Table 4.4. Uncontrolled emissions from biomass combustion in boilers (kg per tonne of fuel, based on woody biomass; US EPA, 1980). a Hydrocarbons including methane and traces of benzo(a)pyrine. b Upper limit is found for bark combustion. Ten times higher values are reported in cases where combustion ashes are re-injected.

Table 4.4. Uncontrolled emissions from biomass combustion in boilers (kg per tonne of fuel, based on woody biomass; US EPA, 1980). a Hydrocarbons including methane and traces of benzo(a)pyrine. b Upper limit is found for bark combustion. Ten times higher values are reported in cases where combustion ashes are re-injected.

Particulates are not normally regulated in home boilers, but for power plants and industrial boilers, electrostatic filters are employed with particu-late removal up to over 99%. Compared to coal burning without particle removal, wood emissions are 5-10 times lower. When starting a wood boiler there is an initial period of very visible smoke emission, consisting of water vapour and high levels of both particulate and gaseous emissions. After reaching operating temperatures, wood burns virtually without visible smoke. When stack temperatures are below 60°C, again during start-up and incorrect burning practice, severe soot problems arise.

Nitrogen oxides are typically 2-3 times lower for biomass burning than for coal burning (per kilogram of fuel), often leading to similar emissions if taken per unit of energy delivered.

Particular concern should be directed at the organic compound emissions from biomass burning. In particular, benzo(a)pyrene emissions are found to be up to 50 times higher than for fossil fuel combustion, and the measured concentrations of benzo(a)pyrene in village houses in Northern India (1.3-9.3x10-9 kg m-3), where primitive wood burning chulas are used for several (6-8) hours every day, exceed the German standards of 10-11 kg m-3 by 2-3 orders of magnitude (Vohra, 1982). However, boilers with higher combustion temperatures largely avoid this problem, as indicated in Table 4.4.

The lowest emissions are achieved if batches of biomass are burned at optimal conditions, rather than regulating the boiler up and down according to heating load. Therefore, wood heating systems consisting of a boiler and a heat storage unit (gravel, water) with several hours of load capacity will lead to the smallest environmental problems (Hermes and Lew, 1982). This example shows that there can be situations where energy storage would be introduced entirely for environmental reasons.

Finally, it should be mentioned that occupational hazards arise during tree felling and handling. The accident rate is high in many parts of the world, and safer working conditions for forest workers are imperative if wood is to be used sensibly for fuel applications.

Finally, concerning carbon dioxide, which accumulates in the atmosphere as a consequence of rapid combustion of fossil fuels, it should be kept in mind that the carbon dioxide emissions during biomass combustion are balanced in magnitude by the net carbon dioxide assimilation by the plants, so that the atmospheric CO2 content is not affected, at least by the use of biomass crops in fast rotation. However, the lag time for trees may be decades or centuries, and in such cases, the temporary carbon dioxide imbalance may contribute to climatic alterations.


Primary organic materials form the basis for a number of energy conversion processes other than burning. Since these produce liquid or gaseous fuels, plus associated heat, they will be dealt with in the following sections on fuel production. However, conversion aiming directly at heat production has also been utilised, with non-combustion processes based on manure from livestock animals and in some cases on primary biomass residues.

Figure 4.112. Temperature development in composing device based on liquid manure from pigs and poultry, and with a blower providing constant air supply. Temperature of surroundings is also indicated (based on Popel, 1970).

Two forms of composting are in use, one based on fluid manure (less than 10% dry matter), and the other based on solid manure (50-80% dry matter). The chemical process is in both cases a bacterial decomposition under aerobic conditions, i.e. the compost heap or container has to be ventilated in order to provide a continuous supply of oxygen for the bacterial processes. The bacteria required for the process (of which lactic acid producers constitute the largest fraction; cf. McCoy, 1967) are normally all present in manure, unless antibiotic residues that kill bacteria are retained after some veterinary treatment. The processes involved in composting are very complex, but it is believed that decomposition of carbohydrates (the inverse of the reaction (3.41)) is responsible for most of the heat production (Popel, 1970). A fraction of the carbon from the organic material is found in new-bred microorganisms.

A device for treating fluid manure may consist of a container with a blower injecting fresh air into the fluid in such a way that it becomes well distributed over the fluid volume. An exit air channel carries the heated airflow to, say, a heat exchanger. Figure 4.112 shows an example of the temperature of the liquid manure, along with the temperature outside the container walls, as a function of time. The amount of energy required for the air blower is typically around 50% of the heat energy output, and is in the form of high-quality mechanical energy (e.g. from an electrically driven rotor). Thus the simple efficiency may be around 50%, but the second law efficiency (4.20) may be quite low.

Heat production from solid manure follows a similar pattern. The temperature in the middle of a manure heap ("dunghill") may be higher than that of liquid manure, owing to the low heat capacity of the solid manure (see Fig. 4.113). Air may be supplied by blowers placed in the bottom of the heap, and in order to maintain air passage space inside the heap and remove moisture, occasional re-stacking of the heap is required. A certain degree of variation in air supply can be allowed, so that the blower may be driven by a renewable energy converter, for example, a windmill, without storage or back-up power. With frequent re-stacking, air supply by blowing is not required, but the required amount of mechanical energy input per unit of heat extraction is probably as high as for liquid manure. In addition, the heat extraction process is more difficult, demanding, for example, that heat exchangers are built into the heap itself (water pipes are one possibility). If an insufficient amount of air is provided, the composting process will stop before the maximum heat has been obtained.

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Renewable Energy 101

Renewable Energy 101

Renewable energy is energy that is generated from sunlight, rain, tides, geothermal heat and wind. These sources are naturally and constantly replenished, which is why they are deemed as renewable. The usage of renewable energy sources is very important when considering the sustainability of the existing energy usage of the world. While there is currently an abundance of non-renewable energy sources, such as nuclear fuels, these energy sources are depleting. In addition to being a non-renewable supply, the non-renewable energy sources release emissions into the air, which has an adverse effect on the environment.

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