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Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical

Engineers, Part A: Journal of Power and


Worldwide use of biomass in power generation and combined heat and power schemes
I. M. Arbon
Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part A: Journal of Power and Energy 2002 216: 41
DOI: 10.1243/095765002760024944
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Worldwide use of biomass in power generation and

combined heat and power schemes
I M Arbon
Engineered Solutions, 15 Newtown, Easton on the Hill, Stamford, Lincolnshire PE9 3NR, UK

Abstract: Biomass is a truly renewable, sustainable source of energy; in its rewood form, at least, it has
always been humanitys primary fuel. Nevertheless, it is only in the very recent past that it has been regarded
as a viable substitute in power generation for the fossil fuels that have caused most of the worlds
environmental pollution problems. This paper distinguishes between truly renewable, sustainable sources
of fuel from agricultural sources, i.e. biomass, and the disposal of domestic, urban and hazardous waste in
energy-from-waste (EfW) plants; although these differences may appear to be marginal, and any EfW plant
is of value for power generation, there are particular reasons why the generation of power from genuine
biomass reaps environmental benets.
The bulk of the paper discusses the generation of electric power from a variety of different biomass
substances, some from purpose-grown energy crops but mostly from agricultural residues. While this is
predominantly through conventional combustion systems with steam turbines, more recent experience of both
gasication and pyrolysis, with power generation by other prime movers, such as gas turbines and
reciprocating engines is also covered. The concluding section of the paper looks briey at the relative benets
of combustion, gasication and pyrolysis and what the future is likely to hold for each of these technologies.
Keywords: biomass, renewable energy, gasication, pyrolysis, anaerobic digestion, liquefaction, combined
heat and power (CHP)


Biomass is but one form of the currently in vogue renewable

fuels for power generation. The term renewable itself has
been coined to describe fuels which are renewable in the
short term (and therefore sustainable), as opposed to
so-called fossil fuels (e.g. coal, oil, natural gas, uranium,
etc.), stocks of which are rapidly diminishing, and which
require millions of years to renew themselves.
Interest in renewable energy, based on non-fossil fuels, is
currently largely focused on (see UK Governments 1999
Consultation Document New and Renewable Energy):
(a) biofuels and biomass (including municipal solid waste
(MSW), landll gas, agricultural residues, energy crops);
(b) advanced fuel cells (strictly not renewable energy but
energy conversion);
(c) solar (passive, active and photovoltaic);
(d) water (including hydro, tidal, wave and underwater
(e) Wind (onshore, offshore);
(f) geothermal.
The MS was received on 5 April 2001 and was accepted after revision for
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Renewable and waste fuels are similar and overlap; it

could be argued that a truly renewable fuel is wasted if not
utilized and a waste fuel such as MSW is renewable and
sustainable while human beings dispose of garbage. There
are numerous different denitions of what constitutes a
waste and what a renewable fuel; similarly, there are
differing views on what is meant by biomass. In this paper,
the terms biomass and biofuel are interpreted as fuels

Table 1

Denition of renewable and waste fuel sources in

common use

Renewable, sustainable biomass fuel


Waste fuel sources

Sugar cane waste (bagasse)

Timbermill waste or sawdust
Forestry and arboricultural
Short rotation coppicing (SRC)
Rice husks and coffee husks
Peanut and other nut shells
Palm oil and coconut residues
Meat and bone meal (MBM)
Poultry litter
Livestock slurry

Sewage digester gas

Landll gas (LFG)
Mines gas
Coke oven gas
Renery and process
plant are gas/off gas
Stripped crude gas
Hazardous and chemical waste
Sewage sludge
Hospital and clinical waste
Vehicle tyres

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arising from agricultural sources; waste is dened as fuels

which are products of human, urban and industrial
processes. Table 1 compares solid and gaseous fuels, used
for power generation, divided in accordance with the above
descriptions. Energy efciency concepts such as combined
heat and power (CHP) and combined cycle gas turbine
(CCGT) schemes can be equally easily integrated when
generating power from either renewable or waste fuels.



Table 2

CVs for different materials used as fuel

Material used as fuel

CV (MJ/kg)

Fuel oil
Natural gas
Hospital and clinical waste
Chemical waste
Sewage sludge
Vehicle tyres
Poultry litter

7.013.0 (depending on dryness)
20.028.0 (depending on fat content)

2.1 Combustion
Despite recent advances made in developing the technology
for the other methods discussed below, combustion is still,
by far, the most common method of converting biomass to
usable power. Most of the biomass fuels shown in Table 1
can be used directly as fuel in conventional boiler systems.
Other than rewood, which is humanitys oldest known
fuel, and which is still used today in many parts of the world
as an inefcient fuel for space heating and cooking, sugar
cane waste (bagasse) was the earliest form of biomass to be
converted to usable power. In a cane sugar factory, even
today, bagasse is converted to steam through the conventional process of combustion.

In the late 19th century it was discovered that although

bagasse has a low caloric value (CV) (9.012.5 MJ=kg)
compared with coal (Table 2), it is plentiful and is an
adequate substitute fuel for raising steam. Steam is required
in the sugar rening process (Fig. 1) and it was realized that
steam could be used as the motive power to drive machinery
in a typical cane sugar factory. For years reciprocating steam
engines were used for this purpose, rst mechanically
driving the crushing mills themselves and then, as technology developed, driving the shredders and cane knives. From

Boiler & Steam System

Cutting & Shredding

Juice Extraction

Fig. 1

Diagram of main sections of a modern sugar mill. (Reproduced by permission of Fletcher Smith

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Fig. 2

Typical uidized-bed boiler for modern biomass combustion. (Reproduced by permission of Thermax)

the 1950s, these engines were gradually replaced by steam

turbines which eventually drove electric generators rather
than the mechanical equipment.
At rst, bagasse was used as a supplementary fuel,
usually in addition to coal, and, although joint ring is
still common nowadays in many parts of the world, boiler
grate technology has progressed to the point that many
modern sugar mills are red by bagasse alone. The length
of the growing season is also a factor and coal is often used
as the main fuel during the off-crop season. Many other
types of biomass can also be used as fuels in the combustion
process, although the boiler=grate design will change
depending on the nature of the biomass fuel. Bagasse, rice
husks, coconut shells and peanut hulls have all been burned
traditionally on a xed hearth, usually with a dumping grate,
but more recently travelling grates have been used to
increase combustion efciency and to automate the process.
However, it should be borne in mind that the high silica
content in rice husks, which creates rapid fouling and
corrosion, demands that boilers for this waste are very
different in design from boilers for other biomasses. The
cyclonic combustor, originally designed for tyres, has been
found particularly suitable for rice husks, but would be an
over-elaborate combustor for other biomass materials.
On the other hand, straw burning uses a specially
designed grate under a radiation=convection water tube
boiler, while MBM almost always uses a uidized bed
(Fig. 2), a bubbling bed system which has the boiler
integrated into the top part of the combustion vessel
(forced circulation, radiation=convection, water tube type).
Circulating uidized bed systems have a separate waste heat
boiler downstream (force circulation convection water tube
bundles) and are used for higher CV fuels.
The following fuel parameters have a signicant inuence
on boiler design (see Table 3):
1. Moisture content inuences the boiler design to the
greatest extent. Conveying and storing of high moisture
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fuel is a problem, e.g. bagasse cannot be stored in the fuel

