Proposed National Mission on Use of Biomass

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    Recently, the Ministry of Power has decided to set up the National Mission on use of biomass in coal based thermal power plants.

    About 

    • The modalities of operation and structure of the Nation Mission are under finalization.
    • Objectives
      • To facilitate overcoming the constraints in the supply chain of biomass pellets and agro-residue and its transport upto to the power plants.
      • To increase the level of co-firing from present five per cent to higher levels to have a larger share of carbon neutral power generation from the thermal power plants.
        • Co-firing is the process of burning two different materials at the same time. It most often refers to the combustion of coal and biomass in a single plant.
      • To take up research and development (R&D) activity in boiler design to handle the higher amount of silica, alkalis in the biomass pellets.
      • To support the energy transition in the country and consider regulatory issues in biomass co-firing.
    • Structure
      • It will have a Steering Committee headed by the Power Secretary.
      • The committee will comprise all stakeholders including representatives from the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy and the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas.
      • The Executive Committee would be headed by Member (Thermal), Central Electricity Authority (CEA).
      • NTPC Limited will play a role in providing logistic and infrastructure support.
      • The duration of the proposed National Mission would be a minimum five years.
    • It will have five sub-groups which will be designated to perform various tasks.
      • Sub-Group I: It will carry out the research on properties/characteristics of biomass.
      • Sub-Group II: It will carry out technical specification and safety aspects including research in boiler design.
      • Sub-Group III: It will be responsible for resolving issues related to the supply chain during the mission period.
      • Sub-Group IV: It will select designated labs and certification bodies for testing of agro-based biomass pellets and Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) pellets.
      • Sub-Group V: It will be formed on the regulatory framework and economics of biomass co-firing in coal based Thermal power plants.
    • Significance
      • It will address the issue of air pollution due to farm stubble-burning.
      • It will reduce the carbon footprints of thermal power generation and help the nation move towards cleaner energy sources.
      • It will also contribute to the National Clean Air Programme.

    Biomass

    • Biomass is organic, meaning it is made of material that comes from living organisms, such as plants and animals.
    • The most common biomass materials used for energy are plants, wood, and waste. These are called biomass feedstocks.
      • World’s Top Biofuel Crops: Switchgrass, wheat, sunflower, cottonseed oil, soy, sugar cane, canola, corn, etc.
    • It is an integral part of Earth’s carbon cycle.
      • The carbon cycle is the process by which carbon is exchanged between all layers of the Earth: atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and lithosphere.
      • In contrast to fossil fuels, biomass comes from recently living organisms. The carbon in biomass can continue to be exchanged in the carbon cycle.

    (Image Courtesy: WA)

    • Advantages
      • Biomass is a clean, renewable energy source. Trees, crops, and municipal solid waste are consistently available and can be managed sustainably.
      • If trees and crops are sustainably farmed, they can offset carbon emissions when they absorb carbon dioxide through respiration.
      • Many biomass feedstocks, like switchgrass, can be harvested on marginal lands or pastures, where they do not compete with food crops.
      • Unlike other renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar, it is stored within the organism, and can be harvested when it is needed.
    • Disadvantages
      • If biomass feedstocks are not replenished as quickly as they are used, they can become non-renewable.
      • Most biomass, such as corn and soybeans, requires arable land to develop which is unavailable to grow food or provide natural habitats.
      • If forested areas are not sustainably managed, the advantages of using the wood for fuel are not offset by the trees’ regrowth.
      • Most biomass plants require fossil fuels to be economically efficient.
      • Biomass has a lower energy density than fossil fuels because as much as 50 per cent of biomass is water, which is lost in the energy conversion process. 
      • Burning biomass releases carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, other pollutants and particulates which, if not responsibly managed, can create smog and even exceed the number of pollutants released by fossil fuels.

    (IMage Courtesy: EIA)

    Biomass Energy

    • It is also called bioenergy and is generated or produced by living or once-living organisms.
    • Biomass contains energy first derived from the sun. Plants absorb the sun’s energy through photosynthesis, and convert carbon dioxide and water into nutrients (carbohydrates).

    (Image Courtesy: EIA)

    • The energy from these organisms can be transformed into usable energy through direct and indirect means.
      • Biomass can be burned to create heat (direct), converted into electricity (direct), or processed into biofuel (indirect).
    • Means of Energy Conversion
      • Thermal Conversion
        • It involves heating the biomass feedstock in order to burn, dehydrate, or stabilize it.
        • The most familiar biomass feedstocks for thermal conversion are raw materials such as municipal solid waste (MSW) and scraps from paper or lumber mills.
        • Different types of energy are created through direct firing, co-firing, pyrolysis, gasification, and anaerobic decomposition.
      • Biofuel
        • Biomass is the only renewable energy source that can be converted into liquid biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel.
        • Biofuel is used to power vehicles and is being produced by gasification in countries such as Sweden, Austria, and the United States.
        • Biofuels do not operate as efficiently as gasoline. However, they can be blended with gasoline to efficiently power vehicles and machinery, and do not release the emissions associated with fossil fuels.
      • Biochar
        • It is produced during pyrolysis (heating of biomass to 200° to 300° C without oxygen).
        • It is valuable in agricultural and environmental use.
        • Biochar also helps enrich the soil. It is porous. When added back to the soil, biochar absorbs and retains water and nutrients.
      • Black Liquor
        • When wood is processed into paper, it produces a high-energy, toxic substance called black liquor.
        • It retains more than 50 per cent of the wood’s biomass energy.
      • Hydrogen Fuel Cells
        • Biomass is rich in hydrogen, which can be chemically extracted and used to generate power and to fuel vehicles.
        • Currently, hydrogen fuel cells are used to power buses, forklifts, boats, and submarines, and are being tested on airplanes and other vehicles.
    • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has defined bioenergy as a renewable form of energy.
    • The International Energy Agency (IEA) has described bioenergy as the most significant source of renewable energy.

    Source: AIR