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Dismal Economics and Increased CO2 of Montpelier District Heating Plant

The Montpelier District Heating Plant is a joint project of the City of Montpelier and the State of Vermont to provide local renewable energy to downtown Montpelier. With the rebuilding of the State’s existing central heating plant, modern wood-fired boilers will heat the Capitol Complex and connections will be put in place to expand its service area to City and School buildings as well as connect to private buildings in downtown Montpelier.

Before renovation, the heating plant was fired with only No. 2 fuel oil to produce steam to heat state office buildings. After renovation, the heating plant is fired with about 85% wood chips and about 15% No. 2 fuel oil, and a hot water distribution loop was added to heat other buildings. The claimed benefits of the renovated plant include:

– Reduced health threatening air emissions from fuel combustion in downtown Montpelier by as much as 11 tons per year.

NOTE: As will be shown, that claim is invalid.

– Replacement of approximately 300,000 gallons of oil per year between the State and downtown buildings as a prime fuel source with locally/regionally produced wood chips keeping that economic activity in the northeast.

NOTE: As will be shown, that claim is only partially valid, as about 15% of the plant heat input from No. 2 fuel oil continues to be required.

– Fuel cost stabilization for city government and the school department allowing tax dollars to potentially be redirected toward services or infrastructure rather than to pay rising oil prices.

NOTE: As will be shown, those savings are due to significantly undercharging for the heating services, i.e., the plant is operating at a significant loss.

– An economic development opportunity in downtown Montpelier by providing a cleaner and potentially cheaper source of heat for private building owners.

NOTE: Whenever one group of people get a benefit, another group has to pay for it, i.e., contrary to claims, there is no free lunch.

– The removal of many private oil furnaces and underground fuel oil storage tanks from potential flood areas.

NOTE: A minor side benefit from a $20 million project.

SUMMARY 

An analysis of the operating costs and emissions of the plant shows:

– The rates at which heat is charged to building owners are much too low, i.e., the plant is operated at a significant loss of $400,000 – $450,000/yr. This excludes any financing and depreciation costs. See NOTE.

– The CO2 emissions with a mix of wood chip/fuel oil are about 4,446 ton/yr versus about 3,699 ton/yr with 100% fuel oil, an increase of about 447 ton/yr.

– The emissions other than CO2 increased from about 5.72 ton/yr (100% No. 2 fuel oil) to about 11.92 ton/yr, an increase of 6.2 ton/yr. See NOTE.

– The particulate matter, PM, increased from about 121.8 lb/yr (100% No. 2 fuel oil) to about 910.8 lb/yr (15% No.2 fuel oil/85% wood chips), an increase of about 7.5 times; most of that PM is harmful PM2.5, which is difficult to collect with electrostatic precipitators.

NOTE: If this were a private, unsubsidized project, servicing a loan of $20,000,000 at 3% interest/yr for 40 years, the annual payments would be $865,247.56/yr. See URL.

http://www.calculatorsoup.com/calculators/financial/amortization-schedule-calculator.php

NOTE: “According to a news release issued by the city Friday, May 1, 2015, the system is credited with reducing emissions from fuel combustion by as much as 11 tons a year.” It is not possible to reduce 5.72 ton/yr by 11 ton/yr!

ANALYSIS OF HEATING PLANT AND DISTRIBUTION SYSTEMS 

The renovated heating plant is wood chip-fired, has a capacity of about 40.21 million Btu/hr. The air quality control system includes a multi-cyclone, fly-ash collector to collect the larger particulate matter, PM, followed by an electrostatic precipitator to collect the smaller PM.

http://www.afsenergy.com/?p=2870

The plant heats a total area of 411,000 sq ft with a steam loop and a hot water loop. The building area has an average heating demand of about 24.66 million Btu/hr, or about 61% of the plant capacity, based on an assumed building heating energy intensity of 60 Btu/sq ft/hr; energy hog level, see NOTE.

The state has contracted for a demand of 9.71 million Btu/hr for 20 years to heat 19 state buildings with the steam loop. The building area is about 161,833 sq ft, and the energy entering the buildings is about 11,576 million Btu/yr, based on an assumed overall annual average efficiency of the plant and distribution loops of 70%.

An assortment of City and other buildings have a demand of about 14.95 million Btu/hr to heat these buildings with a hot water loop. The building area is about 249,167 sq ft, and the energy entering the buildings is about 17,824 million/Btu/yr.

The billable energy = 11,576 + 17,824 = 29,400 million Btu/yr.  

Before renovation, the heating of these buildings required about 300,000 gallon/yr of No. 2 fuel oil at a cost of about $900,000/yr, which provided about 42,000 million Btu/yr to the various boilers, based on an assumed $3.00/gal @ 140,000 Btu/gal. 

After renovation, the plant would require about 4,697 ton/yr of wood chips, based on an assumed 7.6 million Btu/ton @ 45% moisture, plus about 31,500 gal/yr of fuel oil. The assumed fuel split is 85% wood chips and 15% fuel oil.

NOTE:

Annual Energy Use for Heating, Cooling and Electricity of Inefficient Government Buildings 

– NY State Office Building Campus/SUNY-Albany Campus; average 186,000 Btu/sq ft/yr. Source: a study I did in the 80s. 

– Vermont State Government buildings; average 107,000 Btu/sq ft/yr.

http://www.publicassets.org/PAI-IB0806.pdf

Annual Energy Use for Heating, Cooling and Electricity of Efficient Corporate Buildings 

Building energy demand management using smart metering, smart buildings (including increased insulation and sealing, efficient windows and doors, entries with airlocks, variable speed motors, automatic shades on the outside of windows, Hitachi high efficiency absorption chillers, plate heat exchangers, task lighting, passive solar, etc.) were used in the Xerox Headquarters Building, Stamford, CT, designed in 1975 by Syska & Hennessey, a leading US engineering firm. 

Result: The energy intensity, based on 3 years of building operating data, was 28,400 Btu/sq ft/yr for heating, cooling and electricity, which compares with about 50,000 Btu/sq ft/yr, or greater, for nearby, NEW, standard headquarters buildings. Source: a study I did in the 80s.

Fuel Mix Cost: The cost of the fuel mix, wood chips and fuel oil, is as follows:

……………………………………………………………….$/million Btu………%……..$/million Btu

Wood chips…….$55/ton……7.6 million Btu/ton………..7.24…………….0.85……….6.15

Fuel oil…………..$3/gal………140,000 Btu/gal…………21.43…………….0.15……….3.21

Fuel mix cost…………………………………………………………………………………………9.37

Project Cost and Financing: The renovation cost was $15 million for the plant and $5 million for the hot water loop. The $20 million was financed as follows:

– $8 million donation from the USDOE

– $250,000 City bond in 2003

– $11.75 million from the state, City, CEDF, etc.

NOTE: If this were a private, unsubsidized project, servicing a loan of $20,000,00 at 3% interest/yr for 40 years, the annual payments would be $865,247.56/yr. See URL.

http://www.calculatorsoup.com/calculators/financial/amortization-schedule-calculator.php

Service charges paid by building owners for energy delivered to buildings:

Capacity……………. $4.84/1000 Btu/hr.

