Biomass Co-Firing | 14 Jun 2022

For Prelims: Biomass and its Benefits, Decarbonization, Green House Gas

For Mains: Biomass Co-Firing, Significance and Challenges

Why in News?

Unavailability of Biomass Pellets of agricultural residues is slowing down the implementation of the Ministry of Powers' direction to Co-Fire biomass with coal in thermal power plants.

  • The Union Ministry of Power, while presenting the Union Budget in February 2022, mandated 5-10 % co-firing at every thermal power plant in the country.
  • Biomass Pellets are a popular type of biomass fuel, generally made from wood wastes, agricultural biomass, commercial grasses and forestry residues.

What is Biomass?

  • About:
    • Biomass is plant or animal material used as fuel to produce electricity or heat. Examples are wood, energy crops and waste from forests, yards, or farms.
    • Biomass has always been an important energy source for the country considering the benefits it offers.
  • Benefits:
    • It is renewable, widely available, carbon-neutral and has the potential to provide significant employment in the rural areas.
    • It is also capable of providing firm energy. About 32% of the total primary energy use in the country is still derived from biomass and more than 70% of the country’s population depends upon it for its energy needs.
  • Biomass power & cogeneration programme:
    • About:
      • Initiated by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy.
      • For efficient utilization of biomass, bagasse based cogeneration in sugar mills and biomass power generation have been taken up under the programme.
      • Biomass materials used for power generation include Rice husk, straw, cotton stalk, coconut shells, soya husk, de-oiled cakes, coffee waste, jute wastes, groundnut shells, saw dust etc.
    • Objective:
      • Promoting technologies for optimum use of the country's biomass resources for grid power generation.

What is Biomass Co-firing?

  • About:
    • Biomass co-firing is the practice of substituting a part of the fuel with biomass at coal thermal plants.
    • Biomass co-firing stands for adding biomass as a partial substitute fuel in high efficiency coal boilers.
      • Coal and biomass are combusted together in boilers that have been designed to burn coal. For this purpose, the existing coal power plant has to be partly reconstructed and retrofitted.
      • Co-firing is an option to convert biomass to electricity, in an efficient and clean way, and to reduce GHG (Green house Gases) emissions of the power plant.
    • Biomass co-firing is a globally accepted cost-effective method for decarbonising a coal fleet.
    • India is a country where biomass is usually burnt on the field which reflects apathy towards resolving the problem of clean coal using a very simple solution that is readily available.
  • Significance:
    • Biomass co-firing is an effective way to curb emissions from open burning of crop residue, it also decarbonises the process of electricity generation using coal.
      • Substituting 5-7 % of coal with biomass in coal-based power plants can save 38 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.
    • It can help cut emissions from combustion of fossil fuels, address India’s burgeoning problem of farm stubble burning to some extent, reduce waste burden while also creating jobs in rural areas.
    • India has large biomass availability as well as rapid growth in coal-fired capacity.
  • Challenges:
    • Substituting 5-7% of coal with biomass in coal-based power plants can save 38 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, but the existing infrastructure is not robust enough to turn this into reality.
    • Around 95,000-96,000 tonnes of biomass pellets are required per day for co-firing, But India’s pellet manufacturing capacity is 7,000 tonnes per day at present despite a surplus 228 million tonnes of agricultural residue available in the country.
    • This huge gap is due to the seasonal availability and unreliable supply of biomass pellets to the utility.
    • It is challenging to store biomass pellets for long durations at the plant sites since they absorb moisture from air quickly, rendering them useless for co-firing.
    • Only pellets with up to 14% of moisture can be used for combustion along with coal.

Way Forward

  • Platforms need to be established to ensure farmers have an intrinsic role in this business model of pellet manufacturing and co-firing in power plants.
  • To exploit co-firing potential without adverse environmental impact, emerging economies need technology and policy preparation.
  • Sustainability indicators for bioenergy, including protection of soil and water resources, biodiversity, land allocation and tenure, and food prices, need to be integrated into policy measures.

Source: DTE