their criticism of Biochar systems of Soil carbon sequestration;

Reducing abrupt climate change risk using
the Montreal Protocol and other regulatory
actions to complement cuts in CO2 emissions

There are dozens soil researchers on the subject now at USDA-ARS.
and many studies at The up coming ASA-CSSA-SSSA joint meeting;

Al Gore got the CO2 absorption thing wrong, ( at NABC Vilsack did same), but his focus on Soil Carbon is right on;

The future of biochar - Project Rainbow Bee Eater

Japan Biochar Association ;

UK Biochar Research Centre

Carbon to the Soil, the only ubiquitous and economic place to put it.
( had to remove http )

Coal Statistics said...

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