Biomass Fuel, Energy, Power Counterpoint

Biomass is a term being more frequently used for renewable fuel, energy and power made from any organic material from plants or animals. Sources are organic crops, plants, and trees, agricultural food and feed crops, and residues from plants, crops, wood, and animals-in other words what is left over or scraps. The usable by-products are gas additives (ethanol and biodiesel), methane gas (burned as fuel), and organic fibers and wood (for heat and generating electricity).

I became more interested in biomass after previously covering the following topics:

Solar Power/ Energy

Wind Turbine Power

Natural Gas Car Fuel

U.S. Oil Reserves

Price of Oil

Corn Food Fuel

Car Fuel Efficiency

Global Warming and Energy Reserves

Electrical Utilities are facing new rules requiring them to generate 20% of their power from renewable resources by 2020. Solar and wind power has been considered by most utilities and many don’t have the resources, or have run into legislative roadblocks. With all Utilities being required to meet quotas, they are now considering, and building, “Biomass” Power Plants, since they can get significant federal tax credits.

Most studies are based on data such as that from “The Engineering Toolbox”.  The data shows that the biomass energy is free, since the process is considered nearly carbon neutral, because the plants only emit the carbon they absorbed while they were growing. The time and volume of usage is neglected-it is not explained that more is used than grown, and in between there are fewer trees to absorb the carbon dioxide. The real world is more like Fig. 3 Plot “Pounds of CO2 per KWH” of the article “How to measure fuel efficiency, energy costs, and carbon emissions for home heating”.  Both coal and wood have the same high-level carbon footprint.

An interesting article, “Biomass Energy Facts”, is a good comprehensive worthwhile list. It is not mentioned that renewable energy in 2007 was 7% of the US energy supply, and of this 3% is biomass. In 2020 20% of US energy is to be by renewable, with a good part of the increase by biomass, meaning a much-increased usage of wood from trees that takes time to replace and is now a big source of CO2 absorption.

Of major concern is that states (Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Missouri, etc.) are now proceeding with biomass energy projects based on the process being considered nearly carbon neutral because the plants only emit the carbon they absorbed while they were growing. Is this a fact-based conclusion? And will the increased biomass usage have any effect on the natural cycling of CO2 because it takes time for volume replacement?

Other biomass information of interest:

Biomass Emissions-Air Emissions from Modern Wood Energy Systems

Massachusetts Forest and Environment Threatened


Natural Gas Car Fuel Counterpoint

Compared to gasoline, compressed natural gas (CNG) is cleaner, less expensive, and generally comes from domestic reserves. However, CNG vehicles also require some compromises, including the use of a special refueling infrastructure that is not widely developed in the United States. Natural gas burns so cleanly that CNG vehicles rival hybrids in producing extremely low levels of smog-forming pollutants. However, CNG vehicles tend to have higher greenhouse gas emissions than hybrids. Natural gas is normally used in the U.S. to generate electricity, heat houses and businesses, and as a component in a variety of industrial processes. In the United States, a very small amount of natural gas (just one-tenth of 1% of all gas consumed) is also used as a fuel for vehicles. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, just 20 percent of the natural gas consumed in the United States last year was imported, and most of those imports came from Canada.

Natural gas advantages:

  1. Gas costs are lower than gasoline (approximately 1/3).
  2. Natural gas is convenient and abundant.
  3. Natural gas prices have exhibited significant stability compared to oil prices.
  4. Natural gas vehicles have lower maintenance costs.
  5. Natural gas fillup time is longer for natural gas (approx 1 hr).

Natural gas disadvantages:

  1. Harder to find a natural gas station than a “regular” gas station.
  2. More limited driving range (approximately 2/3).
  3. Natural gas is not inexhaustible just like “regular” gas.
  4. Because of the fuel storage tank size there is less space in the vehicle.
  5. A brand-new natural-gas vehicle costs $4,000 to $8,000 more than a comparable gasoline vehicle.
  6. Modifications typically cost $3,000 to $5,000 to change over a vehicle.

No one seems to care about the natural gas vehicle. Not government officials. Not auto executives. Not consumers. Not even some environmentalists.T. Boone Pickens is now talking about a plan for natural gas vehicles.

By an odd confluence of public policy and private initiative, Utah has become the first state in the country to experience broad consumer interest in the idea of running cars on clean natural gas (natural gas at $.90 vs $3.95 for gas).

From the facts it appears that natural gas has very little chance as a car fuel. However read this article:

Should the U.S. switch to Natural gas for transportation?

Some more interesting articles for facts:

  1. Natural gas organization.
  2. Wikipedia on natural gas.
  3. This auto fuel still cheaper.
  4. Five things you need to know about natural gas for auto fueling.
  5. Natural-gas guzzler.
  6. Plunge in Natural Gas Prices; new 7-year low

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