There is a great new market for clean energy products. Renewable energies, such as bio-energy and wind-power, seem to be emerging as the potential competitive solutions to the everlasting problem of fossil fuels. These alternatives are expanding opportunities for existing rural economies across the globe.
Bio-power, which is a form of bio-energy, is the production of electric power using biomass feedstock. There are a large variety of feedstock that can be used in the production process, ranging from agricultural residues to herbaceous biomass. It is important to note that each type of feedstock has both economic and technical advantages and challenges associated with it, when compared to fossil fuels.
Bio-power, which can help reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, accounted for over 1% of electricity generation in the US in 2008. It is the largest source of non-hydro renewable electricity. Also, it has the advantage of operating like traditional fossil fuel technologies as it is able to produce electricity and heat continuously or according to a certain schedule. This makes it an attractive alternative to wind and solar power, whose power generation is affected by wind speed and sunlight. Despite its many benefits, there are also many challenges associated with it.
Under proposed government policies involving the reduction of the emission of greenhouse gases, bio-power is seen as an important alternative.
It has a projected potential to generate 10% of US electricity and 5% of global electricity by the middle of this century. These are the main processes by which biomass can be converted into electricity:
(i) Direct-fired: This process refers to the direct burning of biomass fuel in a boil, resulting in the production of high-pressure steam. This steam is made to power a turbine, which is connected to a generator to produce electricity.
(ii) Co-firing: This is a process which involves the simultaneous firing of biomass along with coal in an existing power plant. It turns out to be the most cost-effective bio-power technology because the use of existing equipment is obviously less expensive than building a new bio-power plant from scratch.
(iii) Gasification: This involves the heating of biomass in an oxygen-limited environment. This results in the break down of the solid biomass and results in the production of flammable gas. The generated flammable gas can be used in a more efficient power generation system (i.e. combined cycle) in order to generate electricity. One major challenge associated with this process is the logistics of feedstock since it would be necessary to consider the cost of shipping/transporting the feedstock to the power plant.