Common Issues in Biopower Projects

Biopower projects in developing countries are often besieged by a wide range of issues. The issues enumerated below are not geography-specific and are usually a matter of concern for most of the biomass energy projects:

Large Project Costs

In India, a 1 MW gasification plant usually costs about USD 1-1.5 million. A combustion-based 1 MW plant would need a little more expenditure, to the tune of USD 1-2 million. An anaerobic digestion-based plant of the same capacity, on the other hand, could range anywhere upwards USD 3 million. Such high capital costs prove to be a big hurdle for any entrepreneur or clean-tech enthusiast to come forward and invest into these technologies.

Low Conversion Efficiencies

In general, efficiencies of combustion-based systems are in the range of 20-25% and gasification-based systems are considered even poorer, with their efficiencies being in the range of a measly10-15%. The biomass resources themselves are low in energy density, and such poor system efficiencies could add a double blow to the entire project.

Dearth of Mature Technologies

Poor efficiencies call for a larger quantum of resources needed to generate a unit amount of energy. Owing to this reason, investors and project developers find it hard to go for such plants on a larger scale. Moreover, the availability of only a few reliable technology and operation & maintenance service providers makes these technologies further undesirable. Gasification technology is still limited to scales lesser than 1 MW in most parts of the world. Combustion-based systems have although gone upwards of 1 MW, a lot many are now facing hurdles because of factors like unreliable resource chain, grid availability, and many others.

Lack of Funding Options

Financing agencies usually give a tough time to biomass project developers as compared to what it takes to invest in other renewable energy technologies.

Non-Transparent Trade Markets 

Usually, the biomass energy resources are obtained through forests, farms, industries, animal farms etc. There is no standard pricing mechanism for such resources and these usually vary from vendor to vendor, even with the same resource in consideration.

High Risks / Low Pay-Backs

Biomass energy projects are not much sought-after owing to high project risks which could entail from failed crops, natural disasters, local disturbances, etc.

Resource Price Escalation

Unrealistic fuel price escalation too is a major cause of worry for the plant owners. Usually, an escalation of 3-5% is considered while carrying out the project’s financial modelling. However, it has been observed that in some cases, the rise has been as staggering as 15 to 20% per annum, forcing the plants to shut down.

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Originally posted 2014-11-13 18:35:39. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

6 thoughts on “Common Issues in Biopower Projects

  1. Salman

    Interesting comments that I broadly agree with. The climate is slightly better in the UK, especially with the upcoming launch of Renewable Heat Incentive which looks like it will recognise the value of heat in the same terms as electricity. This should lower capex and opex, reduce technology risk and perhaps open up the funding market therefore. The main UK barriers to roling out sustainable scale (1 to 5MWe) biomass projects remains the lack of credible operating data for most technologies, the size of projects (big banks don’t get out of bed for a project smaller than £20m) and the bankability of fuel suppliers.

    We don’t expect the picture to change much in the next 12 months although we do expect to see the heat market develop fairly quickly after that.

    1. Victor
      Thanks for sharing your views. Biomass energy is a ‘poor cousin’ of solar and wind energies, and lots of activity will be required on the technology, finance and policy-making fronts to improve the scenario.

      Best wishes

  2. I think your conversions depend on what products are used for combustion. Green or wet wood chips do have extremely poor conversion rates, but when dried they are much more efficient. It just takes some different processing.
    As for ag-products, the efficiency is greater due to the fact that the sun dries the material while in the field.
    Solar and Wind are extremely inefficient. Last I knew solar was around 30% and wind was around 35-40% efficient. That is why they are government funded. Otherwise, the pay backs on the would be so long, no one would invest.
    As for combustion of ag-residues or wood, new units should never be just for electric. They should be combined heat and power units that will provide electricity to the grid, heat and even cooling to local buildings or residences. That will great improve the efficiencies of the unit overall.
    And, secondly, no unit should ever be confined to one type of product for combustion or gasificiation. The units should be multi-fuel and be able to handle a wide range of fuel sources.

  3. Thank you for the article Setu, you touched quite a lot of problematic points. However, you barely scratched the surface. We are planning a 10MW biomass power plant in Southeast Asia fired with Napier grass. The logistics are mind-boggling. 10MW require about 80,000-100,000 tons of feedstock per annum, which means 10-12.5 tons of feedstock per hour. One large truck per hour, 24/7/8000. Feedstock needs to be dried. Sun-dry in the fields? No, because it is hampering the next ratoon (regrowth) of the plants, and the collection could damage the sprouts. The harvested material HAS to be removed. So transporting 70-80% water is very inefficient and has to be avoided. Drying with technical means? Think about the energy costs. There is no shortcut, as evaporating one liter of water requires 2.6 MJ or 0.722 kWh – it is a physical constant.
    Then you have the clinkering and tar build-up. It is not an easy field and you have to invest a lot in good technology to overcome these problems. We have found ways, but they are quite expensive.
    You are right, the efficiency of wind and solar is not very high, but if you look at the thermal efficiency of biomass, what comes REALLY out from the generator, it is not that high either. Wind power plants require little, solar almost no maintenance. No feedstock supply – just running for 25 years. Yes, it is an unreliable, non-constant energy source and not suitable for base power, but in the end each of the systems plays an important role in getting rid of fossil fuel.

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