bunker of a boiler owing to bunker choking problems.
Maintaining the bed temperature is also a major problem
in burning high moisture biomass. The requirement for
in-bed cooling using coils is avoided in such cases.
2. Ash content. Low ash fuels are difcult to burn on a
travelling grate owing to a very thin ash layer on the grate
causing overheating. Low ash fuel burning in a uidized
bed requires a sand bed inventory to be maintained, as
ash generated is very low. High ash fuels (5060
per cent), however, can be burned very effectively in a
uidized bed.
3. Silica content in ash makes it very erosive and also silica
deposition on boiler tubes creates fouling problems. As
noted above, rice husk ash has a high silica content and
the boiler design has to take account of this.
4. Alkali salts content in ash reduces the ash softening
temperature and creates slagging and fouling problems in
the high and low temperature zones of boilers, e.g.
superheater and economizers. The tube pitches have to
be selected accordingly. Many biomass fuels have high

Table 3

Moisture and ash content and CV of biomass fuels


Moisture (%)

Ash (%)

CV (MJ/kg)

Bagasse pith
Spent bagasse
Rice husk
Rice straw
De-oiled rice bran
Coffee husk
Peanut shells
Coconut shell
Coir pith
Bamboo dust
Tobacco dust
Cotton stalk
Soya straw




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alkali salt content in the ash and the boiler has to be

designed to take care of this aspect, the major parameters
being as follows:

ue gas furnace exit temperature;

bed temperature;
extent of cooling in bed;
boiler tube bank pitches;
boiler tube bank cleaning;
superheater design to reduce fouling;
low temperature corrosion.

2.2 Anaerobic digestion

5. Metallic salts content in ash (sodium and potassium

salts) forms a low melting temperature eutectic mixture
causing slagging at the high temperature zone of boilers,
i.e. entry to superheater. The bed temperature and ue
gas furnace exit temperature have to be designed to be
lower than the slagging temperature. Co-ring with coal
may be required to overcome this problem. Rice straw
has a low melting point of about 750 C and requires
special design consideration for burning.
6. Particle size. A uidized bed requires particle sizes
within the range of 1020 mm, as uid bed velocity has
an inuence on particle size. Bagasse cannot be burned in
a uidized bed owing to particle size; it is burned on a
travelling or dumping grate very effectively. Rice husk,
bagasse pith, rice straw and coffee husk may all be
burned in a uidized bed with proper co-ring or alone.

Fig. 3

7. Fines content. Some nes can be burned in the free board

of a uidized bed. Underfeeding of fuel into the uidized
bed burns nes in the bed. A travelling grate limits the
nes in fuels to about 20 per cent whereas in a uidized
bed with underfeeding the percentage can go higher. Rice
husk can be burned very effectively in a uidized bed
with both overfeeding and underfeeding.

Anaerobic digestion (AD) is a method which is more

commonly used with liquid and semiliquid slurries such
as animal waste; it is also used for obtaining gas from
human sewage but is now being applied to a limited degree
to certain wastes and biomass streams. AD utilizes the same
biological processes that occur in a landll site but under
controlled conditions in a digester system. The process
(Fig. 3) takes place in the digester tank which is a
warmed, sealed, airless container where bacteria ferment
organic material in oxygen-free conditions to produce
biogas. In terms of its constituents biogas is very similar
to the LFG produced naturally in a landll site. The amount
of biogas produced is limited by the size of the digester tank
so is largely used as a fuel which may be burned in a
conventional gas boiler to heat nearby buildings or in a
reciprocating engine which is used to generate electricity.

Flowsheet diagram of the AD system. (Reproduced by permission of British BioGen)

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2.3 Pyrolysis
Pyrolysis is the thermal degradation of organic waste in the
absence of oxygen to produce a carbonaceous char, oils and
combustible gases. Although pyrolysis is an age-old
technology (the common and traditional method of manufacturing charcoal, for example), its application to biomass
and waste materials is a relatively recent development
(Fig. 4). An alternative term for pyrolysis is thermolysis,
which is technically more accurate for biomass energy
processes because these systems are usually starved air
rather than the total absence of oxygen. Although all the
products of pyrolysis are useful, the main fuel for power
generation is the pyrolysis oil. Depending on the process,
this oil may be used as liquid fuel for burning in a boiler or as
a substitute for diesel fuel in reciprocating engines. Although
the future for pyrolysis is extremely promising, there is as yet
little direct operating experience with this method.

2.4 Gasication
Gasication differs from pyrolysis in that oxygen in the
form of air, steam or pure oxygen is reacted at high
temperature with the available carbon in the waste to
produce a gas, ash or slag and a tar product. Although the
gasication method is very recent in its application to
biomass and waste materials (Fig. 5), the underlying technology, that of the gasication of coal, is now extremely well
proven. The major benet of gasication of biomass is that
the product gas can be used directly to fuel a gas turbine

Fig. 4


generator which itself will form part of a CHP or CCGT

system, thus signicantly improving the overall thermal
efciency of the plant. The main disadvantage is that there
are many more items of large equipment and the capital
investment is correspondingly higher, so the payback period
will have to be carefully dened.

