Biomass gasification means incomplete combustion of biomass resulting in production of combustible gases consisting of Carbon monoxide (CO), Hydrogen (H2) and traces of Methane (CH4). This mixture is called producer gas. Producer gas can be used to run internal combustion engines (both compression and spark ignition), can be used as substitute for furnace oil in direct heat applications and can be used to produce, in an economically viable way, methanol – an extremely attractive chemical which is useful both as fuel for heat engines as well as chemical feedstock for industries. Since any biomass material can undergo gasification, this process is much more attractive than ethanol production or biogas where only selected biomass materials can produce the fuel.
Gasification is a flexible, reliable, and clean energy technology that can turn a variety of low-value feedstocks into high-value products, help reduce our dependence on foreign oil and natural gas, and can provide a clean alternative source of baseload electricity, fertilizers, fuels, and chemicals.
Biomass usually contains a high percentage of moisture (along with carbohydrates and sugars). The presence of high levels of moisture in the biomass reduces the temperature inside the gasifier, which then reduces the efficiency of the gasifier. Therefore, many biomass gasification technologies require that the biomass be dried to reduce the moisture content prior to feeding into the gasifier.
AdvantagesCarbon NeutralOne of the major advantages of biomass energy is it's small carbon footprint compared to fossil fuel. As long as new plant material is grown to replace that used, biomass energy produces no net CO2 increase. To the extent bio-power reduces fossil fuel consumption it reduces CO2 release. One problem keeps this from being as good news as it should be: often fossil fuels are used to harvest and manipulate biomass.
Reduces Methane in the AtmosphereThe advantages of biomass energy includes methane reduction. Methane causes even more greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide, so its release into the atmosphere is cause for concern. Decomposition of organic matter releases methane. Capturing this methane yields energy while protecting the atmosphere.
The animal industry and landfills produce significant amounts of methane. This is an excellent opportunity to use biomass to good effect. We can now harvest this gas and put it to good use. This is another area where applying biomass technology has multiple benefits. Consider the use of an anaerobic digester to manage cattle manure.
To begin, the digester is a closed container so odors are eliminated from the beginning. Methane produced by the decomposition is captures and burned. Some of that energy is used to keep the digester at the proper temperature in colder climates. It also powers a generator to produce electricity for use on the farm.
In the end, the digester produces a valuable as fertilizer whose nutrients are more stable than those in unprocessed manure. The advantages of an appropriate manure management system are quite compelling.