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Biomass Power


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Major Topic Sections

Fossil-fueled Power
Non-Fossil Generation
End-Use Efficiency
Electricity T&D
Carbon Sequestration
Non-CO2 Reductions
Other GHG Reductions

Related topics in this section

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Nuclear Energy
Wind Power
Solar Thermal Elec.
Biomass Power
Geothermal Energy
Pumped Storage
Green Pricing
Green Tag Pgms.


 Biomass Power Generation


Biomass can be a potentially large and near-term renewable energy contributor to net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by offsetting CO2 from fossil generation. Biomass fuel resource development also sequesters CO2.

The current method of using biomass for power generation is in biomass-fired boilers and Rankine steam turbines. However, R&D is currently being undertaken in high-pressure supercritical steam cycles and in the conversion of biomass to a low or medium Btu gas that can be fired in combustion turbine cycles, resulting in efficiencies one-and-a-half times that of a simple steam turbine. In addition, co-firing at suitable existing boiler plants with biomass feedstocks can displace fossil fuel usage, making it an attractive near-term option. Research is also progressing to develop sustainable and economically attractive biomass feedstock supply systems.

The use of biomass has achieved widespread acceptance as a power source. EIA data indicate that in 2006, net summer capacity for biomass (landfill gas, MSW, wood & derived fuels, and other biomass) totaled 9,910 MW. That equals about 1.0 percent of total U.S. generating capacity.

Commercialization of technologies using various forms of biomass will assist in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and emissions intensity and air pollutants. Testing and demonstration of both dedicated biomass supply systems and biomass conversion technologies will be supported by DOE to provide the electric industry with appropriate performance data. This testing will also provide utilities with demonstrated experience with the technologies.

The Energy Title of the 2002 Farm Bill provided multi-year funding for USDA-backed renewable projects. Section 9006 of the Farm Bill authorized creation of the Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Efficiency Improvements Program. In April 2004, Secretary Veneman announced that grants were available under the program, which is administered by Rural Development's Business Programs. For Fiscal Year 2004, $22.8 million in grants is available for eligible agricultural producers and rural small businesses to purchase renewable energy systems and make energy improvements. USDA has also established a pilot renewable energy project that will provide guaranteed loans to small businesses that generate energy production from cattle products. Additionally, the Value-Added Agricultural Product Market Development Grants program provides an opportunity to refine agricultural commodities and products to increase their value in the marketplace.

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 Power Partners Projects


AES Corporation is a leading company in biomass conversion internationally. At AES Kilroot in Northern Ireland, the team recently completed a successful trial to convert the plant to burn a mixture of coal and biomass. With further investment in the technology, nearly half of Northern Ireland’s 2012 renewable target could be met from AES Kilroot alone.

Alabama Power , a subsidiary of Southern Company, began utilizing switchgrass in the co-firing program at its Plant Gadsen coal-based power plant in 2003. Since then, Alabama Power’s biomass power production has increased from an average of 3,700 kWh per month to more than 11,000 kWh per month in 2006.

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 References, Sources, and Other Useful Data

Edison Electric Institute, “Biomass for Electricity Generation” (part of the brochure on Power Partners: EEI Industry Initiatives)

Electric companies are working in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to promote biomass technologies and to convert waste stream into a useful product. The program also aims to make biomass more useful as a boiler feedstock, either on its own or in conjunction with coal as a means of reducing emissions.

Environmental Law and Policy Center, "Protecting the Midwest's Environment and Natural Heritage"

ELPC is a Midwest public interest environmental advocacy organization working to achieve cleaner energy resources and implement sustainable energy strategies, promote innovative and efficient transportation and land use approaches that produce cleaner air and more jobs, and develop sound environmental management practices that conserve natural resources and improve the quality of life in our communities.

Kevin Porter (National Renewable Energy Laboratory), and Ryan Wiser (Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory), “Biomass Power and State Renewable Energy Policies under Electric Industry Restructuring”

Several states are pursuing policies to foster renewable energy as part of efforts to restructure state electric power markets. The primary policies that states are pursuing for renewables are system benefits charges (SBCs) and renewable portfolio standards (RPSs). This paper provides an overview of state RPS and SBC policies and focuses on the eligibility of biomass power.

Renewable Energy Access, “USDA Funds Renewable Energy Projects”, Oct. 2004 Press Release

Authorized as part of the 2002 Farm Bill, the Value-Added Agricultural Product Market Development Grants program provides an opportunity to refine agricultural commodities and products to increase their value in the marketplace. The grants will help farmers and ranchers increase their economic opportunities through the development of new products and markets for agriculturally based products and renewable energy applications.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Energy”

Contains links to several pages on national energy policy, energy policy implementation at USDA, news releases and fact sheets, audio and video resources, and links to other energy sites.

U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, “Biomass Program”

DOE’s Biomass Program develops technology for conversion of biomass (plant-derived material) to valuable fuels, chemicals, materials and power. To expand the role of biomass in America's future, DOE’s Biomass Program fosters biomass technologies with a balanced portfolio of research and development.

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Last revised: Dec. 11, 2009.