Energy……………….$8.82/million Btu.

CO2 Emissions Increased: Below are some calculations showing an INCREASE in annual CO2 emissions compared with No. 2 fuel oil, based on the above fuel quantities.

Wood Chips: The estimated CO2 emissions would be as follows:

…………………..lb/million Btu……….million Btu/yr……………..lb/yr……………ton/yr

Combustion………195.00……………….42,000 x 0.85…………6,961,500

Harvest, Process, Transport…………………………………………..219,755

Total………………………………………………………………………..7,181,255………3591

No. 2 Fuel Oil: The estimated CO2 emissions would be as follows:

……………………lb/million Btu……..million Btu/yr………………lb/yr……………ton/yr

Combustion………163.00……………..42,000 x 0.15………….1,026,900   

Production…………12.50……………..42,000 x 0.15………………78,750 

Transport……………0.63………………42,000 x 0.15………………..3,969

Total………………..176.13…………………………………………….1,109,619……….555

Total CO2 emissions……………………………………………………………………….4,146  

100% No.2 fuel oil…………………………………………………………………………..3,699*

Increase in CO2 emissions due to wood burning…………………………………..447

* Before renovation, the CO2 emissions of 300,000 gallon of No. 2 fuel oil would have been 176.13 x 42,000/2000 = 3,699 ton/yr.

That increase could be even greater, because NEW oil-fired boilers typically have higher efficiencies (thermal energy out/sum of electrical and thermal energy in) than NEW wood chip-fired boilers.

Emissions Other than CO2, lb/million Btu: Press releases by operating personnel (see below) about such and such emission reductions of harmful pollutants due to fuel switching have no validity, unless backed up by monitoring results of boiler flue gases before and after renovation.

Before renovation: No. 2 fuel oil was used and air quality control systems were not required. The uncontrolled emissions of No. 2 fuel oil due to combustion, per EPA, are as listed below. Natural gas is listed for comparison.

………………………………….PM…………..NOx………………SO2………..VOC……………CO

Natural gas…………………0.0019……….0.0921…………0.0006………0.0054……….0.0392

No. 2 fuel oil*……………..0.0029……….0.1285…………0.1013………0.0040……….0.0357

* Contains 2,000 ppm sulfur

See page 9 of URL: http://www.edf.org/sites/default/files/10071_EDF_BottomBarrel_Ch3.pdf

After renovation: Wood chips are used and air quality control systems are required. Below are the measured PM values of the controlled emissions of three, recently built, institutional, wood chip-fired boilers. With the Montpelier district heating plant’s air quality control systems, the PM likely would be about the levels of those three.

……………………………………………………….PM…………….CO

Colby C., ME; cyclone/EE………………….0.010………….< 0.1

Middlebury C, VT; fabric filter………………0.017………….63 ppm

East Ill. Univ., Ill, fabric filter………………..0.030……….< 50 ppm

http://www.districtenergy.org/assets/pdfs/2014-Annual-Seattle/Wednesday/4BiomassCaseHistoriesSmith.pdf

http://www.chiptec.com/linked/eiu%20case%20study%20final.pdf

http://media.freeola.com/other/17221/futherdetailsoncolleges.pdf

Here is another example of controlled emissions of a wood chip-fired boiler:

……………………..PM……………NOx…………..SO2…………VOC………..CO

Wood chips………0.025…………0.25…………..0.12……….0.0246……..0.20; see page 10 of URL

http://yosemite.epa.gov/R9/air/EPSS.NSF/6924c72e5ea10d5e882561b100685e04/72b6979cfd7d8f470a2578860001489d/$FILE/0650-02%20review%20(2).proposed.pdf

Annual Emissions: The estimated emissions of the plant were calculated, based on the above data.

Before renovation; 100% No. 2 Fuel Oil:

……………Heat input………………Emissions.

………….million Btu/yr…..lb/million Btu………lb/yr

PM………..42,000…………….0.0029…………..121.8

NOx………42,000…………….0.1285…………5397.0

SO2……….42,000…………….0.1013…………4254.6

VOC……..42,000…………….0.0040…………..168.0

CO………..42,000…………….0.0357…………1499.4

Total………………………………………………..11440.8 = 5.72 ton/yr

After renovation; 15% No. 2 Fuel Oil/85% Wood Chips:

……………Heat input………………..Emissions……………..Heat input……………..Emissions

………….million Btu/yr……..lb/million Btu……lb/yr………million Btu/yr….lb/million Btu……..lb/yr

PM………42,000 x 0.15……….0.0029…………..18.3…….42000 x 0.85…….0.0250………….892.5

NOx…….42,000 x 0.15……….0.1285…………809.6…….42000 x 0.85…….0.2500………..8925.0

SO2……..42,000 x 0.15………0.1013…………638.2……..42000 x 0.85…….0.1200………..4284.0

VOC……42,000 x 0.15……….0.0040…………..25.2……..42000 x 0.85…….0.2460………….878.2

CO………42,000 x 0.15……….0.0357………..224.9………42000 x 0.85…….0.2000………..7140.0

Total………………………………………………..1716.1; 0.86 ton/yr……………………………..22119.7; 11.06 ton/yr

NOTE: Based on the above-indicated emissions data, the PM increased from about 121.8 lb/yr (100% No. 2 fuel oil) to about 910.8 lb/yr (15% No.2 fuel oil/85% wood chips), an increase of about 7.5 times; most of that PM is harmful PM2.5, which is difficult to collect with electrostatic precipitators.

NOTE: Due to the renovation, the estimated health threatening air emissions increased from about 5.72 ton/yr to about 11.92 ton/yr, an increase of about 108.4%. Instead of the above-stated decrease of 11 ton/yr, there would be an increase of about (11.06 + 0.86) – 5.72 = 6.2 ton/yr!

NOTE: If the after-renovation emissions of about 11.92 ton/yr were 11 ton/yr less, then the before-renovation emissions would have to be about 23 ton/yr, which appears highly unlikely!!!

NOTE: Low quality wood chips, with bark and dirt, have an ash content of 5%–8%, and have a higher concentration of inorganic ash-forming elements, than high quality woodchips, without bark and dirt, which have an ash content of 0.8% – 1.4%.

http://ces.williams.edu/files/2011/02/Mary-Booth-Wiliams-Talk.pdf

http://www.epa.gov/pmdesignations/faq.htm

http://www.wflccenter.org/news_pdf/361_pdf.pdf 

Combinations of Air Quality Control Systems:  PM contains various size particles. PM 2.5 micron and smaller, a significant by-weight part of the total PM emitted by wood chip-fired boilers, is most damaging to health, because those smaller particles penetrate deepest into lungs. They are the most difficult to collect with electrostatic precipitators. Fabric filter systems are much more efficient. See below table. Only continuous stack gas monitoring, according to EPA methods, could determine the quantities and sizes of such PM.

