ECOLEAF:: Renewable Biomass Powered Energy

Ecoleaf Biomass
Biomass is waste—mostly from wood—that is used to create heat, liquid biofuels, and electricity. When woody materials are used to produce bioelectricity, they produce three times the amount of energy provided by wind power and 100 times the amount provided by solar energy.
At 20% of annual hydroelectricity production, the largest renewable energy source in the US, biomass is commonly overlooked as a viable renewable energy source. In 2005, biomass accounted for 1.52% of the energy produced in the U.S.: 0.76% was comprised of dedicated biomass, 0.58% was municipal solid waste/landfill gas, and 0.18% was biomass co-firing.

Biomass is organic matter—it includes components from timber, agriculture, vegetation, animal waste, and organic waste. Not only can biomass be continually replenished, it can be produced domestically.

Biomass-based electricity (bioelectricity) has many benefits: it generates electricity, it reduces landfill waste (coming from both industrial and household organic matter), it reduces wildfires and improves water quality (by thinning forests and preserving soils), it reduces odors and disease-spreading organisms from livestock, and it reduces methane gas emissions from landfills. (The methane gas generated by wood waste in landfills is 20 times more potent than CO2.) The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has estimated that the U.S. has annual biomass resources of 590 million wet tons (approx. 413 million dry tons). Since 20 million wet tons = 3GW of capacity, this translates into 88.5 GW of electrical capacity. In 2005, the U.S. utilized 10.1 GW (or 11.4%) of available biomass resources for electricity generation.

US Biomass Electricity consumption in 2005: 54,160 GWh

US Biomass Capacity in 2005: 10.1 GW

(3 times the installed base of Wind Energy & 20% of Hydroelectric Energy Production)

Farmers can grow energy crops to fuel the biomass industry. These fast-growing crops garnish higher tax credits (due to closed-loop biomass cycles) and include hybrid poplar (545 trees per acre), hybrid willows (6,200 trees per acre), eucalyptus, and switchgrass.

The U.S. has 80 major biomass power plants. Of those, 28 are located in California. (The way biomass power plants traditionally produce electricity is to burn wood and agricultural products in boilers. This in turn feeds steam turbine generators.) Even though biomass produces more energy than wind and solar energy combined, it has neither led to the creation of new power plants—the most-recently-installed plants were built in the 1990s—nor has it led to a push to transition from coal-based plants to biomass-based ones. There’s no doubt: given our substantial need for renewable energy, biomass electricity is poised on the edge of opportunity.

The typical material used in biomass bioenergy plants is wood chips. However, a dry product—i.e., an alternative to wet/moist wood chips is wood pellets—offering many unique benefits, from higher energy densities to improved burning efficiencies. Due to its dryness and consistency of size, it is also markedly more stable in terms of storage, transport, and conveyance into boilers. (Wood chips require more supervision since they can cause jamming and shutdowns.)

Operators of biopower facilities reap tax credits: in 2009, the federal Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) established a rate of 2.1 cents per kWh for new closed-loop biomass facilities in service by December 31, 2010; open-loop biomass facilities in service by December 31, 2010 will receive 1.0 cent per kWh. The credit is applicable for 10 years after the facility has been placed into service. (“Closed-loop” biomass refers to materials specifically grown for biomass facilities.)


CO2 is essentially the only greenhouse gas that is emitted during the creation of bioelectricity. Even then, despite the fact that it produces low carbon emissions (approx. 5%), greenhouse gases resulting from biomass are negligent due to the ability of bioelectricy to recycle the CO2 stored in the organic matter—that is to say, as long as new trees, plants, and grasses are planted, the cycle can continue with minimal effect to the environment. Biomass also has a lower emissions footprint than oil and coal. Specifically, by combusting biomass, less SO2 (sulfur) and NOx (nitrous oxide) is generated than when coal is burned. NOx can be further reduced with a reduction system; SO2 emissions can be further reduced with limestone injections.

Additional CO2 emissions must be taken into consideration. These result from the transport of organic materials from their source site to the power plant and can increase material costs by 25%. In the future, biomass facilities may need to adopt tighter emission controls to capture exhaust particulates.


Steam-turbine generators using biomass materials operate at 25% efficiency (or less). If biomass is converted into a biofuel (such as ethanol, methane, pyrolosis, and biodiesel), it can be used in a modified gas turbine to achieve 40% efficiencies. Residual heat from the turbine can be captured and used to increase efficiencies.

  1. ETHANOL is typically produced from biomass that has been fermented. Ethanol production varies by country. (Brazil is the second-largest producer in the world) In the U.S., ethanol is made from corn grain; in Brazil, from cane sugar; in Germany, from beets, potatoes, wheat and rye grains. Future organic materials under consideration include willows, miscanthus, and Jerusalem artichoke.

  2. METHANE is another liquid fuel. It is typically made from wood gasification and is commonly known as wood alcohol. Although methane can be produced in higher yields than ethanol, it is a toxic substance.

  3. PYROLYSIS is a liquid fuel also known as Bio-Oil. It has low SO2 and low NOx emissions and is made by oxygen-starving organic materials. It can be made from abundant woody waste, vegetable oils or lignin-based materials such as corn husks and rice.

