How is biomass used to save and generate electricity?

How is biomass used to save and generate electricity?

Solar and Wind energy is frequently seen in the headlines, but how much do we know about Biomass as a renewable and sustainable energy source? Is it underrated? Is it understood and valued enough to be used as a means to power our commercial properties?

Biomass is used in the same way as coal but with lower carbon emissions. And its not just heating, biomass boilers or furnaces can be used to generate steam and in turn electricity.

In my own involvement with biomass-related projects, I have seen how waste wood is harvested from multiple sources, sorted, graded, and turned into dense wood pellets. A local company, just from collecting old wooden, offcuts, old fencing panels, etc, uses the pellets to power a biomass boiler which is used to provide heat to local businesses including a country park, a manor house and school, and even a garden centre, significantly reducing their heating and therefore, and a local school.

Biomass producers that are certified for having a sustainable and responsibly sourced product help make biomass a cleaner and more viable option than fossil fuels.

Biomass uses renewable energy in the form of steam used to drive massive turbines, in turn, generate enough electricity to power entire cities. It works similarly to how other thermal fuels such as coal and gas generate power, but crucially with significantly lower carbon emissions.

The Drax power station in Yorkshire in the UK is a great example of how biomass has been scaled up.

Drax uses high-density, compressed wood pellets, sourced from responsibly managed working forests in the US, Canada, Europe, and Brazil. The pellets are mostly made from low graded wood produced as a by-product of the production and processing of higher-value wood products.

Other forms of renewable energy, even though sometimes depending on variable weather conditions have been a huge help in “greening-up” the national grid in reducing the carbon intensity of the UK’s energy network. The increase in solar and wind generation has also introduced new challenges for power system stability. As biomass is a power source that can be easily and quickly brought online as and when needed, biomass helps to balance the grid and meet energy demand when it may be cloudy or calm.

Drax goes from coal to bioenergy

Drax goes from coal to bioenergy

The Drax power station in Yorkshire has announced that, after nearly 50 years, it will end all coal-fired power generation by March 2021.

This is well ahead of the UK Governments 2025 deadline for reaching “net-zero” on carbon emissions. With other power stations in Cheshire and Wales following suit, this indicates a significant moving away from carbon-based fuels.

Over the last ten years, four of the power station’s six generating units have been converted to use biomass, thus reducing carbon savings of more than 80% compared to when it was all coal-based.

By using BECCS (BioEnergy with Carbon Capture and Storage) Drax has now been transformed into the UK’s largest renewable power generator and the biggest decarbonisation project in Europe, with the capacity to generate electricity for six million households. BECCS has been described as “The only negative emissions technology which enables the permanent removal of CO2 from the atmosphere whilst renewable electricity is generated.”

By taking the lead, Drax power station may now be seen as a shining example to the rest of the power generation industry wanting to reduce carbon emissions.


Header image © Copyright Alan Murray-Rust and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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