Collection efficiency…………..PM10……………PM2.5

Multi-clone………………………..75%…………….10%

Electrostatic precipitator………95%…………….90%

Multi-Clone w/EE……………….98.75%…………91%; Montpelier Plant AQCS

Cyclone w/fabric filter………….99%…………….99%; for removal of PM2.5, fabric filters are superior to EEs.

http://www.biomasscenter.org/images/stories/PM_Emissions_electronic.pdf

ACTUAL OPERATING RESULTS OF THE 2014 – 2015 HEATING SEASON

According to the City, from October 1, 2014 – February 28, 2015 (not a full heating season), the heating plant consumed 4,820 tons of wood chips, plus 27,500 gallons of No. 2 fuel oil. The energy to the plant was 40,482 million Btu, and entering the buildings was 28,337 million Btu. 

Fuel Oil Use: Fuel oil use was greater than anticipated, as stated by operating personnel, but actually it was not; see below CO2 Emissions section. Fuel oil is used during periods when the biomass boilers cannot be operated effectively. The rest of the heating season likely will be on fuel oil, because of:

– Insufficient heating demand for stable wood chip operation

– Not having moist wood chips exposed to summer heat, which likely would cause odors.

Land Area and Wood Chip Transport: It takes about 2.5 ton of wood chips to make a cord. The above 4,820 ton of wood chips would be 1,928 cords, which would need to be harvested from 3,856 acres to be “sustainable”, by some people’s definition. Typically, trucks have to drive 20 to 50 miles to get the wood chips to the plant, and then drive back to get some more.

Forests Sequester CO2: Tufts University Climate Initiative reports that Northeast, maple-beech-birch forests sequester CO2 according to the age of the stand as follows:

25-year old forest: 12,000 lbs of carbon/25 = 480 lbs of C per acre per year x 44/12 = 1,760 lbs of CO2 per acre per year.

120-year old forest: 128,000 lbs of carbon/120 = 1,066 lbs of C per year per acre x 44/12 = 3,909 lbs of CO2 per acre per year.

By taking wood from the forest, its sequestering of CO2 is reduced.

http://burningissues.org/car-www/science/Climate/woodchip-merkel06.htm

Plant Revenue and Cost: October 1, 2014 – February 28, 2015 period; not a full heating season!!

Estimated revenue:

……………………………..Capacity……………..Energy…………….Total

State………………………$46,996………………$98,414…………$145,410

City and others……….$72,358……………..$151,522…………$223,880

Total………………………………………………………………………….$369,290

Plant revenue per billable million Btu  = 369,290/28,337 = $13.03

Owner heating cost per sq ft = 369,290/411,000 = $0.90

Estimated fuel cost:

Wood chips, partial heating season……………………………….$265,100

No. 2 fuel oil, partial heating season………………………………..$82,500

Total……………………………………………………………………………$347,600

Fuel mix cost per million Btu = 347,600/40,482 = $8.59; this cost will increase due to about 100% fuel oil use after February 28, 2015.

Fuel mix cost per billable million Btu = 347,600/28,337 = $12.27

Available for O&M, staffing, utilities, consumables, etc………..$21,690; see below NOTE.

Costs Other Than Fuel Not Charged to Buildings Owners:

– The cost of financing the project appears to be completely ignored.

– The costs of operating and maintenance, staffing, electricity and other utilities, etc., appear to be mostly ignored as well. 

Service Charges Much Too Low: As a result of ignoring various costs, the above service charges were set much too low. Building owners are getting a very good deal at the expense of other Vermonters.

No wonder building owners are happy. Had all O&M costs and financing costs been included in the service charges, their bills would have been about 2 – 3 times higher. Right now, everyone else is paying that difference. There is NO free lunch.

NOTE:

The payroll cost of staffing (one supervisor, plus about 4 – 5 operators; at least one operator is required at night) is about $350,000/yr, including FICA charges and benefits.

– A wood chip-fired plant requires significantly more O&M and electricity than an oil-fired plant.

– The annual operating cost, other than fuel, is at least $400,000 – $450,000.

– Unless the present service rates, at which energy is sold to building owners, are significantly increased,, i.e., doubled, the plant will continue to operate at a loss, which would be even greater, if above financing costs also were included.

CO2 Emissions for the PARTIAL Heating Season: “According to a news release issued by the city Friday, May 1, 2015, the system is credited with reducing emissions from fuel combustion by as much as 11 tons a year.”

Combustion of the actual fuel quantities gives the following CO2 emissions for the partial heating season:

……………………………………………million Btu………………….lb………………..ton

Wood chips ……………………………36,632………………….7,143,240………..3684

No. 2 fuel oil…………………………….3,850…………………….678,101…………339*

Total………………………………………40,482…………………………………………4023; partial heating season

100% No. 2 fuel oil……………………………………………………………………..3,565*

Increase in CO2 emissions due to wood burning… ………………………….458; partial heating season

* If only fuel oil had been used to supply that quantity of heat, the CO2 emissions would have been 176.13 x 40,482/2000 = 3,565 ton.

The fuel mix heat is about 9.5% fuel oil and 90.5% wood chips. As mostly fuel oil will be used during the rest of the heating season, the above-indicated 339 ton and 458 ton would increase, and the fuel mix heat would become closer to 15% fuel oil and 85% wood chips, i.e., similar to the above assumed fuel mix heat.

NOTE: The fuel heat input of 42,000 million Btu/yr for a full heating season, based on an assumed overall system efficiency of 70% and assumed building heating energy intensity of 60 Btu/sq ft/hr, as calculated at the beginning of the article, is only slightly greater than the actual heat input of 40,482 million Btu for the partial heating season. That means the overall system efficiency likely is slightly less than 70%, and/or the buildings consume slightly more than 60 Btu/sq ft/hr, or it was a colder than normal heating season!!

CONCLUSIONS

The economics of this project are dismal, AND the plant emits significantly more CO2 and particulate matter, PM, than heating with fuel oil; a perfect example of:

– The state’s wasteful meddling that is making less efficient Vermont’s energy sector, thereby adversely affecting Vermont’s future economic growth, job creation and standards of living. Montpelier’s prolific spenders of other people’s money likely will dream up other government programs to “remedy” that fallout!

– Politicians and various RE interests banding together to improve re-election prospects and feather their RE nests at the expense of the rest of Vermonters, who get taxed extra by these same politicians to pay for it all.

– More such politics-inspired, uneconomic wood chip plants in Vermont would be another, multi-decade headwind for Vermont’s fragile, near-zero-growth economy.

– Despite press releases crowing of “success”, there is nothing to celebrate having such wood chip plants. District heating systems are based on bygone technology, which has been surpassed by modern building envelope and building system design since about 1973, more than 40 years ago. Many people in power are very slow learners.

– This is not “leading”. This is going backwards, AND IN A WASTEFUL MANNER!!! Only ignorant, backward-thinking legislators, government bureaucrats, et al., would call such a heavily subsidized project a “success”. It is not THEIR money they are wasting over and over.

A MUCH BETTER APPROACH 

It would have been less costly, in the long run, if the $20 million had been used for:

– Energy efficiency improvements of the building envelopes and systems, which would have reduced energy costs and CO2 emissions, and would have lasted for many decades. It would have been much better to retrofit these buildings with solar panels, high R-value doors and windows, much more sealing and insulation, and heat pumps.