  4. BIODIESEL is primarily produced from soybean oil and recycled cooking oils from restaurants (fryer oils), but can be made from animal fat and vegetable oils as well. It is produced through transesterification, a process that yields both biodiesel and glycerin (soap). In Europe it is made from rapeseed oil (similar to canola oil). Algae and jetropha are seen as potential new feedstocks for biodiesel. If these are to be used for generating electricity, however, they must be of premium grade (i.e., without contaminants such as water or glycerin).

It’s important to note that burning biomass in its original form may be more efficient than converting it into alternative states like the synthetic fuels (syngas) that are used in gas turbines, internal combustion engines (automotive), and biofuels.


In South Carolina, a new 12- to 15-acre biomass plant is slated to open in 2012. This facility will burn woody biomass waste (limbs, stumps, tree tops) to produce 50 MW of electricity a year (enough power for 14,000 homes). The $135-million facility will be built by Peregrine Energy and supplied to Progress Energy at a cost of $2,700 per kW. Over 300 jobs will be created to construct the facility; once completed, 30 full-time workers will run it.

The state of Georgia has authorized the building of several biomass plants. These plants will have a combined production of 130 MW of biomass electricity. (Each MW of biomass electricity capacity equals six full-time jobs.)

Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the U.S. Department of Energy will be spending $786.5 million on multiple biomass projects. These projects will range from ethanol and biofuels research to biorefinery technologies and installations.

Proposal called North Springfield Sustainable Energy Project proposes building a $150 million to build a 25MW Wood Fired Power Plant in Springfield Vt.

Marseglia Group intends to build a $1.3 Billion biomass energy park in Albania that includes a 140 MW liquid biomass plant and two 234 MW wind farms.


  1. AGRICULTURE: orchard removals, stalks, shells, pits, hulls, aquatic plants, forest residues, forest thinning, wheat straw, corn stover, leaves, rice straw, rice husks, bagasse

  2. FOREST WASTE: bark, sawdust, slash piles, forest thinning matter, mill residues

  3. URBAN WASTE: waste paper, wood scraps, pallets, manufacturing scraps, construction materials, municipal and industrial waste


  1. THERMO-CHEMICAL: combustion, charcoal, pyrolysis, & gasification

  2. PHYSIO-CHEMICAL: pressing, extraction, & esterification

  3. BIOLOGICAL: fermentation, hydrolysis, & anaerobic digestion


Lisa Jackson, Administrator, Environmental Protection

Tom Vilsack, U.S. Agriculture Secretary

Steven Chu, U.S. Energy Secretary

Agency Ralph H Walker, Jr, President of Peregrine Energy

Lloyd Yates, President & CEO of Progress Energy Carolinas

Jeff Burleson, Director of Resource Policy and Planning, Georgia

Ralph Overend, Research Fellow, National Renewable Energy Center

Richard Bergman, Research Chemical Engineer, Forest Products Laboratory

John Zerbe, Wood Technologist, Forest Products Laboratory

Richard Bain, Group Manager, National Bioenergy Center

Mike Swenson, president and CEO, NSP-Wisconsin

Dick Kelly, President and CEO, Xcel Energy

Tom Reed, National Renewable Energy Center

Jim McCurry, Chemist, Agilent Technologies

Peter Hoedl, Director, PerkinElmer

Nathaniel Greene, Director, National Resource Defense Council

Brent Erickson, EVP, Biotechnology Industry Organization

Bob Dineen, CEO, Renewable Energy Association

John Williams, Algal Biomass Organization
Todd Becker, President and CEO, Green Plains

Joe Jobe, CEO, National Biodiesel Board

Kevin Lynch, CEO, BioProcessAlgae

Naved Jafry, Chairman, Zeons

Bill Ritter, Colorado Governor

Stefano Bianchi, Solenia

Adam Winstanley, Winstanley Enterprises

BIOMASS Organizations

USA Biomass Power Producers Alliance

Renewable Fuels Association

Biomass Energy Foundation

National Biodiesel Board

Algal Biomass Organization

Growdiesel Climate Care Council

American Biofuels Council

North Springfield Sustainable Energy Project

BIOMASS Laboratories and Government Agencies

U.S. Forest Service

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.)

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)

Office of the Biomass Programs (OBP)

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

Sandia National Laboratories (SNL)

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)

Southwest Regional Biomass Program (SERBEP)

UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Georgia Power and Greenway Renewable Power LLC

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

Batelle Laboratories

Midwest Research Institute (MRI)

BIOMASS Companies

Rollcast Energy Inc., Antares Group, Inc., Sebasta Blomberg, Bay Front Station, External Power LLC, Yellow Pine Energy Company, Environmental Alternatives, General Electric, Intrinergy, Siemens-Westinghouse, LPP Combustion, LLC, Community Power Corporation (CPC), Abengoa Bioenergy, Flambeau River Biofuels LLC, Blue Fire Ethanol Fuels Inc, Verenium Corporation, Lignol Energy Corp., Pacific Ethanol Inc., Mascoma Corporation, Poet LLC, Range Fuels, Marseglia Group, Laidlaw Energy Group, Inc.

BIOMASS Co-Firing Facilities

Alliant Energy, Xcel Energy, Inc., TVA, AES, Tacoma Public Utilities, Allegheny Power, Georgia Power

BIOMASS Power Facilities

Wheelabrator Shasta Energy Co. (49.5 MW)

Mecca Power Plant (49 MW)

Kettle Falls (46 MW)

McNeil Generating Station (50 MW)

Green Mountain Power

Central Vermont Publics Service



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