Tag Archives | biomass

GEK Gasifier. Create electricity and biochar at home from wood

GEK gasifier

John Robb brings news about the GEK gasifier, an exciting open source project where you create electricity for your house using wood and other biomass waste.

I’m planning to talk with the people behind All Power Labs this Wednesday on the Resilient Strategies Roundtable. They’ve done some excellent open source work on wood gasification for electricity and biochar production.

They’re even shipping a product called the power pallet (seen below) that significantly simplifies wood gasification technology at the personal level. These pallets ship in either the 10 kW or 20 kW versions, at a cost of <$2 a watt.

From GEK

Our motivating goal is to deploy at scale a new type of energy product– a personal scale waste-to-energy appliance. Imagine a “PC of energy”, or a “washing machine of power”; a machine which intakes the waste biomass all around us, and converts it to multiple forms of power and products, right where they’re needed. Instead of hauling the biomass to a central utility for conversion, we’re bringing the machine to where the fuel already is, right where the users and needs already are.


4 GW Drax Power Station plant in UK converting to biomass from coal


The behemoth Drax Power Station in the UK is switching from using coal as fuel to wood and crop residue biomass. The station outputs 4 GW which makes it one of the biggest power plants anywhere. The owners say it is “the largest, cleanest and most efficient coal-fired power station in the country” and appears genuinely committed to moving to renewable energy.

The Economist, while favoring the switch to renewables wonders just how carbon-neutral biomass is, especially considering that replacement crops and trees aren’t always planted at the same rate as they are used and also the carbon cost of getting the biomass to the plant by truck, then rail.

According to the European Environment Agency, an EU body not involved in setting subsidies, some biomass programmes could end up emitting more carbon than the fossil fuels they are being subsidised to replace.

They favor a carbon tax rather than the subsidies Drax will receive, saying let the marketplace choose. But how would new technologies get then the boost they need? And we all know how well letting the magic of the marketplace has worked out in finance and real estate. Subsidizing important new technologies is a needed and important role for governments. After all, that’s how we got solar photovoltaic and the internet. Governments need to do the same with renewable energy.

Transforming the Drax business from Drax Power Limited on Vimeo.

Is there enough residual biomass in Ontario to fuel a converted coal plant?

biomass plant. Tracy, California
Truck unloading wood chips that will fuel the Tracy Biomass Plant, Tracy, California.

That’s the hope. Use forest waste, agricultural leftovers, and non-food crops to power what used to be a coal plant with biomass only.

The logistics though, are daunting, getting all that stuff to the plant, and doing it in a way that doesn’t spew massive amounts of CO2 in the process.

North America’s largest coal plant could convert to biomass

Such a switch would not be easy, but Canada is considering doing it.

Figuring out how to burn biomass such as wood or switchgrass pellets could solve many problems at once. The government could make good on its commitment to phase out coal. It could keep a sizeable amount of electricity generation in the area without having to build new transmission lines or plants, whether nuclear or natural gas.

One problem. Where to find that much biomass on an ongoing sustainable basis that doesn’t drive up prices. Switchgrass grows easily on non-agricultural land, and thus would be a possible choice.

Dozens of Scandinavian power plants in burn biomass as fuel. In August, Atlanta-based Georgia Power asked its local electricity regulator if it could convert one of its 100-megawatt coal plants to wood.

So, it is doable.