– 400 NEW, near zero-energy houses by providing $50,000 subsidies to 400 lower-income households, so they could finally move out of their aging, substandard, drafty, energy-guzzling mobile homes.

– Getting more clean, near-CO2-free, hydro energy from Hydro-Quebec at about 5 – 7 c/kWh under 20-year contracts.

http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/71771/energy-efficiency-first...

http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/332911/high-renewable-energy-...

http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/2219181/increased-wind-energy-versus-increased-canadian-hydro-energy-new-england

CO2 EMISSIONS DATA OF VARIOUS FUELS

Fuel……………………………………….CO2 Emissions

…………………………………..lb/MMBtu……..Eff……g/kWh

Wood, bone dry………………..213.0……….0.26……1362

Peat………………………………..247.0……….0.30……1274

Coal, anthracite………………..228.6………..0.35……1101

Coal, bituminous………………205.7………..0.35…….910

Coal, sub-bituminous………..214.3………..0.35…….948

Coal, lignite……………………..215.4………..0.35…….953

No. 2 fuel oil……………………..161.3……….0.38…….658

Diesel………………………………154.7

Crude oil………………………….153.1

Kerosene………………………….149.3

Gasoline…………………………..144.7

Refinery gas……………………..139.3

Liquid pet gas…………………..131.8

Natural gas……………………….117.0………..0.45…….403

Wood energy is not sustainable without reforestation, including fertilizing the soil

GJ = 0.947 MMBtu

kg = 2.205 lb

Power plant efficiencies are average values

https://ces.williams.edu/files/2011/02/Mary-Booth-Wiliams-Talk.pdf

http://geospatial.blogs.com/geospatial/2010/01/energy-efficiency-of-fossil-fuel-power-generation.html

ENERGY RETURNED ON ENERGY INVESTED OF VARIOUS ENERGY SOURCES

Energy Returned on Invested Energy, ERoEI, specifically deals with the process of investing ENERGY to get ENERGY. It does not deal with USING that energy. It is important to keep them separate. It is very complex as it is.

For example, in case of coal, it may be surface-mined, or deep-shaft-mined. The invested energy could be assumed to be the various energy inputs of setting up, and maintain and operate a mine-mouth mining business to get coal out of the ground, and ready it for storage on the coal pile, before loading it into a unit train (100 cars, each 100 ton).

Here is a site, which has a RECENT summary of ERoEIs based on a survey of prior articles listed at the bottom. See table 1, which indicates:

– Coal………………27 – 80; mine-mouth

– Oil…………………..25

– Natural gas……..20 – 67; wellhead

– Nuclear……………5 – 15; gaseous diffusion; not used for commercial fuel.

– Nuclear………….50 – 75; centrifugal enrichment

– Hydro……………..100+

– Geothermal………..20

– Wind………………..18

– PV solar………….6 – 12; depending on location

– Bio-diesel………….1.3

– Biomass……………3.0

– Wood pellets……..1.46

– Ethanol fr. corn…..1.18

ERoEI of Wood Pellets: This study shows the ERoIE of wood pellets is about 1.46, meaning it takes 11,266,413 Btu of various energy inputs to produce a ton of wood pellets having about 16,400,000 Btu. See page 18 of URL.

https://focusonenergy.com/sites/default/files/research/katerswoodpelletmfg_report.pdf

ERoEI of Ethanol from Corn: This study shows the ERoIE of ethanol from corn is about 1.18. Energy invested to yield one unit as net energy = ERoEI/(ERoEI – 1) = 1.18/(1.18-1) = 6.55, i.e., about 7.5 liters of ethanol is returned by investing about 6.5 liters of ethanol* to yield 1 liter of ethanol as net energy.

* The sum of the various energy components of the goods and services, facilities, equipment, etc., that is equivalent to the energy in 6.5 liters of ethanol to produce 7.5 liters of ethanol.

http://netenergy.theoildrum.com/node/6760

NOTE: The only reason ethanol-from-corn is still feasible is because the energy components are from mostly traditional, high ERoIE sources. In the future, these energy components would be mostly from low ERoEI renewable sources!!

NOTE: The ERoEI values for wind and solar would be lower, if adjusted for needed support systems, such as:

– Back up generating capacity adequacy, MW, to provide energy when wind and solar are insufficient.

– Back up flexible capacity adequacy, MW, for inefficiently ramping up and down at part load to balance variable energy.

– Transmission and distribution systems adequacy.

– Energy storage adequacy.

A modern society needs a minimum ERoEI of 7 to function at a basic level, about 10 – 14 to function at a high level. Anything below those numbers would be unsustainable from a modern society viewpoint, i.e., for starters, biofuels, wood pellets, and ethanol from corn would be unsustainable!! To take from society increasingly greater quantities of resources to subsidize what is unsustainable is ludicrous.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421513003856

SOME COMMENTS ON CO2 EMISSIONS OF WOOD-BURNING PLANTS

Wood-burning power plants would require cutting trees and burning them, which emits just as much CO2/kWh as coal, which may have an immediate, adverse global warming impact, plus emits at least as much air-borne, health-damaging particulate matter as coal.

Wood-burning proponents and governments claim burning wood is “CO2-neutral”. They purposely forget to add: “over a period of about 50 to 100 years.” Global warming is a problem now. Wood burning is near-CO2-free on about a 50 to 100-year basis, as it takes about 50 to 100 years for the forest to restore itself to before-harvesting conditions. Wood-burning plants are an inappropriate 50 to 100 year “solution”! See URLs for additional information.

Pro-RE officials purposely ignore the research of independent foresters, simply DECLARE wood-burning “CO2-neutral”, which creates political “feel-good”, because it increases logging jobs and conjures up the APPEARANCE of meeting CO2 targets, etc. However, it perpetuates uninformed thinking by lay people and others.

Loggers SAY they take only sick, near-dead trees and other “waste” wood, but, in almost all cases, that appears to be not even close to the truth.

http://www.pfpi.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/PFPI-biomass-carbon-accounting-overview_April.pdf

http://ces.williams.edu/files/2011/02/Mary-Booth-Wiliams-Talk.pdf

http://www.globalchange.umich.edu/globalchange2/current/lectures/deforest/deforest.html

CO2 Emissions of Wood Pellets and Wood Chips Worse Than Coal: In order for wood pellets to burn “carbon free”, the carbon emitted into the atmosphere must be recaptured by regenerated forests, which take several decades to grow. If these emissions aren’t offset, then burning wood pellets releases as much, or more, CO2/Btu than coal.

Biomass Other Than Wood: Other biomass, such as corncobs, cornstalks, various grasses, bamboo, etc., can be harvested each year, or every few years, but those would require much land area. Such biomass can be claimed to be renewable, although the soil would likely become too depleted for future food-growing purposes.

In Vermont, most of that land area would need to be created by shifting land from other uses, i.e., from open spaces, meadows, etc., to ensure biomass would be available in the required quantities.

Taking, taking, taking from the land, without giving back is not a long-term, sustainable option. Even taking 0.5 cord/acre, considered “sustainable” by government and other foresters would merely slow the soil depletion rate. In practice, the 0.5 cord/acre is often greatly exceeded for expediency reasons, and due to a lack of oversight during logging.  

