• ‘All Fired Up’ by Biomass Energy Demand

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JUEHNDE, GERMANY – AUGUST 14: Cut wood lies in a pile at a local bioenergy plant August 14, 2007 at the village of Juehnde, Germany. Juehnde is the first village in Germany to become energy self-sufficient by building its own bioenergy electrical plant, which uses wood chips, cow dung and plant remains gathered from the community to create electicity and heat. Interest in bioenergy has grown as a means to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

While solar and wind energy often dominate the renewable energy headlines, their less well known bed fellow – biomass – recently garnered attention. New figures released by the U.S International Trade Commission have shown a 40 percent upsurge in demand for exports of American wood pellets, fueled by the increase in uptake of biomass technologies, particularly in Europe. Previously mainly focused on home cooking and heating, biomass is now firmly moving into commercial operations and large-scale electricity production. With an increasing number of power plants and domestic boilers alike relying on a steady supply of wood pellets, it seems that the future is bright for this frequently overlooked player in the renewable energy mix. Here we take a closer look at the impact of this development and find out more about the potential of wood-fired energy.

Delivering Europe’s green ambition

Back in 2007, Europe’s leaders set out their stall in terms of transforming the region into an energy- efficient, low-carbon economic area. Central to this vision was the achievement of three key targets relating to greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy usage and energy efficiency. Popularly referred to as the 20-20-20 targets (due to the percentage change required in each of the three categories) these aimed to achieve an integrated approach to energy and climate policy with key deliverables by the year 2020. This overarching framework has set a number of trains in motion, at European and national levels and has certainly prompted debate and indeed dissent along the way. One of the most obvious impacts has however been the dramatic uptake in renewable energy technologies in states right across the continent. Biomass has become a key segment of this strengthening renewables market, particularly in the United Kingdom, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Biomass takes root

As the U.S International Trade Commission figures have shown, demand for biomass fuel is continuing to rise. The United States is now the world leader in wood pellet exports – a position previously occupied by neighbouring Canada. Overall American exports total 4.4 million short tons, with almost three-quarters leaving the country for the United Kingdom.

Households, public sector organisations, businesses and power plants there are increasingly taking up the opportunity to install their own systems and convert their operations. Businesses in particular, as in other parts of Europe are recognizing the potential offered by this reliable and accessible form of renewable energy. With volatile oil and gas prices, rising business costs such as insurance, staff and premises, they are turning to biomass technologies to support their companies into the future. Given the long-term support available to businesses in the United Kingdom through the non-domestic renewable heat incentive (RHI), effectively providing index-linked fuel subsidies for a 20-year period; it is easy to see how biomass uptake is consistently beating predicted uptake trends. Perhaps aided by the post-recessionary climate of commercial uncertainty businesses now know how to spot a sure thing and many believe that is exactly what biomass energy is.

Home grown biomass market

Biomass technologies are also becoming an established form of renewable energy production nationally. According to the U.S Census Bureau, in a special edition of Profile America Facts and Figures released in honor of Earth Week, biomass electric power production has enjoyed a 49 percent increase in revenue between 2007 and 2012. Now achieving revenues worth an estimated $934.6 million, the sector appears to be going from strength to strength. The same bulletin also reported that 2.4 million housing units are now heated by wood, a figure which equates to 2.1 percent of all homes.

Former American Senator Mark Hanna once said, “We know we can use that biomass to make ethanol or other products. We just have to develop the technology to do it in an affordable manner.”

The interesting thing about that quote is that it was made at the turn of the 20th century. So achieving Hanna’s vision has taken some considerable time. Now that the challenge is cracked, biomass adoption would appear to be on the fast track if affordable emissions control technology is part of the equation.

This article was written by Gemma Fallows from Breaking Energy and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.