Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Renewable Combustibles PT 1

Renewable combustibles, something worth pondering!

 Part One: Biomass


Author: Kawlin Rolfe 2015


The production of biomass for biofuel production is an excellent area of research for green energy alternatives.  Biomass refers to organic material -from trees to perennial grass- that can be grown for the purpose of energy production.  In North America it has become common to develop biomass crops for the production of fuels, however the most effective and environmentally responsible production methods are still being investigated.

Biomass is technically a renewable resource.  It can be an annual harvest, depending on the plant matter being produced, yielding a consistent amount of fuel per year.  The jury is still out on if it is truly a ‘net-zero’ process (meaning the GHG emissions from the biomass is balanced by the growth of organic matter.)  However it’s easy to see why this is a cleaner fuel source, biomass doesn’t require a drill to get out of the ground and can be expected to come back almost every year.

Nova Scotia has traditionally focused on producing/harvesting biomass to create pellets.  Pellets essentially act in the same manner as any other combustible material, like oil or cord wood.  Pellets can be made from many different types of material (trees, hay or miscanthus grass.)  Common practice for the Maritimes has been wood pellet production (in the case of pellets, trees are harvested and then processed into a compact fuel product.) The problem with this is that Nova Scotia doesn’t have a substantial amount of wood-biomass to meet a high demand, making it a less appealing option compared to electric or oil heating.

Why talk about biofuels you may ask?  Well, currently 40% of NS homes are heated with wood/oil (aka combustibles) this trend is changing however, leading to an increase in electrical heat for homes. Electricity in the NS (albeit more efficient than combustible fuels) is primarily generated by coal.  So while home owners are opting out of combustible heating fuels for ‘greener’ alternatives, the fact is that they’re not really limiting their carbon foot print.

It’s hard to address a personal carbon goal, as an individual what’s the point, right? Wrong! Individuals are what creates the decision process for bigger businesses.  Increasing public discussion and availability of alternative energy options is still the main and best way of targeting carbon goals.

(Stay tuned for more energy bits & bites! Next article sneak peak: Bacterial produced Biofuel.)