A Path Forward for Low Carbon Power from Biomass

Energies, 8(3), 1701-1715, doi:10.3390/en8031701, (2015).

Published February 2015

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The two major pathways for energy utilization from biomass are conversion to a liquid fuel (i.e., biofuels) or conversion to electricity (i.e., biopower). In the United States (US), biomass policy has focused on biofuels. However, this paper will investigate three options for biopower: low co-firing (co-firing scenarios refer to combusting a given percentage of biomass with coal) (5%–10% biomass), medium co-firing (15%–20% biomass), and dedicated biomass firing (100% biomass). We analyze the economic and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions impact of each of these options, with and without CO2 capture and storage (CCS). Our analysis shows that in the absence of land use change emissions, all biomass co-combustion scenarios result in a decrease in GHG emissions over coal generation alone. The two biggest barriers to biopower are concerns about carbon neutrality of biomass fuels and the high cost compared to today’s electricity prices. This paper recommends two policy actions. First, the need to define sustainability criteria and initiate a certification process so that biomass providers have a fixed set of guidelines to determine whether their feedstocks qualify as renewable energy sources. Second, the need for a consistent, predictable policy that provides the economic incentives to make biopower economically attractive.

MITEI Authors

Howard Herzog Senior Research Engineer

MIT Energy Initiative