2.5 Gasohol production

In the late 20th century the rising price of petroleum (and
hence of gasoline) in many countries has led to the
increasing use of gasohol which is typically a mixture of
90 per cent unleaded gasoline and 10 per cent alcohol
(usually ethanol). Gasohol burns well in gasoline engines
and is a desirable alternative fuel for certain applications
because of the renewability of alcohols such as ethanol and
methanol, which are readily manufactured from renewable
biomass resources. Undiluted methanol and ethanol are
also good fuels for automobile engines because they have
high octane ratings and low pollution emission, although
their solvent properties can cause problems by dissolving
certain materials used in modern fuel systems, whereas
gasohol may be used in most engines without the solvency
Methanol, CH3OH, also known as methyl alcohol, wood
alcohol or carbinol, is the simplest of the alcohols. It can be
produced by the destructive distillation (heating in the
absence of air) of hardwood chips or from the synthesis of
hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Methanol is a high octane,

Diagrammatic representation of the pyrolysis process. (Reproduced by permission of Aston University)

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Fig. 5

Diagrammatic representation of typical gasication process. (Reproduced by permission of ARBRE

Energy Limited)

clean burning fuel that is a potentially important substitute

for gasoline in automotive vehicles and stationary engines.
Ethanol, CH3CH2OH, also called ethyl alcohol or grain
alcohol, has been produced since prehistoric times, mostly
through the fermentation of fruit juices; it can also be made
by fermentation from the carbohydrates found in molasses,
grains (such as corn, wheat, rye and barley) and other
agricultural products, such as potatoes. Like methanol,
ethanol is an excellent engine fuel with a high octane
rating and low emissions, and similarly ethanol should be
used in a fuel system designed to withstand the alcohols
tendency to dissolve plastic parts.
A similar fuel to gasohol is biodiesel, which is a renewable diesel fuel substitute that can be made by chemically
combining any natural oil or fat with methanol or ethanol.
Methanol has been the most commonly used alcohol in the
commercial production of biodiesel. In Europe, biodiesel is
widely available both in its neat form (100 per cent
biodiesel, also known as B100) and in blends with petroleum diesel. Most European biodiesel is made from rapeseed oil. In the United States, initial interest in producing
and using biodiesel has focused on the use of soybean oil as
the primary feedstock, mainly because the USA is the
worlds largest producer of soybean oil.

converting biomass into liquid hydrocarbons, the third of

which is actually based on gasication.
Hydrothermal upgrading (HTU) was developed by Shell.
In this process biomass has 75 per cent of its oxygen
removed under high pressure and temperature without the
use of hydrogen. Hydrogen is then added to produce a good
quality gasoline. The overall energy efciency of this
process is at best 50 per cent.
Flash pyrolysis has a much higher energy efciency at
about 67 per cent. However, in this process a bio-crude is
produced which has the same composition as the dry
biomass and the quality of the fuel is therefore lower than
that produced by HTU. After subsequent catalytic conversion into a high quality fuel, the overall conversion
efciency is lower than that of the HTU process.
The nal process route is gasication with oxygen
followed by FischerTropsch or methanol synthesis into a
liquid fuel. FischerTropsch synthesis produces an excellent
quality jet fuel, but the overall efciency is only 50 per cent,
compared with 60 per cent for the methanol route.



3.1 Sugar cane bagasse

2.6 Liquefaction
Another emerging technology, potentially applicable to all
biofuels but most likely to be used for wood, is liquefaction.
What nature has done with biomass over millions of years
can be carried out in a liquefaction plant, in which very wet
materials that, on a dry basis, would contain about 50 per
cent oxygen, are converted into a hydrocarbon with 10 per
cent oxygen or less. In principle, there are three routes for
Proc Instn Mech Engrs Vol 216 Part A: J Power and Energy

In a cane sugar factory (Fig. 1), the sugar cane is loaded

onto a moving table which carries it into the revolving cane
knives, which chop it into chips to expose the tissue and to
open the cell structure, thus readying the material for
efcient juice extraction. The cane knives are followed by
a shredder, which breaks the chips into shreds. The prepared
cane then goes through the crusher, a set of roller mills in
which the juice is extracted. As the crushed cane proceeds

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through a series of up to eight four-roll mills, it is forced

against a countercurrent of water known as water of maceration. Streams of juice extracted from the cane, mixed with
the maceration water, are combined into a mixed juice which
is further processed into sugar. Alternatively, the sugar juice
can be extracted by diffusion. Residual cane bre, after juice
is removed, is called bagasse; in common with other
biomass residues, bagasse has proved to be an excellent
boiler fuel. Although the following relates specically to
sugar mills, the description of steam turbines is fairly typical
of power generation from most biomass residues using the
combustion method.
As noted in section 2.1, by the 1950s modern cane sugar
mills were commonly equipped with single-stage impulsetype steam turbines driving the shredder, cane knives and
crushing mills. The predominant layout of steam turbine for
this service became the overhung Curtis wheel (Fig. 6),
which proved immensely reliable in service. American
manufacturers who dominated the sugar industry in South
America and South East Asia used the familiar between
bearings layout, previously developed for the petrochemical
industry; although built to API standards the between
bearings type never proved any more reliable than the
overhung type in sugar mill applications.
The steam turbines, typically running at 6000
8000 r=min, provided mechanical power through a gear
train to the driven equipment at a variety of speeds. As
the crushing mills would run at 46 r=min, the development
of suitable gear trains to achieve up to a 2000:1 reduction
became the dominant operating technology. Steam turbines
were simple mechanical devices, speed controlled by
conventional mechanical governors. The steam pressure
was fairly low, about 1015 bar; even today sugar mill
systems rarely operate much above 30 bar, except in India
where much higher pressures are becoming commonplace.
Steam was expanded in the turbine and exhausted at an

Fig. 6
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absolute pressure of around 23 bar, leaving sufcient

pressure and temperature in the steam to use it further in
the rening process; this back-pressure type of turbine
came to dominate the sugar industry.
Even with effectively free fuel the operating efciency of
the steam turbines became important as more sugar mills
wanted to fuel their boilers using only bagasse (previously
used as supplementary fuel), thus reducing the amount of
imported coal. In the late 1960s, for example, a British
manufacturer, Peter Brotherhood Limited (PBL) received an
order to supply 58 steam turbines for the Cuban sugar
industry. The inlet steam conditions varied between 10.6
and 17.5 bar all with 2 bar exhaust and the company elected
to build a new standard design of multistage turbine, capable
of having between three and ve Rateau stages (Fig. 7).
Several hundred of these machines have been supplied for
sugar mill applications and even today are occasionally
provided, for example, for shredder drives.
During the 1970s to 1990s, sugar mill technology
improved drastically and it became the norm to drive the
various items of machinery with a.c. electric motors and to
utilize the steam raised from the bagasse-red boilers in
multistage steam turbines in central power stations (except
in Australia where most machines were driven hydraulically
with a large electric motor used for the hydraulic power
It thus became necessary to provide larger multistage,
back-pressure steam turbines. As the steam conditions have
not increased greatly the overall enthalpy drop required is
similar to that of the 1950s and therefore the number of
stages has not signicantly changed. The rst, larger, steam
turbine was supplied by PBL in 1974, rated at 6 MW,
although the inlet steam conditions were only 11 bar, dry
and saturated (D&S). Two turbines of this type were
supplied in 1993, each producing 10 MW from steam inlet
of 44 bar and 410 C, exhausting at 2 bar (Komatipoort,

Single-stage overhung steam turbine. (Reproduced by permission of Peter Brotherhood Limited)

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Fig. 7

Multistage steam turbine supplied for Cuban sugar industry in 1968. (Reproduced by permission of
Peter Brotherhood Limited)