THE TRAVESTY OF US SOUTHEAST WOOD PELLET EXPORTS TO EUROPE

 A 2013 study, published in Environmental Research Letters, analyzed the CO2 equivalent emissions of exporting wood pellets from the US Southeast to the UK.

A breakdown of the biomass lifecycle, according to GHG emissions, is as follows:

See Table 4, which shows 5 of the 7 CO2 emissions components.

– Pellet production accounts for about 48%

– Shipping the pellets across the Atlantic Ocean accounts for about 31%

– Burning the pellets accounts for about 10%*

* Emissions due to combustion are about 1.8 kg of CO2/kg of pellets.

That means the A to Z process of getting wood from the forest, turning it into pellets, transporting the pellets from the US to power plants in the Uk, and burning the pellets, would release about 1.8/0.1 = 18 kg of CO2/kg of pellets.

If the power production is at an efficiency of 30%, then 7,750 Btu/lb of pellets x 2.2 lb/kg x 0.30/(3,413 Btu/kWh) = 1.5 kWh/kg of pellets would be produced, or 18/1.5 = 12 kg of CO2/kWh for the A to Z process, if CO2 sequestering by regrowth would be ignored.

EVENTUALLY, 100% sequestering would, at the very most, offset 2 of the 12 kg!!! Such an environmentally harmful way of having the UK, Germany, etc., meet their EU CO2 obligations should not even be allowed to exist by EU rules, and the US should not be aiding and abetting. However, some folks are making money.

This is a far worse boondoggle than the US corn-to-ethanol program, which, on an A to Z basis, is about CO2-emission neutral, but is derided by the EU.

The US Southeast exported to Europe about 1,650,000 ton and 3,250,000 ton of wood pellets in 2012 and 2013, respectively; likely 5,7 million ton in 2015.

See URL, with photos, regarding the unsustainable clear cutting of US Southeast forests to enable Germany, UK, etc., to meet the EU CO2 emissions standards, because the EU declared biomass emissions to be CO2-free!! Germany, the UK, etc., are co-firing the pellets in their coal-fired power plants!

In the US Southeast many forests are managed. In Georgia, with a flat topography, fast-growing fir trees are planted in rows on many square miles of land. Trees have trunks of about 1.5 foot when harvested. It takes about 20 – 25 years from harvest to harvest; in Maine about 35 – 40 years. One may wonder how long it would take to deplete the soil to significantly affect crop yields. If 3,250,000 ton of wood pellets were exported in 2013 (a lot more was produced, but not exported), at about 7.2 ton/acre/y, about 450,000 acres of intensively managed forest would be required.

SHIFTING AWAY FROM LOW-COST FOSSILS TO EXPENSIVE RE

The more we shift from low-cost fossils to expensive RE, the more we shift the US and world wholesale price of the energy mix on the grid from the current 5 c/kWh* to about 10 – 15 c/kWh.

* Kept low in the US, because of an abundance of inexpensive, domestic natural gas, and worldwide, because of the use of low-cost coal.

That trend of increasing wholesale prices would be more visible, if many of the RE changeover costs were actually charged to the US and worldwide energy system.

Instead, they are “socialized” by POLITICIANS by means of taxes, fees, surcharges, feed-in tariffs, bond issues, grants, etc., because they do not want to be blamed for raising the cost of electricity and harm their re-election chances.

NOTE: A perfect example of such deceptive follies is the wood chip-fired, Montpelier District Heating Plant in Vermont, a money-losing project made possible by politicians taking $20 million of scarce government funds to provide a benefit to a favored urban area in Montpelier, VT, at the long-term expense of all other Vermonters.

http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/2225851/economics-and-co2-emissions-montpelier-district-heating-plant

Those various costs, due to increasing RE in the US and the world, will have a MAJOR impact on making much more expensive ALL goods and services, not just energy, as is already happening in Germany, although many of its RE proponents and politicians blame it on other factors; somewhat like Miss Piggy: MOI?

In fact, rich Germany, THE economic engine of the EU, has experienced slowing economic growth, due to the growing expense of its ENERGIEWENDE, during the past five years. The economies of poorer EU countries are significantly affected by the German economic slowdown.

Germany and other EU countries losing part of the very lucrative Russian market and throwing billions each year into a black hole, a.k.a., Ukraine, is an additional headwind.

http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/338781/high-renewable-energy-costs-damage-germanys-economy

http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/368081/russian-gas-exports-and-western-encroachments-russia

 

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Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on May 11, 2015 3:46 pm GMT

A lot of numbers and conclusions. The most important one is buried and ignored; “based on an assumed 7.6 million Btu/ton @ 45% moisture.” Burning green, wet wood is a bad idea for many reasons.

The other key issue that might, or not, have been mentioned, is forest and grass fires are not “sustainable” either.

I just don’t take this kind of “analysis” too seriously, anymore. New levels of atmospheric CO2 are growing more biomass, period. If you don’t know how to use it well, that’s your problem.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on May 11, 2015 10:52 pm GMT

Sean,

The plant is owned and operated by the City of Montpelier.

The state contracted with the City for a certain percent of the plant CAPACITY. The energy and capacity charges apply to the state and other users i.e., nothing is way off.

The buildings were assumed to use for space heating 60 Btu/sq ft/hr, which is energy hog level.

The actual results of the first heating season confirm my assumption of 70% overall efficiency, and of the 60 Btu/sq ft/hr. See article.

A study of VT state building shows 108,000 Btu/sq ft/yr for heating, cooling and electricity, which is energy hog level.

Regarding woodstoves there is the thermal efficiency of a maximum of about 80% for the best stoves, and there is the particulate and other toxins emissions allowed, lb/million Btu, or some other basis. The EPA just came out with new requirements for woodstoves.

In the Southeast the forests are managed. It takes about 25 years from harvest to harvest

If 3,250,000 ton were exported in 2013 (a lot more was harvested but not exported), that would be 1,300,000 cords/yr of wood being cut from a given area, and a same are being planted that has just been cut, etc.

That means about 25 such areas are in various growth phases at any point in time, more if more is harvested.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on May 12, 2015 4:32 am GMT

It would have been much better to retrofit these buildings with solar panels, high R-value doors and windows, much more sealing and insulation, and heat pumps.”

I mostly agree.  

If these buildings were in a big city, I’d say stay with district heating, supplied by combined-heat-and-power (waste heat from the local power plant, ideally nuclear).  This heat is so low impact, that retro-fitting with heroic levels of insulation and sealing are not justified.

On the other hand, since Montpelier is a small town in the middle of nowhere,  electricity is the only clean energy carrier available (I’m not a fan of large-scale biomass burning at all, and waste-to-energy is extremely expensive and potentially polluting), so energy efficiency and electric heat pumps are the way to go.

For such a northern location, I would expect electricity demand to peak in the winter, so solar panels would just contribute to fossil fuel lock-in (e.g. they would require full backup with firm generation, so why bother?).  Nuclear power and hydro are better choices there.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 12, 2015 7:46 am GMT

Willem, as always the devil is in the details, and again you’ve done a great job chasing them down.

