How bioenergy can be an alternative to fossil fuels in the industry and transport sectors

A considerable amount of fossil fuels, particularly coal and oil, is consumed as a source of energy for the expanding industrial and transport sectors. It is feared that fossil fuels, being non-renewable in nature, will run out in the near future.

In this context, biomass is seen as a major alternative clean energy source. As it is a renewable energy, efforts have been made in recent decades to use the energy obtained from biomass for these two sectors. Since the very beginning, human beings have used biomass to harness energy for cooking food and other domestic purposes. However, the availability of the right type of biomass and its use in the industry and transport sectors is highly dependent on regional conditions, including availability, cost, nature of biomass, etc. world. In certain regions of the world such as Latin America and Africa, biomass contributes nearly 30% of industrial energy needs.

Coke produced from metallurgical coal is primarily used for the manufacture of iron and steel, but historically iron was produced using exclusively charcoal as fuel and reductant. Even now, in countries like Brazil, a significant amount of pig iron is produced from charcoal. In the transport sector, fossil fuels can also be replaced by biofuels in an efficient way, hopefully by 2050. The cement, iron and steel sectors in Brazil use biomass for about 34% and 40% respectively of the total fuel consumed.

Some of the applications of bioenergy in the industrial sector are summarized below:

  • Liquid biofuels include ethanol produced from the fermentation of sugar and biodiesel by transesterification of vegetable oils. It is reported that 57 kilotonnes (Kt) of production capacity is in operation and that about ten plants with a capacity of between 50,000 tons and 300,000 tons each will come into being very soon in different parts of the world.
  • In some countries, significant amounts of biomass are already co-combustible with coal in conventional coal-fired power plants. For example, the Amer 9 CHP power station in the Netherlands, which produces 600 MW of electricity and 350 MW equivalent of heat, currently co-fuels 35% of the biomass mainly in the form of wood pellets with 65% of coal.
  • The two forms of gaseous biofuels, namely biogas from the anaerobic digestion of organic matter and production gas or synthesis gas (SYN) from the gasification of biomass have found commercial application for several years. Biogas from the anaerobic digestion of organic matter after purification (after removal of carbon dioxide) can have a composition similar to natural gas. The biogas after cleaning can be supplied directly to the natural gas distribution pipeline or can be used for a gas turbine. Biomass gasification, although still at an early commercial stage, has good prospects for use in process heat and power generation. Gasifiers produce synthetic gas (syngas) which can be adjusted for direct use in combined cycle gas turbine power plants for electricity generation, introduced into existing distribution networks or can be used for generation liquid fuels by the Fischer-Tropsch process. However, most of them are currently at the pilot scale stage.
  • Biomass and other organic waste can be used as fuel in the cement industry. The use of alternative fuels in the cement industry is a long-established practice in many countries. It offers the possibility of reducing production costs, eliminating organic waste and therefore reducing carbon dioxide emissions by decreasing the use of fossil fuels. Cement kilns are well suited for waste combustion due to their high processing temperature and clinker products with limestone feedstock act as gas scrubbing agents. In recent years, used tires, wood, plastics, chemicals, organic municipal solid wastes and other types of such wastes have been co-combusted in cement kilns in large quantities. Thus, fossil fuels are replaced by alternative biofuels that would otherwise have been incinerated or landfilled and would thus help to reduce global carbon dioxide. In a survey conducted by the World Business Council on Sustainable Development in 2006, it was reported that 10% was in the use of alternative fuels, of which around a third was biomass. European cement manufacturers derived 3% of their energy needs from waste fuels in 1990 and 17% in 2005. Cement producers in some European countries such as Belgium, France and Germany were able to use biomass ranging from 35 to 80 % of the total energy required. The share of the use of alternative fuels in the production of clinker in cement kilns in countries such as the Netherlands, Switzerland, Australia, Germany and Norway is 84%, 49%, respectively. 48%, 36% and 28%. It can be mentioned here that there is a great possibility of using municipal and industrial organic waste in the cement industries, especially in developing countries. By 2050, it is expected that developed countries will be able to use 40-60% and developing countries 25-30% alternative fuels in cement industries.

Biomass available in different forms can be used to produce electricity, heat and transportation fuels. Through intensive use of biomass, it is possible to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By using biomass to produce energy with the best available technology, carbon dioxide emissions can be reduced by 55-98% compared to fossil fuels, even when transported over long distances, but the availability biomass to meet the growing demand for energy and transport fuel is limited. However, the large-scale use of biomass can lead to deforestation and environmental problems. The reduction of biodiversity is a major risk for our environment with adverse effects on air quality, soil properties and biodiversity.

However, afforestation of arid lands and planting of fast-growing species need to be done extensively and, in addition to this, there is a great opportunity to apply better technology for electricity and heat generation to from biomass. Household organic wastes and agricultural wastes, if collected and used properly by incineration or anaerobic digestion, can produce substantial amounts of energy and heat.

Currently, in Denmark, agricultural residues are collected to massively produce bioenergy. In the European Union (EU), considerable efforts are being made to produce heat and electricity from biomass. It is reported that serious efforts have been made in recent years to produce more bioenergy and heat so that the amount of bioenergy produced in the EU can be increased to 850 TWh by 2020.

In today’s world, most of the energy required in the domestic, industrial, transport and similar sectors comes largely from fossil fuels releasing millions of tons of greenhouse gases and particulate matter into the environment. , causing global warming and climate change.

With this in mind, considerable efforts must be made in different countries of the world to produce and use increasing quantities of biomass to generate electrical and thermal energy in order to significantly reduce greenhouse gases. Electricity and thermal energy can be generated by burning biomass or producing biogas in systems ranging from small-scale household stoves to industrial power or heating plants. Biomass, including organic waste, can also be used more efficiently with coal in thermal power plants. This can be achieved even in existing coal-fired power plants. This is called “co-firing” and is claimed to be a cost effective option. In the coming years, serious efforts should also be made to produce fuel from biomass for the transport sector in order to minimize the use of fossil fuels.