South Africa). The same basic turbine frame size is offered

today and one has recently been completed for a sugar mill
in Zimbabwe, rated at 20 MW (Fig. 8).
As sugar mill technology improved there was little
wastage of bagasse and many factories produced more
than they needed for their own power requirements. Since
most sugar mills are in remote locations (not necessarily
areas of low population) there is opportunity to provide
power for the local community and to become the power
station for a whole region. This has happened in many
locations, e.g. India and South Africa, and is becoming
commonplace in Australia. In these cases, since no more
steam is required by the sugar rening process, there is no

Fig. 8

need for back-pressure steam turbines to provide steam at

positive pressure. Therefore condensing steam turbines are
used to ensure the maximum enthalpy drop from the
available steam. Signicantly improved power outputs can
thus be achieved from the same mass ow of steam and
nowadays sugar mill steam turbines can have power ratings
of 40 or 50 MW.
Another signicant development of steam turbine design
for biomass combustion power plants is the arrangement of
single-stage turbines in so-called tandem or twin
arrangements, or even a combination of the two. At the
forefront of this development has been the German
company, Kuhnle, Kopp and Kausch (KKK).

A 20 MW steam turbinegenerator using sugar cane bagasse. (Reproduced by permission of Peter Brotherhood Limited)

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3.2 Timber mill waste

Any timber mill produces quantities of waste wood, either
sawdust or unusable offcuts and bark, which have traditionally been burned as waste at the sawmill. Wood has a fairly
high CV (Table 2), so can easily be used as fuel to raise steam
to generate power on site. Steam generators for this duty are
traditionally similar to industrial coal-red units, using a
travelling grate for the combustion and a natural circulation
single-drum boiler. Previously the economics of this had
been poor since sawmill power requirements are not large
and machinery has been driven by, for example, water power.
If the sawmill waste is considered renewable fuel rather
than waste product, the economics become different.
Sawmills are usually in remote areas, close to the forest;
again, not necessarily in areas of low population density.
Their remoteness, however, often precludes grid connection
and diesel generators provide power; delivery of diesel
fuel creates logistics problems. The optimum solution is
often to use wood waste from the timber mill as fuel in a
boiler to raise the steam to be used in a condensing
steam turbine to generate electrical power efciently.
Provided that the boiler plant is close to the forest where
the wood is harvested, the CO2 emissions from the combustion process will be absorbed by the growing trees, creating
what is known as a carbon-neutral cycle. Timber mill
waste generally has a low ash content (<2 per cent), a high
sintering temperature, and a low nitrogen and chlorine content
(emission precursors).
PBL has supplied several steam turbinegenerator sets for
this service and four examples in Table 4 illustrate the power
which can be produced from an efcient steam cycle using
wood-red boilers. In each case the company worked
directly with the sawmill operators to determine the power
recovery system to meet their needs most closely. In Maine,
USA, for example, the dowel mill was isolated and simply
required enough power for its domestic needs. Accordingly,
a low pressure, low cost boiler was utilized, providing an
inexpensive power recovery solution.
The project in Finland, however, wanted to use the water
from the condenser in a district heating scheme, so the
condenser pressure had to be relatively high, sacricing
some of the available enthalpy drop, but meeting other
heating needs. The project in Ghana used two identical
units working in parallel.
The steam turbine usually employs the integral condenser concept, pioneered by PBL for marine applications and

Table 4


proved to be an ideal, compact package for small land-based

power stations. In addition to the steam turbine power
recovery systems described above, there is signicant interest nowadays in converting wood chips to oil using the
pyrolysis process. In several different test installations diesel
engines and small gas turbines have been converted to run
on pyrolysed oil. Although the experiments have been
largely successful, it is not known whether there are yet
any commercial installations using pyrolysed oil from
timber mill waste.
More developments have focused on gasication, a
number of which have been demonstrated on a commercial
scale (Table 5).
3.3 Forestry and arboricultural residues
In any forest managed for timber harvesting it is not
sufcient to let nature take its course. Growing trees, for
example, for telegraph poles means concentrating the
growth on the trunks to ensure that the growing effort is
not dissipated in the branches. Thus side shoots, branches
and twigs will be lopped as they are of no value for timber.
Also, not all trees will grow successfully or at the same rate
so non-performers are weeded out to give the successful
trees space to grow. It is therefore sometimes economically
viable to install a small power station using the forest
residues as fuel. Both the boiler and the steam turbine
technology are similar to those described in Section 3.2.
Because forestry and arboricultural residues have generally
weathered less than timber mill waste, they have a lower
sintering temperature, and greater nitrogen and chlorine
content (emission precursors). A 5 MW steam turbine
generator package was supplied in 1988 for embedded
power generation in Newfoundland. This application has
relatively high steam inlet conditions of 59.6 bar and 480 C,
exhausting to an integral condenser at 0.08 bar.
Construction of a recent plant by a consortium in St Paul,
Minnesota, USA, breaks the mould in terms of scale, with a
planned start-up date at the end of 2002. This plant will
produce 25 MW of electricity and 73 MW of thermal energy
(heating and cooling) to supply approximately 80 per cent of
the energy needs of the city.
3.4 Short rotation coppicing
This is a variation on the two other wood-fuelled systems
discussed above, where the wood crop being harvested is

Typical steam turbine generators for timber mills

Maine, USA




Power (kW)
Inlet pressure (absolute) (bar)
Inlet temperature ( C)
Exhaust pressure (absolute) (bar)
Speed (r/min)


2 6 1250



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Wisa Forest,
Pietarsaari, Finland
Burlington, Vermont, USA


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ARBRE Energy,
Eggborough, UK
Mucuri, Bahia, Brazil

Cosenza, Italy

Jonquiere, Canada

North Powder, Oregon, USA

Bloomeld, Missouri, USA
Sacramento, California, USA
Island Maui, Hawaii, USA
Amergas, Geertruidenberg,
Pol AG, Austria
Bioelettrica SpA,
Cascina, Pisa, Italy
Allothermic vacuum
pyrolysis, CCGT
Atmospheric FB,
4 gas engines
Atmospheric FB,
Atmospheric CFB

Atmospheric indirect
heated FB, CCGT
Downdraught co-current
entrained bed
Atmospheric FB
Atmospheric FB
Atmospheric FB
Pressurized FB
Conversion of coal-red
atmospheric FB plant
Atmospheric CFB
Atmospheric CFB,

Pyroow atmospheric CFB


SRC (willow)