It’s going to be interesting to see Vermont’s 2015 emissions numbers post-Vermont Yankee. VY could have warmed all of Montpelier’s state buildings and 3,800 others like them with zero emissions.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on May 12, 2015 10:08 am GMT

Nathan,

I agree. with nuclear and hydro. Whereas nuclear has no chance in Vermont, hydro may have. Here is the latest version of my article on the subject.

http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/2219181/increased-wind-energy...

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on May 12, 2015 12:15 pm GMT

The usual TEC fiction trolls are busy again. “We can mass produce Gen4 nuclear electric power plants, heat cities, (make ammonia synfuel).” Except not 1 person on the planet has seen any of it.

In an era of horrific refugee migration, I am still waiting for a direct answer “How do you burn 45 percent water biomass, shipped from thousands of miles away,” and call your analysis other that absurd mis-information?

Those that actually concern themselves with food, water, energy, shelter, clean air, habitat, normal stuff, expect better than comic book treatment.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on May 12, 2015 1:06 pm GMT

Rick,

After I read this study and saw a video of how wood pellets were made, I was astounded that this could be happening, and on such a large scale. On an A to Z basis, 50% of the CO2  is released making pellets!!!

Excerpt:

A 2013 study published in Environmental Research Letters broke down the biomass lifecycle according to GHG emissions as follows:

– Pellet production accounts for nearly 50%

– Shipping the pellets across the Atlantic Ocean accounts for about 31%

– Burning the pellets accounted for about 10%.

The US exported to Europe about 1,650,000 ton and 3,250,000 ton of wood pellets in 2012 and 2013, respectively. See URL, with photos, regarding the unsustainable clear cutting of US Southeast forests to enable Germany, UK, etc., to meet the EU CO2 emissions standards, because the EU declared biomass emissions to be CO2-free!! Germany, the UK, etc., are co-firing the pellets in their coal plants!!

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/04/16/3644889/woody-biomass-is-thi...

In the US Southeast, many forests are managed. It takes about 25 years from harvest to harvest; in Maine about 40 years. If 3,250,000 ton were exported in 2013 (a lot more was harvested but not exported), that would be 1,300,000 cords/yr of wood being cut from a given area, and a same area being planted that has just been cut, etc. That means about 25 such areas are in various growth phases at any point in time, more if more is harvested.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on May 12, 2015 1:11 pm GMT

Bob,

620 MW x 8760 hr/yr x 0.90 = 4,880 GWh, STEADY, NOT VARIABLE, NOT INTERMITTENT, 24/7/365 at about 5 c/kWh!!

All of Vermont used about 5,600 GWh in 2014.

It would have been a major boost for Vermont’s economy.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on May 12, 2015 1:29 pm GMT

Calling the wholesale burning of vast amounts of vegetation ‘green’ is patently absurd to begin with.

Claiming that ‘war is peace’ would hardly be more absurd.

Cities in possession of existing district heating systems fired by fossil fuels are in an ideal position to upgrade to nuclear heating and dramatically reduce their environmental footprint as well as their running costs. This heat could be supplied by a very simple, inherently safe, heat-only reactor concept. Such a nuclear power application was actually developed (and almost commercialised) decades ago. It could be revitalised and implemented very quickly indeed.

 

 

 

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on May 12, 2015 1:34 pm GMT

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/04/16/3644889/woody-biomass-is-thicket-of-trouble/

@Willem, you can make your links clickable on TEC comments by using the “insert/edit link” button on the top of the comment field.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on May 12, 2015 1:43 pm GMT

Joris, Thank you.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on May 12, 2015 1:47 pm GMT
Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on May 12, 2015 2:14 pm GMT

Now I agree with some of your “qualified” numbers. But it has nothing to do with “biomass energy” per se, just some current pellet and distribution methods. So fix that part!

We have unstoppable biomass growth in Minnesota. Only frozen winter, herbicides, and drought slow it. Since nobody has nuclear fuel or the mechanisms to use it too handy, push your asspinions on the TEC nuclear articles instead of stinking up how we might use what we actually must use.

The entire Great Plains of the US, with recent rain, is currently converting untold atmospheric CO2 and water and sunlight into a trillion dollar lifesaver for deserving billions of people. Unfortunately, nuclear trolls who produce only promises invariably disrupt this critical discussion because, what else can they do?

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on May 12, 2015 2:26 pm GMT

Joris,

Thank you for teaching an old dog new tricks.

I tried it and it works.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 12, 2015 5:08 pm GMT

Rick, burning biomass is obviously preferable to coal, but it’s a labor-intensive, energy-intensive, and expensive process if done responsibly. Most of the increased growth of the last few decades is benefiting from fossil CO2. If we’re actually replacing new fossil use by burning old-growth trees, we’re taking a loan out of the carbon bank where it has been deposited for decades.

Does that result in a net positive or negative carbon contribution in the short term? I don’t know the answer to that question, or if there even is one.

As you suggest, biomass is most efficiently converted to energy by people eating it. To answer your question about nuclear trolls, disrupting is pretty much all we can do, it’s the result of genetic damage from atomic testing in the 1950s.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on May 12, 2015 6:52 pm GMT

Bob, I see there is a lively discussion among informed nuclear advocates on Dan Yurman’s current “Nuclear in Argentina” article, NOT! So cut the crap.

I immediately commented explicitly questioning the basis of this long winded biomass project analysis and conclusions. The usual smart alec remarks from the nuclear nags followed that had nothing to do with the article or analysis, and entirely evaded some key issues raised. That’s as far as this discussion goes.

 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on May 13, 2015 4:45 am GMT

The idea of a nuclear reactor designed just for district heating (the SES-10 linked above) is very interesting.  That Canadian design used an un-pressurized light water pool-type core, with fully passive circulation of the primary, a power of 10 MW, and an output temperature of only 85C.

It is also possible to modify a nuclear-electric plant for combined-heat-and-power (CHP) operation; the size of SMRs makes them particularly suitable for this.  A typical plant with a 100 MW electrical output will utilize a thermal source of around 300 MW, and will discharge 200 MW of waste heat from the steam turbine at about 40C.  We could use the reactor as a 300 MW heat source, but for home heating there is a better way.

Each stage of the steam turbine reduces the pressure and temperature of the steam, so simply by leaving off the last bit of the steam turbine, the waste heat temperature can be raised to 85C.  This reduces the turbine’s efficiency somewhat, so the electrical output would drop to around 80 MW, but now 220 MW of low-grade heat is simultaneously available which can be used for district heating systems.  It is also possible to tap-off a small, but variable amount of steam before it reaches the last stage of the turbine, which would allow almost the full electrical output of the plant to be restored for summer use when heat demand was low.  This NuScale report on nuclear powered desalinization describes these techniques.

This change trades a small amount of electricity for a large amount of heat, rather like a heat pump.  But instead of a “coefficient of performance” (CoP) of around 3 (typical for electric heat pumps), the CoP is around 10 (see p. 135 of this report on DCH).  

The other advantage of CHP-DH over heat pumps is that the district heating can utilize large water tanks for thermal energy storage, so that the system need not be sized for the full evening peak load as would an electrical grid supplying heat pumps.  Also, on the coldest days electric heat pumps are supplemented with resistance heaters (feed by the 35% efficient peaking power plants), whereas the district heating system is supplemented with 95% efficient boilers (or better yet CHP peaking power plants).

