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Biomass breakthrough cuts heating costs and greenhouse gas emissions

A new agricultural energy system that turns fast growing grasses into a low-cost, environmentally friendly means of heat energy is set to change North American energy markets. REAP-Canada and Dell- Point Technologies made the announcement today following the successful commercial pelleting of switchgrass on the weekend at an alfalfa pellet plant in Ste. Marthe, Quebec.

“Our mission was to create useful energy applications by maximizing the amount of solar energy that could be collected in fields, while minimizing the energy used to grow and process the material” said Roger Samson, executive director of REAP-Canada. “Research in the US proved that switchgrass could be an efficient solar collection system, but until now, no one has been able to figure out how to make a useful energy product from the material without subsidies.” In reference to Canada’s climate change strategy, Samson stated, “We don’t need to be paying for carbon sinks to reduce our greenhouse gases emissions when we can save 30-50% on heating costs by using biofuels.”

Dell-Point Technologies of Blainville, Quebec joined forces with REAP to come up with the switchgrass pellet biofuel system. Mark Drisdelle of Dell-Point Technologies said, “We knew that the woodfuel pellet heating industry, although currently attractive, was going to eventually run short of quality wood residues, so we designed a pellet fuel combustion technology to burn more difficult fuels such as bark and agricultural fibres. We just didn’t expect switchgrass to so quickly become such a viable option.”

REAP and Dell-Point tested various agricultural biofuels for producing pellets. Switchgrass proved economical as it lowered processing costs by being easier to pellet and required minimal drying compared to wood. The grass could also be produced in closer proximity to energy markets. Pelleted switchgrass in the Dell-Point stove burned at the same efficiency as oil in a high efficiency oil furnace.

Tom Adams, Executive Director of Energy Probe, a national consumer and environmental watchdog said, “Here is a cheap, convenient, and comfortable renewable heating system that gives consumers a real alternative to the sky high conventional energy prices. The pellet fuel system has reached the point where homeowners can leave behind the atmospherically damaging fossil fuel industry for meeting their heating needs.”

The Dell-Point Technologies pellet fuel stove is currently being marketed at www.pelletstove.com. The company is seeking investors to optimize their proprietary technology to develop a complete line of furnaces and stoves for burning grass pellets. Natural Resources Canada and the Ontario Agricultural Adaptation Council support the switchgrass biofuel program.

(30) Backgrounder What is switchgrass? Switchgrass is a native warm season, perennial grass that was one of three dominant grass species of the North American tallgrass prairie. It has been under investigation by the US Department of Energy since the mid 1980’s as a bioenergy feedstock. REAP-Canada was the first organization in Canada to begin working with the grass as a biofuel. Three hundred acres of the grass are now planted in Eastern Canada for biofuel applications. The grass is a resource efficient species that grows with minimal inputs of water and fertilizer compared to conventional farm crops.

How much energy can be grown? On average a yield of 10 tonne/ha can be expected in most areas of North America. Each tonne of material contains the same energy as 3 barrels of oil. If 20 million hectares (50 million acres) of farmland were planted, the equivalent of Alberta’s agricultural land base, the biofuel production would be 200 million tonnes, or the energy equivalent of 600 million barrels of oil.

How much energy does it take to make the system work? The complete fuel cycle (farm production of switchgrass, chopping, pelleting and household delivery) has a net gain of about 11 barrels of oil energy equivalent per acre. This compares favourably to other commercial biofuel alternatives. Corn ethanol, for example, only produces enough net energy on one acre to replace 1.5 barrels of oil. Corn also requires moderate to high quality farmland for its production; switchgrass can be grown on lower quality lands.

How much does it cost? In Eastern Canada, the cost of switchgrass production is estimated to be $46-$68/tonne delivered to a pellet plant. Pelleting is estimated to cost about $60/tonne. Assuming a farm price of $120/tonne, switchgrass pellets provide the same cost for heating as oil at 25 cents per litre or a delivered natural gas price of 25 cents per cubic metre. In Eastern Canada, heating oil is selling at 50 cents per litre and natural gas prices are continuing to rise. Switchgrass pellets are only half the cost of conventional fuels for farmers. Off-farm energy consumers in agricultural regions can expect switchgrass pellets to save them about 30% on their bills compared to oil and natural gas. Bulk handling systems are available to provide similar convenience as fossil fuels.

What about greenhouse gas emissions? Switchgrass pellet heating reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 93% compared to oil heating. Combustion of each barrel of oil emits 487 kg of CO2 to the atmosphere. Fifty million acres of perennial grasses could reduce CO2 emissions by 275 million tonnes per year if used to substitute oil.

 

http://energy.probeinternational.org/alternative-energy/renewables/biomass-breakthrough-cuts-heating-costs-and-greenhouse-gas-emissions



Category/ies:Biomass Tech.
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