Biomass-produced electricity in the US possible, though expensive

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If the U.S. wants to start using wood pellets to produce energy, either the government or power customers will have to pay an extra cost, a new University of Georgia study has found.

Right now, "it's just not economically feasible to use pellets in production," said Bin Mei, associate professor of forest resource finance and economics in UGA's Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.

Wood pellets are used heavily in European because of a mandate to cut fossil fuel emissions, Mei said, but that is heavily supported by government subsidies.

Should U.S. energy providers switch to a "co-firing" method-where a plant burns both coal and wood pellets, switching between the two-they'd pass on the costs to not only convert to co-firing plants, but also to buy the pricier wood pellets. If a government subsidy won't pay for the extra costs, Mei said, then consumers would have to pick up the tab.

Mei and co-author Michael Wetzstein with Purdue University recently published their findings in Energy Economics.

In the U.S., power plants have traditionally used coal to produce electricity, but coal emits high levels of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. The European Union has taken the lead on worldwide efforts to switch to burning biomass instead of coal, while the U.S.'s Clean Power Plan aims to lower the country's carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 32 percent from the recorded 2005 levels within the next 25 years. Right now, the U.S. is exporting about 4.8 million tons of wood pellets to Europe to help them meet their power demands.

Although European companies have converted, U.S. electricity producers can't simply abandon their coal-fired plants, Mei said. The plants are designed to last decades and are built at significant . But they can be modified to burn some biomass, and wood pellets are one of the easiest things to switch to, he said.

Mei and Wetzstein looked at the fluctuating coal and wood pellet prices and incorporated price uncertainty and conversion cost into decision making.

In other words, a decline in wood pellet price may not immediately trigger the adoption of mixed fuel of a power plant because of the conversion cost. This is known as the "inertia effect" in financial economics, but government interventions can change this situation.

They found that producing power with a mixture of coal and wood pellets simply isn't a "commercially viable option in most cases," Mei said. Based on historical price data, "the price pairs fall into the switch-to-coal region, meaning that it is not economical to co-fire wood pellets with coal because the mixed fuel cost increases with the share of wood pellets."

Mei said they found that there would be times when converting plants to co-fire with wood pellets would be triggered, and all of the scenarios would require either a government subsidy or an extra fee charged to power customers.

The government would have to pay $8 billion to prompt power plants to convert to using both and wood pellets, and $2.7 billion to retain current co-firing power , Mei said.

"These numbers are roughly comparable to the subsidies and tax credits for solar and wind energy on a per unit basis," Mei said. "Therefore, renewable energy policies should give equal priorities to wood co-firing as to solar and wind energy in the U.S."


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Citation: Biomass-produced electricity in the US possible, though expensive (2017, September 22) retrieved 19 May 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2017-09-biomass-produced-electricity-expensive.html
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Sep 22, 2017
Hitler sent in Humans into Gas Chambers. That was HORRIBLE. Why NOT send in Wild Animals in there on their way to These Fuel making Plants ? You remove Carnivores and You get Plenty of Herbivores. We should make sure they do not suffer much....Already we are guillotining them for FOOD/Burgers ! Also, it may look Cruel. UNFORTUNATELY, That is What Animals do to each other, just like HUMANS Too are Doing !

Sep 22, 2017
We are having enough problems with deforestation, The LAST thing we need to be doing is to be burning more wood, especially on an industrial scale, we would not be able to sustain it.

Sep 23, 2017
We are having enough problems with deforestation, The LAST thing we need to be doing is to be burning more wood, especially on an industrial scale, we would not be able to sustain it.
If you had done a little research you would have found out that wood pellets are not produced from cutting trees.

"Wood pellets are the most common type of pellet fuel and are generally made from compacted sawdust and related industrial wastes from the milling of lumber, manufacture of wood products and furniture, and construction."

Sep 24, 2017
Seeing as how I come frm the Pacific Northwest where logging is Major Business, something the family has been into since colonization, I would actually know something about this. They SAY that it is all from wood waste, but that is not at all the case, when the demand for chips/pellets goes up they will even go in and cut young alder stands for the chip content. Too often the producers will go where the money is, and you can bet that if it was being used for energy that very soon the 'waste' sources would dry up of usable fuel and then we would be back to cutting trees for pellets.

We have pellet stoves out here already for home use, and that is, indeed, one of the problems that we have had with it out here.

It all has to come from somewhere. Note it says 'Generally' as far as coming from wood waste, which, yes, there is a fair amount of, but there are already competing industries that want this resource.

Sep 24, 2017
If you had done a little research you would have found out that wood pellets are not produced from cutting trees.

"Wood pellets are the most common type of pellet fuel and are generally made from compacted sawdust and related industrial wastes from the milling of lumber, manufacture of wood products and furniture, and construction."


1) How is it possible to get sawdust and the industrial waste without cutting trees?

2) The cutting wastes are already used for energy anyways, so any additional supply would have to come from cutting more trees just for the purpose.


Sep 24, 2017
". If a government subsidy won't pay for the extra costs, Mei said, then consumers would have to pick up the tab."

What utter B.S.!!!! The taxpayers and consumers are one in the same. Somehow the Progressives forget that. Also the US IS currently exporting logs to Europe that are being burnt in their power plants. Sawdust my A$$.

Sep 24, 2017
Stop trying to destroy the Western economies by saddling them with such costly infrastructure that they can't compete with non-Western economies that aren't under the same economic constraints.

Sep 25, 2017
Steelwolf is exactly right. As soon as there is contracted big money, the alder stands will be chipped.
Think about the claim 'from other sources' and immediately one wonders how these various dispersed areas are going to have their 'refuse' picked up and sent to a pellet plant economically. Its not possible, so the wood somewhere is going to be chipped.
It boggles the mind we are now sending 5 million tons to Europe of pellet fuel. Using wheat chaff and rice husks I can see; that is a local resource. But anything else requires the collection of that refuse which added to other losses result in 40% of the energy of the pellets already used. Dumb.
This is just another side-step into inserting yet another profit taking into an existing revenue stream. Its trying to cut more of an imaginary pie when its gone. Dumb and dumber.

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