Biomass : New sources of energy

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New sources of energy:

The new sources of energy is available for local exploitation. In many cases, autonomous and small power plants can be built to avoid transmission losses. Most prominent new sources of energy are tidal energy, ocean waves, OTEC, peat, tar sand, oil shales, coal tar, geo thermal energy, draught animals, agricultural residues etc., The total energy production in India is 14559×1015 joules. 93% of India‟s requirement of commercial energy is being met by fossil fuels, with coal contributing 56%, and oil and natural gas contributing 37%. Water power and nuclear power contributing only 7% of total energy production. Comparing the total energy production in India from commercial sources with that of world, it is only 3.5% of total world production.


Plant matter created by the process of photosynthesis is called biomass (or) all organic materials such as plants, trees and crops are potential sources of energy and are collectively called biomass. Photosynthesis is a naturally occurring process which derives its energy requirement from solar radiation. The plants may be grown on land (terrestrial plants) or grown on water (aquatic plants). Biomass also includes forest crops and residues after processing. The residues include crop residues (such as straw, stalks, leaves, roots etc.,) and agro-processing residues (such as oilseed shells, groundnut shells, husk, bagasse, molasses, coconut shells, saw dust, wood chips etc.,). The term biomass is also generally understood to include human waste, and organic fractions of sewage sludge, industrial effluents and household wastes. The biomass sources are highly dispersed and bulky and contain large amounts of water (50 to 90%). Thus, it is not economical to transport them over long distances, and conversion into usable energy must takes place close to source, which is limited to particular regions.

Availability of biomass

The total terrestrial crop alone is about 2 × 1012 metric tones. These include sugar crops, herbaceous crops and silviculture plants. The terrestrial crops have an energy potential of 3 × 1022 joules. At present only 1% of world biomass is used for energy conversion. The estimated Production of agricultural residue in India is 200 million tonnes per year and that of wood is 130 million tonnes. At an average heating value of 18 MJ / kg db, a total potential of energy from agricultural residue is 6× 1012 MJ/ Year. At a power conversion rate of 35%, total useful potential is about 75,000 MW.

This can supply all our villages with power at a rate of 30,000 kWh per day per village against the present meagre consumption of only 150 kWh per day per village. The cattle production in India is nearly 237 million. Assuming the average wet dung obtained per animal per day to be 10 kg and a collection rate of 66%, the total availability of wet dung in the country would be 575 million tonnes per annum. This it would enable to produce 22,425 million m3 of biogas, which can replace kerosene oil to an extent of 13, 904 million litres per year. In a biogas plant, apart from the gas that is produced, enriched manure is also obtained as a by-product. It is estimated that, 206 million tons of organic manure per annum would be produced in biogas plants, which would replace 1.4 million tons of nitrogen, 1.3 million tons of phosphate and 0.9 million tons of potash.

Biomass Conversion

Biomass can either be utilized directly as a fuel, or can be converted into liquid or gaseous fuels, which can also be as feedstock for industries. Most biomass in dry state can be burned directly to produce heat, steam or electricity. On the other hand biological conversion technologies utilize natural anaerobic decay processes to produce high quality fuels from biomass. Various possible conversion technologies for getting different products from biomass is broadly classified into three groups, viz.

(i) thermo-chemical conversion,

(ii) bio-chemical conversion and

(iii) oil extraction.

These alternative technologies for biomass conversion offer sound and alternative options for meeting the future fuels, chemicals, food and feed requirements. Three main approaches can be adopted for generation and utilization of biomass:

(i) Collection of urban and industrial wastes as supplementary fuel in boilers and as a feed stock for producing methane and some liquid fuels.
(ii)Collection of agricultural and forest residues to produce fuels, organic manures and chemical feed stock.
(iii) Growth of some specific energy plants for use as energy feedstock and cultivation of commercial forestry, aquatic and marine plants for different products.

Thermo-chemical conversion includes processes like combustion, gasification and pyrolysis.

Combustion refers to the conversion of biomass to heat and power by directly burning it, as occurs in boilers.

Gasification is the process of converting solid biomass with a limited quantity of air into producer gas, while

Pyrolysis is the thermal decomposition of biomass in the absence of oxygen. The products of pyrolysis are charcoal, condensable liquid and gaseous products.

Biochemical conversion includes anaerobic digestion to produce biogas and fermentation to obtain alcohol fuels, the third approach is oil extraction. Edible and non-edible oils can be extracted from a variety of grains and seeds. They can be directly used as fuels by transesterification process to produce bio-diesel, which is a good substitute for conventional diesel oil. Thermal conversion processes for biomass involve some or all of the following processes:

Pyrolysis: Biomass +heat charcoal, gas and oil ‘

Gasification: Biomass +limited oxygen fuel gas

Combustion: Biomass +stoichiometric O2 hot combustion products

Principles of combustion

‘In general, the term combustion refers to the process of release of heat by the exothermic heat of reaction for the oxidation of the combustible constituents of the fuel. Practically the combustion process is an interaction amongst fuel, energy and the environment. Fuel may be defined as a combustible substance available in bulk, which on burning in presence of atmospheric air generates heat that can be economically utilized for domestic and industrial purposes. The common fuels are compounds of carbon and hydrogen; in addition variable percentages of oxygen and small percentages of sulphur and nitrogen are also present. Biomass fuels are normally thermally degradable solids. Combustion of organic materials not only generates natural components of air such as carbon dioxide and water but also produces carbonaceous residues, smoke and tar and gases of carbonyl derivatives, and carbon monoxide. The important parameters affecting combustion are moisture, organic compounds and minerals (ash).

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