Wednesday, February 24, 2010

CO2 Benefits of Biomass Energy Vs. Solar and Wind Energy (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the importance of viewing renewable energy technology options (wind, solar, geothermal, biomass) on a "big picture" (macro) basis using the integrated resource grid. The key concept under this view is that not all renewable energy options have the same impact in displacing fossil fuel use for electricity generation:

  • Typically, solar power and many wind power resources are considered "peaking units", which displace natural gas and oil fired generation.
  • Conversely, biomass and geothermal resources are often dispatched as base load units which would typically (especially in the Southeastern and Mid-Western U.S.) displace coal fired generation.
  • Today in Part 2 of our series, we will address the question: Is Biomass Energy Really Carbon Cycle Neutral? Hopefully, some pictures of our sustainable biomass energy efforts here in Florida will be better than a thousand words in answering this question.

    The first picture below reflects what our land sources looked like before planting energy crops -- unused mining lands dominated by an invasive species plant of cogongrass.

    The next two pictures reflect what our sites look like 1 to 2 years after planting energy crops (e.g., fast growing trees, sorghum):

    As the above pictures reflect, our sustainable energy crop efforts CREATED a carbon bank that we then used for energy production.

    In addition, when biomass energy resources are developed in a environmentally responsible and sustainable way -- biomass energy can exceed the CO2 benefits of other renewable energy sources and be "Carbon Cycle Negative":

  • Sequestering carbon below ground through energy crop root systems.
  • Incorporating a stable component of carbon (biochar, a waste product of biomass gasification) into soils.
  • Incorporating advanced recycling and composting methods for soil building using crop waste streams (e.g., sorghum bagasse).

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