Waste wood

General biomass

Bark, RDF, waste wood

SRC, forest residues,
olive and grape seeds

Wood waste
Wood chips
Agricultural waste
Demolition wood

Wood waste

Wood biomass

Waste wood,
Wood waste

Biomass feedstock

Commercial-scale biomass gasication plants

Pyroow atmospheric CFB

Process type

CFB, circulating uidized bed; FB, uidized bed; RDF, refuse-derived fuel


Lurgi (25 million
Thermie Grant)
Pyrocycler by
Pyrovac International
Rossano Calabro
(7 million)

IGT Renugas


Varnarno, Sweden


Battelle FERCO
(USA DoE Grant)

Site, country

Process company

Table 5









Feed rate (t/h)









Electrical output (MW)







34.0 (gas
for lime kilns)


Thermal output (MW)


A01701 # IMechE 2002


specically grown as a fuel rather than as timber. In many

respects this is the power generation equivalent to the use of
energy crops in countries such as Brazil where the grain is
distilled into alcohols, such as ethanol for fuel in vehicle
engines, also known as gasohol; see section 2.5.
In SRC, fast growing trees are grown in special plantations to be harvested every third or fourth year of the
growing cycle (Fig. 9). The best type of wood for fuel has
a high CV, ideally containing ammable oils or resins and
which can be regularly harvested. Ideal trees such as eucalyptus grow with difculty in Europe and North America,
where willow and ash are more commonly used. The ipilipil tree has been widely used in South East Asia and
Australasia. Typically, the tree crop is harvested every 4
years and about 1000 kW of useful power can be produced
from a 500 ha plantation. The ash residue from the power
station is used as fertilizer and the CO2 released by burning
the wood is absorbed by the growing trees in a carbonneutral cycle.
In 1981, PBL supplied condensing steam turbinegenerator packages for six such power stations in the Philippines,
amply proving the efcacy of SRC principles; again, the
integral condenser concept was used. In this, as in all
wood-red power stations, the logistics of handling and
drying the fuel must be considered. Table 2 shows wood has
a typical CV of 1720 MJ=kg, compared with 2332 MJ=kg
for hard coal and 5055 MJ=kg for natural gas and may also
require large areas for drying and preparation.
An interesting energy crop variant is thistles, which are
being grown in Burgos and near Huesca, both in Spain, to
fuel two 10 MW power plants whose construction is
currently about to be commenced for Biomasas del Pirineo
SA. For each plant, 105 000 t=yr of thistles will be grown on
6000 ha, and the capital cost will be about 10.5 million. On
a smaller scale, a company called TGS Robin operates a
unique plant in Nice, France, that generates 6 MW from four

Fig. 9

Diagrammatic representation of dendro-thermal cycle

for SRC plant. (Reproduced by permission of Balfour

A01701 # IMechE 2002


Caterpillar generator sets fuelled by rapeseed methyl ester or

sunower distillate, which is a form of bio-diesel.
A new variant of SRC technology is currently being
applied in the UK at the ARBRE Energy project at Eggborough, Yorkshire, which will be fuelled by a dedicated willow
plantation of 2000 ha. The plant will use an atmospheric
pressure, air-blown, circulating uidized bed gasication
process developed by TPS Termiska Processer AB in
Sweden (see Fig. 5). Following gasication, catalytic tar
cracking takes place in a second circulating uidized bed.
The gaseous product is compressed and injected as fuel gas
into a specially converted gas turbine. Overall cycle efciency is improved by the addition of a steam turbine in a
CCGT system which produces a total of 8 MW. Although
this provides overall cycle efciency improvements, the low
CV of the gasied wood results in a physically large fuel-gas
compressor which is a high parasitic load on the system.
The equipment involved in the gasication process is
greater, and therefore very much more expensive, than for
the traditional combustion power plant. It will be interesting
to see how the capital versus operating costs are evaluated in
The ARBRE Energy plant has been partly nanced by an
EU grant, and will attract a higher than pool price rate for the
electricity produced for 15 years under the UK Governments
Non Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO) arrangements. Plant
start-up was scheduled for the end of 1999, but technical
problems have prevented successful operation to date.

3.5 Straw burning

Straw is the residue from the harvest of cereal crops; only
the ear is used for processing as food and the straw stalk is
waste. In the days of manual harvesting, straw had many
uses, e.g. animal feed and bedding, building material.
Increasing mechanization, industrialization and urbanization
means a huge global oversupply of straw, leading to burning
the straw in the open eld. Recently this practice has
become environmentally unacceptable and most developed
countries (even USA) now legislate against straw burning.
A certain amount of straw can be ploughed back into the
land but additional uses must be found; a classic example is
the use of straw in construction board. However, this will
absorb only a small fraction of the over-supply. Since straw
has a reasonably high CV (about 15 MJ=kg), higher than
bagasse for instance, its use as a fuel for power generation is
an obvious solution. Both straw incineration and straw
pyrolysis have been used in power generation applications.
Straw also contains very low levels of chlorine and sulfur,
so the boiler can be operated at a higher steam temperature
than is possible for most waste incinerators. The
main difculty is straws low density; a kilogram of straw
occupies a relatively large volume, resulting in high transportation costs. The low density also has a signicant effect
on grate design for the boilers, which are consequently
larger than for conventional fuels.

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Proc Instn Mech Engrs Vol 216 Part A: J Power and Energy



One UK power generator, Energy Power Resources

Limited (EPRL), has already recognized the potential for
straw burning and at the end of 2000 commissioned a
36 MW power station at Ely, Cambridgeshire, UK. The
plant will consume 200 000 t=yr of straw and will also be
used to burn other baled energy crops such as Miscanthus (a
woody grass). The power can be sold at an elevated price of
6 p=kW h until 2013 under an NFFO arrangement. The plant
cost was 60 million with a design, build and operate
turnkey contract being let to FLS Milj, which used its
proprietary vibrating grate-ring technology. EPRL has just
received planning permission for a similar plant in Corby,
Northamptonshire, UK.
3.6 Rice and coffee husks
Rice husks, rice straw and coffee husks have very similar
CVs to straw (Table 2) but need to be treated very differently
because of the high silica content which can cause serious
fouling and corrosion of boiler plant. By collecting rice or
coffee husks from several mills and using them to fuel
efcient suspension burning boilers, a plant can produce
electricity from the resulting steam and good quality ash for
use as a building material or an industrial abrasive. The
utilization of rice and coffee husks is expected to be a major
growth area for power generation in third-world and developing countries.
An example of a steam turbine plant operating with rice
husk fuel is that supplied by the British company W H Allen
(WHA) to the National Food Authority in the Philippines in
1982. This produces more than 2 MW from live steam of
14.8 bar and 343 C, condensing at 0.12 bar. The low boiler
output=turbine input steam conditions are due to the silica
content mentioned above.
In Costa Rica, waste water from coffee mills has been
used effectively to generate biogas to fuel a gas engine.
Details of two plants are given in Table 6.
3.7 Peanut and other nut shells
The peanut (Arachis hypogaea) has the peculiar habit of
ripening underground, hence its alternative name groundnut; nevertheless, it is not a genuine nut. It is native to
tropical South America but was introduced early into the
Old World tropics, since when India, China, West Africa and
the USA have become the largest commercial producers of
peanuts. The peanut is grown mainly for its edible oil,

