Biomass for the Energy Production



The Observation - An Inconvenient Fact

Currently, power plants use fossil materials (coal, natural gas, or oil) extracted from the earth, fissile materials (uranium) also extracted from the earth, or renewable energies (mainly hydropower, wind, solar, or energy from bio fuels) as primary energy sources.  A comparative examination of these three sources reveals an important differentiation, if we consider the aspect of thermal releases to the environment.

Let us consider for example a modern nuclear power plant.  Utilities start to build these plants in Europe, China, the United States and soon everywhere in the world.  Such power plant has a thermal power of 4,500 MW, and when it is in operation, only approximately one third of this power can be converted into electricity, and the two other thirds are immediately released to the atmosphere, the rivers or the seas. Eventually however, the last third of the thermal power converted into electricity will be released as heat at the end user locations (at the private homes or in the factories).

A modern nuclear power plant does thus heat-up the environment at the rate of 4,500 MW, out of the primary material extracted from the earth, material which needs first to be transformed then transported to the power station.  This power alone is equivalent to that of 4,500,000 domestic 1 KW heaters permanently switched on.  A power plant using fossil energy (coal, natural gas or oil) will also have the same direct environment warming result, but in addition will present the disadvantage of producing greenhouse effect gas (CO2).

The Approach

The approach exposed in this document consists in substituting fossil or nuclear primary energy by the energy that comes from the bamboo wood.  Before being burnt to produce electricity, the bamboo will have already served as solar calorie storage agent and CO2 captor.  The bamboo combustion thus maintains a neutral balance in terms of thermal releases and CO2 production.

In the wet and hot lands of Monsoon Regions, bamboo grows as wild grass on vast and extended zones along rivers. The varieties that exist there have a very fast growth rate. They can reach their adult size in 3 years, and thereafter can be cut to leave room for new plants, which then will play their role of solar calorie storage agent and CO2 captor during their growth.  They are Gramineae ligneous, true grasses having stems made up of wood, thus able to very effectively trap CO2.  Their cultivation does not require either fertilizers, or phytosanitary products.

The Facts

One hectare of bamboo can produce 20 tons of wood per year. For an initial production of 1,000 tons of wood per day, and at a production rate of 20 ton/ha-year, 365,000/20 ≈ 18,300 ha = 183 km2 are sufficient. It is thus necessary to look for locations where large terrains subjected to floods exist, terrains whose purchasing or leasing prices are relatively low,due to their exposure to the annual floods. The alluvial water brought in by monsoon is enough to provide for the nutritive needs of the bamboos.

Using bamboo wood to replace coal also makes it possible to reduce the losses in human lives, as currently mankind is still paying a heavy tribute to the extraction of this coal, considering the high losses in lives linked to this activity.  Transporting bamboo wood in the place of coal will waive the concern related to energy consumption required by the shipment of this biomass.

The credit related to the carbon tax is currently higher than the production costs of the carbon contained in the bamboo wood: as long as this carbon tax exists and is actually applied, the power stations with biomass will benefit from the use of bamboo wood for electricity production. This will also promote the transformation of tropical lands that are prone to being flooded due to their proximity to rivers, to collect solar energy by growing bamboo.

However the important point for the long run aimed at by this approach is the synergy to be developed between the production of biomass in the tropical regions subjected to monsoon, and the protection of areas subjected to drought due to the climate change.  In other words, the objective is to use the flood water in monsoon regions to help the arid areas in need of fresh water for agriculture.

Being surrounded by hills and mountains, monsoon regions are subjected to the pouring water from the high lands. The construction of basins for storm water collection in the plains could make it possible to protect the cultivatable lands, and the collected water could then be used for agriculture of arid areas. By this way, it will be possible to transform a natural calamity into wealth for the benefits of the population living the areas exposed to the monsoon on one side, and those which suffer from the lack of fresh water for agriculture on the other.  And then surely the spaces available to develop the biomass can increase.  The use of the flooded lands of other tropical areas of the earth, or even in the long run of surfaces of the oceans will be provide abundant quantities of biomasses for all thermal plants in the world.

We will finally notice that the oil tankers that transport hydrocarbons from the Middle East to Asia return to Middle East empty with their ballasts filled with sea water to maintain their propellers immersed.  A drop close to the coasts of monsoon regions would enable them to replace this sea water by invaluable fresh water for the agriculture of the arid regions in the Middle East, which will then be able to benefit from the continuous moves of these tankers.

This synergy requires technical but also political means. With the carbon tax helping at the beginning, would it then be necessary to think over the tax on the thermal releases due to the operation of fossil and nuclear power stations for a better protection of the planet against climate warming?

April 2010


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