Thus, the nuclear combined-heat-and-power solution should be able to beat the cost of heat from oil, gas, or heat pumps.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on May 13, 2015 1:47 pm GMT

Actually, nuclear power is being used to heat cities today!  As of 2009, Switzerland got 7.5% of it’s heat from nuclear, and Slovakia got 5%.  See p. 63 of this report on Disctrict Heating and Cooling.

It is also important to note that while moving from today’s Gen III reactors to closed cycle Gen IV designs would be more sustainable (a billion years versus a few hundred, see here), Gen III designs are already more sustainable than fossil fuels, and enormously better for the environment.  Nuclear also beats biomass for heat and electricity due to elimination of air pollution, and it avoids competition with biofuels (which are needed for long-range air travel).

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on May 13, 2015 12:30 pm GMT

Nathan,

That is a nice write up about CHP-DH.

The nearby Drammen Fjord, a side branch of the Oslo Fjord, is used by water source heat pumps to heat about 400 buildings in the center of Drammen, Norway. The pumps, etc., are driven by hydro energy.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on May 13, 2015 4:38 pm GMT

Wood chip co-fired district heating has worked beautifully in St. Paul, Minnesota for decades. The project began replacing individual coal (etc) boiler systems in about 1980. The old warehouse district along the northern most port of the Mississippi River was shabby and abandoned.

One of the biggest problems they had was finding new brick to match the beautiful old brick. Property developers actually thought the brick was gray because of the soot stains. The area hosted the Republican National Convention the year John McCain was nominated, and many were amazed what a beautiful city it was.

The arts community is now booming in the area. The St. Paul Union Depot stone-work shines, and is back in operation as a rail center. The Ordway Center (3M, Weyerhauser, etc. sponsored) just added a 2nd concert hall near the chimney top that reaches to river level. Clear as wavy glass exhaust on a 20 below evening.

It works. Plenty of references, even Pres. George Bush Jr. toured and learned.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on May 13, 2015 6:16 pm GMT

Sean,

“You can rip on pellets all you want, I am not a huge fan of them, but somehow Britain figured out it is actually more cost effective for them to import pellets, then it is to burn coal.”

Britain has to meet EU CO2 requirements and it has to play politics with coal miners. Importing wood pellets from the US and co-firing them in the UK coal-fired plants is an answer for the UK and for Germany.

I added this paragraph to the article. The numbers were created by reponsible professionals, i.e., they were not “ripping” anything.

Energy Yield Divided by Energy Input, EROI, of Wood Pellets: This study shows the EROI of wood pellets is about 1.46, meaning it takes 11,266,413 Btu of various energy inputs to produce a ton of wood pellets having 16,400,000 Btu. See page 18 of URL.

https://focusonenergy.com/sites/default/files/research/katerswoodpelletmfg_report.pdf

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on May 13, 2015 6:21 pm GMT

Sean,

Here are some numbers regarding buildings.

Annual Energy Use for Heating, Cooling and Electricity of Inefficient Government Buildings 

NY State Office Building Campus/SUNY-Albany Campus; average 186,000 Btu/sq ft/yr. Source: a study I did in the 80s.

Vermont State Government buildings; average 107,000 Btu/sq ft/yr.

Not much can be done with such buildings other than taking them down to the steel structure and start over.

http://www.publicassets.org/PAI-IB0806.pdf 

Annual Energy Use for Heating, Cooling and Electricity of Efficient Corporate Buildings 

Building energy demand management using smart metering, smart buildings (including increased insulation and sealing, efficient windows and doors, entries with airlocks, variable speed motors, automatic shades on the outside of windows, Hitachi high efficiency absorption chillers, plate heat exchangers, task lighting, passive solar, etc.) were used in the Xerox Headquarters Building, Stamford, CT, designed in 1975 by Syska & Hennessey, a leading US engineering firm.

Result: The energy intensity is 28,400 Btu/sq ft/yr for heating, cooling and electricity, which compares with 50,000 Btu/sq ft/yr, or greater, for nearby standard headquarters buildings. Source: a study I did in the 80s.

France and Germany are building high-rise office buildings that average less than 10,000 Btu/sq ft/yr.

China is building net-zero-energy, high-rise office buildings designed by Skidmore, Owens, Merrill, a leading US architect-engineering firm in Chicago, Illinois. 

 

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on May 15, 2015 3:04 am GMT

Sean,

The 100-year old Town Hall in Hartford, VT, has been renovated for about $3 million.

It looks even better on the outside than before, has new interior mechanical and electrical systems, new high R-value windows and doors, and lots of insulation and sealing, AND it has 25% more office space, AND will use 1/3 the energy of before.

It took money and brainwork.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on May 14, 2015 3:09 am GMT

Puting aside “nuclear trolls” or Solar Trolls, or Wind Trolls, or whatever-is-your-favorite energy source trolls  for the moment.

It really beggars the imagination to see how anyone who claims to care about atmospheric CO2 can defend re-releasing already trapped and sequestered CO2 into the atmosphere for any reason whatsoever.

I guess if you happen to love something you’ll somehow always find a way to justify it.

To my mind, we should be finding ways to actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere, and leave it trapped,  by burying it in the ground. 

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on May 14, 2015 9:40 pm GMT

“burning biomass is obviously preferable to coal,”

Arguable perhaps,  not obvious.  The lower specific heat value of even *dry* biomass relative to coal means biomass per unit energy will forever emit more particulate matter, NOx, CO, and CO2 untill  re-growth catches up with the exploding BM harvest.  Then there is the land use, clear cutting, transportation.  Yes coal emits heavy metals, sulfur, lops off mountain tops.    Gas (for the moment), nuclear, and renewables are possible  ways forward for cleaner energy; wood a turn back.

If we must have this wood-coal trade off then denuding entire forests and wood-fire choked cities versus coal and mining was decided centuries ago.  Large scale wood energy belongs alongside the horse and powdered wigs.




Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on May 14, 2015 9:44 pm GMT

Joris – And image insertion?  Or is that privilege granted selectively by the administrator?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 14, 2015 10:39 pm GMT

Mark, from a carbon-balance perspective burning biomass is obviously preferable to coal.

Despite the logging of rainforests, there’s more aggregate biomass on Earth now than there was thirty years ago. If we stopped burning all fossil fuels now, atmospheric carbon would stabilize within a century or two.

Coal represents carbon which has been sequestered for at least 8 million years, when the Earth’s temperature was 4°C warmer. By returning all available fossil carbon to the atmosphere, we could theoretically return to scorching Eocene temperatures of +14C-+16C, and wipe out any species (including humans) which have evolved in the last 50 million years.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on May 15, 2015 12:54 am GMT

Bob – 

Biomass combustion emits less *net* CO2 than coal per unit energy, but it is far from net zero per the material I’ve read.  See Boada’s comment below for a quick reminder. It may be a  hundred years before biomass sourced carbon is recaptured from the atmosphere, and it is the next ~fifty years where the important forcing action will take place (or not).  A ton of new carbon in the atmosphere is a ton or new carbon in the atmosphere, whether from 10^8 year old fossils or 10^2 year old wood, as CO2 it traps the same longwave radiation.  