Table 6

Plants generating biogas from AD of coffee mill residue

Plant capacity (t/day)

Water consumption (m3 /t)
Efuent treatment capacity (m3 /day)
Biogas production (m3 /day)
Fuel wood substitute (m3 /season)
Power generation (kW)

Coffee Mill

Coffee Mill



Proc Instn Mech Engrs Vol 216 Part A: J Power and Energy

except in USA, where some 300 derivative products have

been developed.
Nutshells have many uses, including the use of black
walnut shell our to sand blast jet engines and other turbomachines, which precludes their general use as power
generation fuel, despite having high CVs. Peanuts have
softer shells, less suitable for other uses than most nutshells,
and are sometimes used as fuel. For example, a 1500 kW
steam turbine supplied by WHA to Gambia in 1982 used
peanut shells as fuel, with live steam of 32 bar and 400 C,
condensing at 0.14 bar.
There is a pilot plant in Spain for the gasication of
ground almond shells for power generation. The process was
developed by the Institut Catala` dEnergia at the University
of Zaragoza and Energia Natural De Mora SL (Enamora). It
is based on a downdraught moving bed reactor which
produces an almost tar-free gas, since the process includes
oxidation and reduction areas following the gasication. The
pilot unit is owned and operated by Enamora at Mora
dErbe, Catalunya. The plant gasies 500 kg=h of almond
shells and the biogas is fed to two Volvo engines (which
need 68 per cent diesel to maintain operation) each
generating 250 kW of electricity. The overall efciency is
calculated as 21 per cent.

3.8 Palm oil and coconut residues

The African oil palm tree, Elaeis guineensis, has been
cultivated as a source of oil in West and Central Africa,
its origin, and in Malaysia and Indonesia, as an important
commercial plant. The outer eshy portion of the fruit is
steamed to destroy the lipolytic enzymes then pressed to
recover the palm oil, highly coloured from the presence of
carotenes. The kernels of the fruit are also pressed in
mechanical screw presses to recover palm kernel oil, chemically quite different from oil from the esh of the fruit.
Palm oil is used in making soaps, candles and lubricants
and in processing tinplate and coating iron plates. Palm
kernel oil is used in manufacturing such edible products as
margarine, chocolate confections, and pharmaceuticals. The
cake residue after kernel oil is extracted is a cattle feed.
Palm oil and palm kernel oil are two of the most
important commercially exploited vegetable oils; the huge
increase in demand for vegetable oils over the past two
decades has led to considerable improvements in production
methods and processing plants and to an above-average
number of new mills. The palm oil production process and
heating require large quantities of heat; also, mechanical
energy is needed to drive the various production machines.
At present, commercial palm oil mills process more than
35 million t=yr worldwide equivalent to some 65 million
barrels of oil. While the palm oil production process and
heating require large quantities of heat and mechanical
energy to drive the various production machines, this
amounts to less than half of the recoverable energy in the

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A01701 # IMechE 2002


The shell and bre byproducts, free fuel, are generally

used to re steam raising boilers. Steam is produced at
pressures and temperatures higher than those required by
the process so that the steam can be expanded in backpressure turbines and then passed to the process where the
latent heat in the exhaust steam is utilized in different ways.
The steam turbines nowadays are predominantly used to
drive electric generators. Power generation requirements for
palm oil plants are relatively low, usually in the range
5001000 kW; single-stage, Curtis wheel, overhung turbines
are almost invariably used in such applications. Typical
steam conditions are inlet 18 bar and 260 C, exhaust
2.5 bar.
Coconut oil plants operate in a similar manner. The
coconut, the fruit of the coconut palm, Cocos nucifera,
yields copra, the dried extracted kernel from which coconut
oil, the worlds top ranking vegetable oil, is expressed. In
addition to the edible kernels and the drink obtained from
green nuts, the husk yields coir, a bre highly resistant to
salt water and used in the manufacture of ropes, mats and
baskets. Because steam is not required for processing, and
the husks can be used for other products, there has been less
emphasis on incineration of waste for power generation.
Some power generation plants are being built, however,
which burn the coconut residues as described in section 3.2.
AD of the liquid efuent (see section 3.11) not only
reduces the biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and chemical oxygen demand (COD) content to acceptable levels, but
also generates methane for use as a supplementary fuel in
the boiler. Plants for power generation from palm oil and
coconut residues produce between 1 and 15 MW depending
on whether consolidation of waste from several nearby mills
can be organized.

Fig. 10
A01701 # IMechE 2002


3.9 Meat and bone meal

A fairly new area of interest in this country, awareness of
which has been heightened by the bovine spongiform
encephalopathy (BSE) crisis and its aftermath, is the safe
disposal of the residues of cattle slaughter. Most unused
residues have high CVs, useful as fuel, although traditionally used in other ways. Since the BSE crisis and the fear of
contamination, incineration is now a legal requirement for
two categories of cattle:
1. Cattle with BSE diagnosed, or from a herd so diagnosed,
are killed and the complete carcasses must be incinerated,
or otherwise disposed of, whole. This is carried out as a
batch process and energy recovery is not economically
2. In order to eliminate BSE, cattle over 30 months old
(OTM) are killed and cannot be used for meat (the OTM
program). Instead, they are rendered to extract fats for
soap and other cosmetic products. MBM is the product
remaining after rendering. Until the recent BSE crisis in
Europe, although MBM has a high CV, it was never used
as a fuel because it was much more valuable as an animal
feed. This is now banned, however, and the only
currently permissible destruction route for the material
is high temperature incineration.
Because of the OTM programme, some 400 000 t of
MBM is in storage in the UK awaiting destruction, and
MBM is being produced at a rate of 175 000 t=yr. Only
four plants will be built or converted for MBM incineration
in the UK: one is a converted poultry litter power plant
burning the MBM on a grate; the others are uidized bed
incinerators. One of these is being built by a rendering
company and will generate only enough power for site
use (turbine generator supplied by KKK); the others will

Illustration of a typical poultry litter incineration plant. (Reproduced by permission of Fibrowatt

Limited, courtesy of ETSU)
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Proc Instn Mech Engrs Vol 216 Part A: J Power and Energy



Table 7

Poultry litter plants in the UK

Plant name




EPRL Elean

Plant start-up
Throughput (t/yr)
Power output (MW)

150 000

85 000 (now MBM)

