Biomass power is the largest source of renewable energy as well as a vital part of the waste management infrastructure. Woody biomass is the most important renewable energy source if proper management of vegetation is ensured. The main benefits of woody biomass are as follows:
- Uniform distribution over the world’s surface, in contrast to finite sources of energy.
- Less capital-intensive conversion technologies employed for exploiting the energy potential.
- Attractive opportunity for local, regional and national energy self-sufficiency.
- Techno-economically viable alternative to fast-depleting fossil fuel reserves.
- Reduction in GHGs emissions.
- Provide opportunities to local farmers, entrepreneurs and rural population in making use of its sustainable development potential.
All processing of biomass yields by-products and waste streams collectively called residues, which have significant energy potential. A wide range of woody biomass resources are available for transformation into energy in natural forests, rural areas and urban centres. Some of the sources have been discussed in the following paragraphs:
Pulp and paper industry residues
The largest source of energy from wood is the waste product from the pulp and paper industry called black liquor. Logging and processing operations generate vast amounts of biomass residues. Wood processing produces sawdust and a collection of bark, branches and leaves/needles. A paper mill, which consumes vast amount of electricity, utilizes the pulp residues to create energy for in-house usage.
Forest harvesting is a major source of biomass for energy. Harvesting may occur as thinning in young stands, or cutting in older stands for timber or pulp that also yields tops and branches usable for bioenergy. Harvesting operations usually remove only 25 to 50 percent of the volume, leaving the residues available as biomass for energy. Stands damaged by insects, disease or fire are additional sources of biomass. Forest residues normally have low density and fuel values that keep transport costs high, and so it is economical to reduce the biomass density in the forest itself.
Agricultural or crop residues
Agriculture crop residues include corn stover (stalks and leaves), wheat straw, rice straw, nut hulls etc. Corn stover is a major source for bioenergy applications due to the huge areas dedicated to corn cultivation worldwide.
Urban wood waste
Such waste consists of lawn and tree trimmings, whole tree trunks, wood pallets and any other construction and demolition wastes made from lumber. The rejected woody material can be collected after a construction or demolition project and turned into mulch, compost or used to fuel bioenergy plants.
Dedicated energy crops are another source of woody biomass for energy. These crops are fast-growing plants, trees or other herbaceous biomass which are harvested specifically for energy production. Rapidly-growing, pest-tolerant, site and soil-specific crops have been identified by making use of bioengineering. Herbaceous energy crops are harvested annually after taking two to three years to reach full productivity. These include grasses such as switchgrass, elephant grass, bamboo, sweet sorghum, wheatgrass etc.
Short rotation woody crops are fast growing hardwood trees harvested within five to eight years after planting. These include poplar, willow, silver maple, cottonwood, green ash, black walnut, sweetgum, and sycamore. Industrial crops are grown to produce specific industrial chemicals or materials, e.g. kenaf and straws for fiber, and castor for ricinoleic acid. Agricultural crops include cornstarch and corn oil, soybean oil and meal, wheat starch, other vegetable oils etc. Aquatic resources such as algae, giant kelp, seaweed, and microflora also contribute to bioenergy feedstock.
Salman is a prolific environmental writer, and has authored more than 300 articles in reputed journals, magazines and websites. He is proactively engaged in creating mass awareness on renewable energy, waste management, sustainability and conservation all over the world.
Salman can be reached on email@example.com.
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