Setting CO2 aside a moment, the deaths and disease attributed to present coal-fired electric generation are often quoted on TEC. Particulates and smog from NOx are major factors in those deaths. Burning lower heat value fuel like wood to displace coal can only be worse in that regard. 

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on May 15, 2015 3:01 am GMT

Bob,

There are at least 2 times as many people needing energy and other resources as there were 30 years ago.

 

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on May 15, 2015 4:49 am GMT

Bob, there are so many things wrong with this discussion and Willem’s analysis, it can’t be fixed. But I’ll offer some constructive considerations to some of your points.

Biomass growth is determined by at least the following variables; water, sunlight, temperature, CO2, physical space, genetics, nutrients. That’s what agriculture is. Nobody knows how much can be grown on land or ocean.

Further, simply burning wood (carbohydrate) trivializes the possibilities. You don’t burn the food (carbohydrate) you eat in a fire.

Willem’s starting point of 45% water fuel is so absurd that he (or others) never did address it.

The pathetic part is the discussion is so hateful one must assume the intent is to prevent fair consideration of an essential opportunity.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on May 15, 2015 5:11 am GMT

To insert an image into a comment, click the “Input format” option under the text entry block (usually you have to submit the comment first, then re-edit it before the option appears), then select “Full HTML”.  Then an image icon will appear.  You can not upload files, so the image must be available as a url from the web.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on May 15, 2015 5:46 am GMT

I agree that wood should be dried before burning (e.g. with solar energy);  I don’t see how that changes the central conclusions:  woodburn still releases more particulate pollution than burning oil or gas; for new construction and major renovations, building efficiency improvements can cost effectively reduce energy demand.

I’ve never heard any claims that grass fires were not sustainable: all ash-born nutrients are returned to the soil, the released CO2 is re-absorbed within a couple of years.  Forest fires have a longer recovery period, but are none-the-less sustainable.

Wood burning for energy could be as sustainable as forest fires if: forestry consisted of selectively removing deadwood and under-brush (while leaving the healthy large trees) and all ash-born nutrients are returned to the soil.  I don’t think forestry is normally done that way.

Regarding cost, wood burning may be more economical in some circumstances than Willem’s example shows.  The EIA reports a biomass fuel cost of just 4 ¢/kWh when used for electricity production (similar to gas, and much cheaper than oil).

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on May 15, 2015 6:27 am GMT

Nathan, combustion engineering has a lot to offer biomass fuels. If you burn bulk fuel oil you get heavy smoke and residue and carbon monoxide. All toxic. So carburetors and refined fuels have greatly improved the work harnessed from intrinsic fuel oil energy content, while also improving exhaust toxicity.

Uncontrolled biomass fires have been charted by NASA for carbon monoxide, and included in carbon emission maps. Incomplete combustion is responsible for biochar residues. Some brave people put their lives on the line to limit wildfires.

There are so many variables and possibilities, it will be fun to see new ideas emerge.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on May 15, 2015 2:29 pm GMT

Forest fires are mainly a problem only to the extent that they threaten humans and their property.  Especially in cases like the redwood forests of California, occasional fires are a part of the natural life cycle of the forests.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on May 17, 2015 9:39 pm GMT

Thanks Nathan

 

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on May 15, 2015 4:20 pm GMT

Noted: This article has been modified while under discussion. The original title “Economics and CO2 Emissions of Montpelier District Heating Plant” has been changed to “Dismal Economics and Increased CO2 of Montpelier District Heating Plant.” Since I don’t know what else has been changed by TEC web hosts, I disclaim all association with this article.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 15, 2015 4:56 pm GMT

Mark, I think we’re pretty much in agreement on this. I only argue on behalf of biomass in relation to coal, when burning biomass could alone push us beyond climatic tipping points.

However, Rick raises an interesting point, and that is that global biomass has indeed increased in the last few decades. So perhaps its not a hundred years, but much more quickly, that carbon is being recaptured from the atmosphere.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on May 15, 2015 7:34 pm GMT

Rick,

You can be sure the article changed for the better.

As a result of your comments and of others, I made changes/refinements to better illuminate the pitfalls of this project.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on May 15, 2015 11:15 pm GMT

Rick,

I agree with you regarding burning biomass that could be used as food, such as the US corn-to-ethanol program and burning wood chips that are 45% water. See this article.

http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/287061/us-corn-ethanol-program

Biomass heating plants usually have drying ovens to dry the chips before burning. The drying is usually done by using the heat of the furnace flue gases. Dryed wood chips provide more stable burning conditions at lower heating demand.

My objective was not to discuss the burning of biomass as an ethical issue.

My main objective of the article was to show the dismal economics of the project, and that it does not reduce CO2 emissions.

Claims made in press releases, which I knew to be wrong, based on about 30 years of past experience.

I had completed the front end of the article, when, out-of-the-blue, came these fuel consumptions and CO2 claims for the partial heating season.

I used those values to make the same analysis, which indicated my initial assumption of 15% fuel oil, 85% wood chips, and building Btu/sq ft/hr were close to the mark.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on May 15, 2015 8:02 pm GMT

Bob,

If the increase in biomass took place, then it may act to reduce global warming, and should get credit for it in climate computer programs.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on May 15, 2015 8:21 pm GMT

Nathan,

EIA

Capital 47.4

O&M 14.5

Fuel 39.5

Total 101.4

Wood chips Btu/kWh =  $55/ton x 1 ton/7.6 million Btu x 1 kWh/3413 Btu x 1/0.25 power plant efficiency  = 9.88 c/kWh

The EIA numbers in New England are way off. 

Paul O's picture
Paul O on May 15, 2015 9:45 pm GMT

Willem, I might be misconstruing your comment, but to my thinking What you say is only true when the only option to coal is is Biomas and If use of Biomas is not being made as a substitute for Carbon Free Dispatchible sources.

BTW, has anyone evaluated the long term benefits of Natural Gas vs Biomas if the Biomas were ploughed in the ground and replaced with a new crop to continue removing CO2 from the atmosphere?

I realise there are no easy answers.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 15, 2015 10:53 pm GMT

Paul, we’re better off burning biomass and putting the chemical energy therein to good use than plowing it under:

Decomposition occurs through aerobic and an aerobic pathways, producing a mixture of CO2 and CH4 emissions. In a well-managed compost operation, the emissions are primarily CO2 because of frequent aeration of the material. The compost product, which contains approximately 50 percent of the original biomass carbon, is then spread where it continues to decompose, although no longer at an accelerated pace. The effect on the atmosphere is still a high level of contribution of methane and other volatile organic gases.

http://www.wvca.us/envirothon/pdf/alt/disposal_alternatives.pdf

In the long term, it’s hard to make any environmental case for pulling more fossil fuel out of the ground.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on May 16, 2015 6:33 am GMT

Bob, Is this not what nature does? Is this not what the Amazon and other rain forests do? Perhaps we should allow the wild places in Minnesota to naturally grow what timber and undergrowth they will, while we focus on non CO2 producing sources.

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