450 000

100 000

generate more than 9 and 5 MW of electricity respectively, in

both cases with the steam turbinegenerator sets being
supplied by PBL. In each case, the boilers generate steam
at around 45 bar and 350 C.
3.10 Poultry litter
In the UK, broiler poultry farms annually produce more than
1.5 million tonnes of litter, consisting of a mixture of wood
shavings, straw and poultry droppings, an excellent fuel for
electricity generation. (This amount of litter would ll 250
football pitches 2 m deep.) Power generation companies buy
the litter from the farming companies and transport it to
specially designed storage facilities at the power station
(Fig. 10) where it is tipped into storage pits in a controlled
environment. To prevent the escape of odours the air from
the fuel hall is drawn straight into the furnace. Overhead
cranes load the fuel into conveyors. The fuel is burned at
temperatures in excess of 850 C to ensure the complete
combustion of all odours and organic material. The furnace

Fig. 11

heats the water in the boiler to produce steam at about 65 bar

and 450 C to drive a condensing steam turbine.
A company called Fibrowatt Limited operates two such
plants in East Anglia and a third in North Lincolnshire,
details of which are given in Table 7. The Thetford plant
(Europes largest biomass generator) cost 50 million and
employs 30 people on site plus 100200 local jobs in
support services. The ash is sold as a fertilizer under the
name Fibrophos. Plants of 40 MW are planned for Holland,
Belgium, Italy and several states of the USA.
There are no waste products from this process, which
operates in a carbon-neutral cycle (Fig. 11). The ash from
the furnace is conveyed to sealed containers in the ash hall,
y ash is recovered from the ue gases by the electrostatic
precipitator next to the chimney stack and both types of ash
are sold as environmentally friendly, nitrogen-free fertilizer,
rich in phosphate and potash. Emissions from the chimney
consist of steam from the water content of the litter and very
low levels of the normal gases arising from combustion of
fossil fuels.

Diagrammatic representation of the carbon-neutral cycle. (Reproduced by permission of Fibrowatt Limited)

Proc Instn Mech Engrs Vol 216 Part A: J Power and Energy

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A01701 # IMechE 2002


3.11 Livestock slurry

Liquid organic residues from livestock farming, food
processing, beverage production, waste disposal and other
industries are required to meet increasingly stringent
discharge standards. Where direct discharge to water courses
or treatment in aerobic settling ponds no longer meets the
latest standards, operators are faced with installing new high
capital cost treatment plants. Many forward-looking organizations, however, are treating their efuents as a potential
energy source.
Anaerobic digesters produce conditions that encourage
the natural breakdown of organic matter by bacteria in the
absence of air. AD provides an effective method for turning
residues from livestock farming and food processing industries into:
(a) biogas (rich in methane) which can be used to generate
heat and=or electricity;
(b) bre which can be used as a nutrient-rich soil
(c) liqor which can be used as liquid fertilizer.
The biogas from a typical AD plant will be sufcient to
generate a few 100 kW up to 4 MW. In agriculture, small onfarm digesters produce biogas to heat farm buildings.
However, an AD project is most likely to be nancially
viable if treated as part of an integrated farm waste management system where feedstocks and AD products are all used.
Larger-scale centralized anaerobic digesters are now being
developed, using feedstock from a number of sources. The
principal feedstocks for AD in the UK are residues from
livestock farming, notably cattle and pig slurries (Table 8).
The digestion tank is a warmed, sealed, airless container,
where bacteria ferment organic material in oxygen-free
conditions to produce biogas (mainly carbon dioxide and
methane); 3060 per cent of digestible solids convert to
biogas, which can be used to generate heat and=or electricity. Biogas may be burned in a conventional gas boiler to
heat nearby buildings and the digester and=or to power
associated machinery or vehicles. If used to generate electricity, an efcient CHP system is preferred, where heat is
used to maintain the digester temperature and any surplus
for other purposes. Larger-scale CHP plant can supply
housing or industrial developments, or electricity to the grid.
As fresh feedstock is added to the system, digestate is
pumped from the digester to a storage tank, where biogas
continues to be produced; collection and combustion may be
an economic and safety requirement. The residual digestate

Table 8

can be stored then applied to the land without further

treatment, or separated to produce ber and liqor. The
ber can be used as a soil conditioner or compost; the
nutrient-rich liqor can be used as liquid fertilizer.
Few power generation systems currently exist, although
the potential is large. Existing UK facilities use reciprocating engines, although gas turbines are more efcient for
larger installations.



The remote Pacic Islands of Fiji have no indigenous fossil

fuels and, with tourism being a major source of revenue to
the islands, a secure environmentally friendly and economic
source of electrical power is vital to the economy of the
islands. In addition to tourism, two other major industries in
Fiji are sugar and forest products.
Fiji has traditionally had two methods of power generation: hydro and diesel. The diesel power station is used when
the hydro-power dries up each summer. It has been discovered that the excess in bagasse during the crushing season
coincides with the shortage of hydro power. The Fiji Sugar
Corporation (FSC) has installed two back-pressure turbogenerator sets, the rst a 12 MW set at Lautoka, on Viti
Levu, the second a 10 MW set at Labasa, on Vanua Levu, to
take advantage of this situation and to export the excess
power, thus saving the Fiji economy the cost of imported
fuel. A similar third unit is planned for Rarawai.
Steam is raised at 33.1 bar and 355 C and expanded
down to the process absolute pressure of 2.2 bar; the
maximum steam ow possible from the available bagasse
is let down through the turbine and any excess steam not
required by the process is dumped into an atmospheric,
water-cooled condenser.
Clearly this is not the most efcient scheme possible; it
would have been more efcient to raise the steam at 60 bar
and 500 C and to use a reaction turbine with an extraction
at the required process pressure and exhausting to a vacuum
condenser. This solution was considered by FSC but
discarded for the following reasons:
1. Sugar is a ckle business with the quantity of cane
subject to the vagaries of weather, disease, drought,
politics and market price.
2. FSC did not want to enter in to an electricity supply
contract that it may not be able to always full and the

Potential for energy recovery from UK livestock population




12 200 000
7 900 000
124 000 000

A01701 # IMechE 2002


Potential CH4 yield


Potential electrical output

(MW h/y)

5 700 000
800 000
1 000 000
8 600 000

6 200 000
900 000
1 100 000
9 400 000

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Proc Instn Mech Engrs Vol 216 Part A: J Power and Energy



