Renewable Energy Memo

November 9, 2009

Renewable Energy Around the Web: November 9, 2009

Our weekly compilation of renewable energy news and information from around the Web.

Xcel Biomass Project Moves Forward

An Excel Energy biomass project in Wisconsin has been given a greenlight by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.  After three years of project planning and evaluation, Xcel Energy will be permitted to convert a former coal-fired power plant into the largest 100 percent woody biomass-fired power plant in the Midwest.

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin granted project approval beginning in November, roughly eight months after Xcel submitted its application. The power utility will now convert the last of the three boilers at its Bay Front Power Plant in Ashton, Wis., to utilize a biomass gasification technology. The remaining two boilers have combusted woody biomass for the past 30 years.

In its entirety, Xcel Energy expects the project to cost $58.1 million, which includes additional biomass receiving and handling facilities at Bay Front, an external gasifier, modifications to the boiler and an enhanced air quality control system.  The primary fuel source at the 60-megawatt (MW) plant will be forest waste from surrounding areas. Once fully operational, the entire plant will require 400,000 to 450,000 tons of woody biomass per year.

Conference Recommends Coal Retrofits

Speakers at the Great Plains Institute recommended converting coal-fired plants more than 25 years old to synfuel / biomass co-firing as the best method to reduce GHG from this aging plants. 

Robert Williams, senior research scientist at the Princeton Environmental Institute argued that the best way to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from coal-fired power plants in the U.S. is to replace plants that are more than 25 years old with facilities that coproduce electricity and synthetic fuels from coal and biomass while employing carbon capture and storage systems.

Williams made these statements at the GPI conference in Faro, N.D. before a crowd of about 115 people.  The conference, titled “The Future of Coal and Biomass in a Carbon-Constrained World: Technology and Policy Opportunities for the Midwest,” featured several topics and speakers from as far away as China. Tackling both coal power and transportation emissions simultaneously is the best option for meeting that 80 percent goal, Williams said. “That’s a very daunting task,” he said. “We need to make radical change and we need to get underway soon.”

Retrofitting existing coal power plants with carbon capture and storage systems is one option, but Williams said it’s extremely expensive and energy- and water-intensive. Completely replacing the systems not only leads to decarbonized energy, he said, but also enables coal to play a major role in the realization of zero GHG emissions in the production of synthetic transportation fuels. The replacement would mean a switch from combustion to gasification, which allows a relatively simple carbon dioxide removal, Williams said.  A coproduction system with carbon capture and storage producing two-thirds synthetic fuels and one-third electricity, fired by 11 percent biomass, reduces system-wide GHG emissions by 50 percent, whereas a system with 38 percent biomass reduces emissions by 90 percent, he cited.

In Other News . . .

Jim Lane, the editor of Biofuels Digest, has an e-book out called Citizen Cane: Essays for New Days in Bioenergy.  The work explores current topics in biofuels and bioenergy.

KLM Airlines is going to begin running test flights, with passengers, on its jets flying on biofuels.  Flights will begin on November 23. 

A Swiss investment firm has bought the 5 Mgy biodiesel plant of Tri-City Energy in Keokuk, Iowa.  The plant had been slated for auction in December.

TAC Energy has bought Fuel Managers, Inc., in a deal that combines two large fuel distributors.  The combined entity will have more than 2 billion gallons of capacity with sales in all 50 states.

Second generation ethanol producers are asking for improved federal subsidies and supports.  In testimony before Congress in late October the CEOs of several ethanol producers said that current loan guaranty and tax credit programs are proving to be insufficient to generate the capital needed to break ground on new projects. 

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