[Image source: BioCube]
Bioenergy is renewable energy made from natural biological sources such as crops, food waste, water treatment and so on. Around the world a number of scientific and research organizations are pursuing bioenergy innovations, particularly with regard to biofuels. For example, the US Department of Energy claims it has managed to drop the cost of biofuel from around $450 per gallon to $50 and that it is rapidly approaching the point of being cost-competitive with fossil fuels. Here then are four top innovations in the bioenergy sector.
Combustion Step Grates
Combustion step grates are able to form a variety of biomass feedstocks including dry wood waste to poultry litter. They can also burn mixed biomass fuels which means they provide flexibility to use whatever biomass residues are available according to the harvesting season. They can tolerate a high moisture content and help to enhance efficiency while reducing the amount of unburned material. AREVA Energy India supplies combination step grates manufactured in India which are built with a modular design and incorporate adjustable air flows, grate speed and stroke of grate elements in order to increase burning efficiency.
Bio Coal has been developed to replace fossil fuel coal. It is produced by burning biomass in an inert atmosphere (pyrolysis) resulting in charcoal or torrefied wood, depending on the burning temperature. Bio Coal has numerous advantages over untreated biomass, including a high energy content, similar to that of fossil fuel coal (23 MJ/kg), uniform properties and a low moisture content. It can be burnt in coal-fired power plants, unlike other forms of biomass such as wood chips. Although wood is the most suitable material, others can be used as well, such as straw, peat bones and manure. The carbonization of biomass also produces pyrolysis oil from gaseous products such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrogen. This can also be used as a fuel and at some point in the future may potentially be able to be used for biomass-based transport fuel.
Bio Coal [Image Source: Sridhar Biotech Ltd]
The BioCube is a type of biodiesel ‘mini-refinery’ according to its creators, the BioCube Corporation. It is a biodiesel processor which the company engineered within a specially modified 20 foot shipping container. Weighing 3.5 tons, it is easily transportable by road, rail and sea. Feedstock oil, such as certain vegetable oils, and chemicals are fed into the device which then produces biodiesel within a matter of hours. It can also run off its own biodiesel as well as electricity from the grid. Once processed, the biodiesel can be introduced into any modern diesel engine without the owner having to carry out expensive modifications.
Since it can be used on or off-grid, it can assist with biodiesel processing for communities and businesses wanting to achieve energy independence. It can be easily operated via a Siemens touch-screen panel built into the side of the container and can produce 250 liters per hour. According to the company it has a life of 20 years or more with the ability to run for five year periods between overhauls. The BioCube produces certain by-products such as glycerine and mulch, but these can be used by anaerobic digesters or as combination fuels or fertilizer.
Algae is increasingly being cultivated around the world for development of biodiesel and other biofuels. One of the main attractions is that it can be grown without having much impact on fresh water resources, using both saline and wastewater. Algae also has a high flash point and is biodegradable, which means it does not harm the environment in spills. Unfortunately, high capital and operating costs means algae fuels cost more per unit than other second-generation biofuels but it yields between 10 and 100 times more fuel per unit area, leading the US Department of Energy to estimate that algae fuel replacing petroleum in the US would only require about 0.42 percent of US land area (39,000 square kilometers or about half the area of the state of Maine). The Algal Biomass Organization believes algae fuel can reach price parity with oil by 2018 with the help of production tax credits.
[Image source: Roland Tanglao, Flickr]
In 2012, Austrian company SEE Algae Technology (SAT) won the Brazilian Bioenergy Innovation of the Year award for its algae cultivation technology which it developed in collaboration with Brazil’s Grupo JB.
Written by Robin Whitlock