Fiji Electricity Authority did not want to be fully dependent on a supply that may not be totally secure.
3. As far as the suitability of the equipment for the location
is concerned, Fiji is a long way from anywhere and 60 bar
steam requires a high level of water treatment not
currently available on the island and it was felt that a
reaction extraction machine was insufciently robust=
reliable for a sugar factory.
An impulse back-pressure turbine with a separate dump
condenser was selected as this gave the necessary exibility
both to produce power for export and to concentrate on the
core business of sugar production. As a further consideration of exibility it was decided to design the machine for
maximum efciency at 80 per cent of the maximum
continuous rating (MCR) power.
PBL was selected to supply the steam turbo-generator for
the following reasons:
(a) excellent efciency, superior to that available from
competitors from Japan or Germany;
(b) proven track recorda number of similar frames had
been in operation in sugar factories in Australia and
Sudan for almost 25 years;
(c) familiarity with the cane sugar industrythe company
had supplied over 500 machines to sugar factories over a
40 year period.
The cautious approach adopted by FSC has proved to be
well founded as, since installing the two turbo-generator
sets, the Fiji sugar industry has suffered from both a drought
and an excess of rain and the 12 MW machine at Lautoka
has suffered from a major water carry-over causing considerable damage to the rst-stage blades.
At Drassa, not far from Lautoka on Viti Levu, Tropic
Wood produces wood chips and other wood products for
export from sustainable pine forests. The power requirement
of the sawmill is 3000 kW and on installing a condensing
steam turbine generator set, using steam raised by burning
the wood waste, the mill has become totally independent of
the local grid.
As well as being economically desirable the above
schemes are also neutral with regard to greenhouse gases
since the CO2 given off by burning both the bagasse and the
wood waste is absorbed in the growing of the sugar cane and
pine trees.


From at least as early as the 1950s, biomass has been

successfully used as a fuel to raise steam for power generation. These early examples generally involved co-ring of
bagasse in coal-red boilers but their success has led to most
sugar mill combustion plants nowadays being solely red
with bagasse. Although bagasse has a relatively low caloric
value (Table 3), it has proved to be such a useful fuel in
sugar mill applications that it has set the pattern for the use
Proc Instn Mech Engrs Vol 216 Part A: J Power and Energy

of the other biomass fuels, discussed in this paper, for

combustion systems. Many of these other biomass fuels
have greater CVs but to date by far the most popular form of
converting biomass for electrical power is by using steam
produced from the combustion of the biomass. The other
technologies used either are much newer (and hence with
very limited experience) or are for much smaller-scale
power generation schemes.
As already mentioned, the early experience with bagasse
was in co-ring coal-red boilers and it may be thought that
further opportunities will arise in the future for biomass to
be used as a supplementary fuel in fossil fuel red boilers.
Although there will unquestionably be opportunities for
such co-ring, there are severe problems which render this
option, in the view of the author, less of an opportunity than
may be envisaged at rst sight. The rst problem is
technological in that the grate systems used in boilers for
coal are not usually ideal for those used for biomass fuels;
indeed, for oil- and gas-red boilers there is no grate at all,
which would make this impractical. The second reason is
philosophical, in that one of the main drivers for the
development of biomass fuels is that they are both renewable and sustainable and are to be seen as a replacement for
fossil fuels.
Turning to conversion technologies other than combustion, AD is well known and much experience is being
gained world-wide with the use of AD for liquid and
semiliquid slurries. Little experience has been gained so
far with the use of AD with solid wastes and biomass,
although some experience is currently being gained with the
use of AD for MSW. It will be interesting to see how
successful these developments are but there will always be
an inherent limitation in the size of the equipment required
for the AD process compared with the amount of biogas
produced. For this reason it is very unlikely that sufcient
gas will be produced by the AD process to warrant power
generation by gas turbines, so this will continue to be done
using small reciprocating engines as the prime mover. Even
modern reciprocating engines have high maintenance
requirements and the most likely use of AD in the future
will be to provide power for isolated farms and homesteads.
Pyrolysis, at least in its use with biomass fuels, is still a
relatively new and unproven process. Most pyrolysis
processes produce an oil which can be used as useful fuel
in boilers and reciprocating engines. Further development of
the pyrolysis process can enable the present extremely high
capital cost to be reduced but this is not currently quantiable. In the authors view, it is unlikely that pyrolysis will
become a commercially competitive process within the
foreseeable future.
Gasication of biomass is still very much in its infancy.
As far as the UK is concerned, successful commissioning of
the ARBRE plant will be required before any useful
empirical data can be obtained. In theory, gasication
should provide a much higher overall thermal efciency
than conventional combustion but this is obtained at a
signicantly higher capital cost. The gasication process

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A01701 # IMechE 2002


itself is expensive and produces an extremely low CV fuel

gas from the biomass. This means that the gas turbine has to
be specially adapted to receive 45 times the volume ow of
fuel gas to achieve the same mass ow that would be
delivered by natural gas. Although this problem appears to
have been satisfactorily overcome, there remains the far
greater difculty of developing a suitable fuel gas compressor for the vast volume ow required. In the ARBRE
project, for example, the fuel gas compressor is so large
that it absorbs 1.6 MW of power in a plant of only 8 MW net
output, so the parasitic losses are on a scale not previously
Gasohol production has proved to be technically viable,
particularly in South America, and further developments are
taking place with this type of biofuel. The drawbacks of
gasohol are that it is expensive to manufacture and that only
10 per cent of the fuel is derived from renewable, sustainable
sources. While this is better than nothing, a more promising
solution would be to use pure alcohol as the fuel but so
far there has been reluctance among automotive engine
manufacturers to re-design engines without the use of
components which are dissolved by the alcohol. In Europe
and North America, considerable success has been obtained
with the use of biodiesel, usually made from rapeseed oil in
the former and soybean oil in the latter. If the costs of
production of biodiesel can be reduced, there is no reason
why this could not be an excellent substitute for fossil fuels.
There would appear to be good prospects for the three
liquefaction processes discussed in section 2.6; however, all
of these processes are very much in the realm of emergent
technologies and it is too early to have any views on their
commercial viability at this stage.
The main conclusion of this paper is that the development
of various types of biomass as replacement for fossil fuels is
to be encouraged. The UK Government has deemed that the
two areas of renewable energy where it wants to see
development focused are biomass and offshore wind. It is
expected that many other countries will come to similar
conclusions and therefore the prospect for future power
generation from biomass is extremely good indeed.
Nevertheless, unless the other emergent energy conversion
technologies can be shown to be commercially viable, it is to
be expected that the traditional combustion route will be the
basis of most such plants to be built over the next few years.
The author wishes to acknowledge, with grateful thanks, the
following people without whose help and input this paper
would not have been possible: Paul Darley and Raymond
Bowell, former colleagues at Peter Brotherhood Limited,
Peterborough; Richard Mason, formerly of Allen Steam
Turbines, Bedford; Bob Webster at KKK Limited, Well-

A01701 # IMechE 2002


ingborough; J. H. Jangada at ME Engineering Limited,


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