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Energy Demand Prompts Fresh Interest in Bio-Energy

25 November 2005

Energy Demand Prompts Fresh Interest in Bio-Energy

New Zealand’s small bio-energy industry will have the opportunity to enter a new phase of research and collaboration on Monday (November 28) when more than 50 specialists meet in Christchurch to explore new approaches to producing fuel gas from biomass.

Biomass gasification is the partial oxidation of solid organic material including wood, sewage sludge and hybrid crop species. The output of the process is a fuel suitable for combustion in turbines to produce heat and in some cases combined heat and electricty (known as co-generation).

While the technology is well proven, it is not widely used in New Zealand due to the relatively low cost of fossil fuels, hydro and geothermal energy.

A one-day workshop on biomass gasification has been jointly organised by the Centre for Advanced Engineering (CAE) and the Wood Technology Research Centre at the University of Canterbury to enable major energy users and researchers to gain an inside knowledge of international research efforts in gasification and to encourage them to look for new applications.

CAE’s executive director, Dr George Hooper, says wood gasification has huge potential to meet increasing demand for thermal energy and will become economically competitive as the cost of fossil fuels increases. Businesses are increasingly concerned about New Zealand’s energy constraints and actively looking for alternatives, he says.

“The most likely application of biomass gas will be in the forest industry, where there is an abundance of raw material in the form of forest trimmings and waste from sawmills and timber processing plants. It is also an ideal fuel for generating heat for drying timber.

“Looking beyond the forestry industry there are opportunities to incorporate biomass gas in industrial energy parks to produce process heat for manufacturing and energy for refrigeration, or to supply thermal energy and electricity for small towns serving the forestry sector.

“It could also be used for heat and power for schools, hospitals and other public buildings, as it is in North American and Europe. The beauty of biomass gas is that it comes from a waste product, is clean burning, produces zero carbon emissions and can be built where the energy is needed, rather than relying on an expensive distribution network.

“It fits in perfectly with the move away from large generation facilities in far-off locations, and towards small-scale energy plants that are closer to the end consumer.

New Zealand has established some important international research links in several aspects of bio-energy, including new energy crop species, novel engineering applications and integration of existing bio-energy systems. However there is a need to form new collaborations which will accelerate the uptake of bio-energy by business and create new applications.

By bringing researchers together, the workshop organisers hope to do a stock-take of research projects and find out how government, industry and the research community can work together better.

The event will feature an inspection of a gasification plant developed at the Wood Technology Research Centre under the leadership of Associate Professor Shusheng Pang. The construction of the lab-scale gasifier is a first step in a wider industry research programme funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology. This $1.9 million project has as its ultimate aim the construction of an Integrated Bio-energy Gasification demonstration plant to provide a process design suited specifically to New Zealand conditions.

International contributors to the event include Dr Suresh Babu, Vice President Research and Development, Gas Technology Institute, USA; and John Irving, General Manager McNeil Biomass Power Plant, Vermont USA.

About Bio-Energy in New Zealand

Biomass currently provides around 5 per cent of New Zealand’s primary energy supply. The largest contribution is in the forestry industry through waste wood, black liquor in the pulp and paper industry and a limited amount of electricity production.

New Zealand has 1.8million hectares in pine plantations, providing a large source of woody biomass. The installed capacity of biomass energy plant throughout the larger wood processing sites in New Zealand is around 550MWth,yet there is no exclusive electricity generation using wood or forest residues.

Recent work completed by the forest industry suggests total energy use in the sector is likely to almost double over the next 15 years. To meet this demand there is a requirement for a marked increase in the amount of energy from new sources such as forest residues or wood waste. Advances in gasification technology have made possible cogeneration of heat and electricity from forest biomass at costs that are close to commercial.

About CAE

CAE is an independent-think tank and research facilitator associated with the University of Canterbury and funded by grants and sponsorships. CAE’s mission is to advance social progress and economic growth for New Zealand through broadening national understanding of emerging technologies and facilitating early adoption of advanced technology solutions. www.cae.com

CAE has a long association in renewable energy, including growing trees for direct use, conversion to bio-fuels and development of new energy forms.

ENDS

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