Putting biomass at the heart of the renewable energy matter

Just last month the European Commission approved EU state aid for the Support Scheme for Renewable Heat (SSRH) in Ireland.

Although the first phase of the scheme – an installation grant for heat-pumps – was implemented under EU state aid last year, the implementation of phase two – which focuses on biomass boilers and anaerobic digestion heating systems – is now on the horizon.

Further details on the long-awaited scheme are expected shortly.

Meanwhile, Ian Kilgallon, the innovation and business development manager at Gas Networks Ireland, explained to AgriLand how biomass can be converted into renewable energy. He also provided some insight into how everyone can participate in society’s fight to save the planet.

He says that under the Renewable Energy Directive, renewable fuels must have a minimum criteria to be classified as a renewable fuel.

“In the case of renewable electricity, if you have a wind turbine or a solar panel every kilowatt of energy from either of those devices is deemed to be renewable because of its 100% conversion from one to the other where there aren’t any other life-cycle emissions to be concerned about,” he added.

“In the case of fuels, biomass fuels typically are one big category of solid, liquid or gaseous – so when people refer to biomass fuels it can be either of those three.”

He went on to say that depending on feedstock – some feedstocks can be converted into either gaseous fuel or a liquid. There are examples of producing a solid fuel from one biomass where that biomass can then be sent down the route of producing a gaseous fuel.

‘Pathway to energy’

Meanwhile, a feedstock is defined as any renewable, biological material that can be used directly as a fuel or converted to another form of fuel or energy product. Biomass feedstocks are the plant and algae materials used to derive fuels like ethanol, butanol, biodiesel and other hydrocarbon fuels.

And, with regard to feedstocks, the common denominator says Kilgallon is a swat of biomass – organic material of various different types that can be made into an energy product.

You have to identify the route of either solid, gaseous or liquid. So, in the case of Gas Networks Ireland, all our projects are down the gaseous pathway.

He continued: “Not all feedstocks are suitable for gaseous but probably the biggest number of them would be at the same time.

“The minimum criteria to be classified as a renewable fuel is to have a life-cycle analysis done on the feedstock through to the actual product produced and brought to market.”

Carbon footprint

Explaining the subject further, Kilgallon said that if one were to imagine a forest where there was a need to produce woodchip, all of the energy and emissions that were involved in the planting of that forest – in the first instance – would have to be taken into account.

“This would include all the diesel and petrol used in the chainsaws, etc., the transportation and processing of that material in the first place and then all the emissions that would have to be added into the mix as well,” continued Kilgallon.

“Ultimately, the final project is one which is not actually classified as a renewable fuel but regardless of your gaseous liquids or solids you have to have a life-cycle that delivers a product in energy that has achieved a minimum carbon saving in its production – or isn’t above a carbon footprint.”

He says that if all of the above has been achieved, the fuel is then classified as renewable; but the particular carbon footprint is still a valid carbon footprint that carries on with the product. 

“The consumer might value a bigger carbon saving versus other alternatives as well. Most emission sources, if you tackle them, have the opportunity to be captured; then they can be converted into useful fuels,” he added.

“Really, this is about how you look at the problem; it needs to be looked at as more of an opportunity than a problem.”