Many methods of providing electric power exist, and the current distribution methods are not optimal. Local site power generation, a model proposed as long ago as 1924 by Henry Ford, is a method that increases overall efficiency with short transfer lines and multiple backup options. Locally obtained biomass could become a major player in the world’s future power scheme, reducing carbon-based emissions. It is important to understand, that combined heat and power (CHP) is intended primarily for large campuses, places like health care facilities, educational institutions, and industrial applications. Other viable renewable power generation technologies like solar, hydro, tidal, and wind can be customized for various regions where a particular resource is plentiful. CHP biomass is best suited for heavily wooded regions where a logging trade infrastructure could be established. Safe nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas offer additional options for regions where renewable technologies are not readily available.
A major factor in the future of energy production will be diversity, utilizing the best options for each region. CHP is a multi-step process that typically takes raw wood, coarse chops it, presses it into briquettes, and cooks the wood to prompt the release of “process gas.” This gas can be used in an internal combustion engine to turn a generator or burned in a special furnace to fire a boiler. This burning option is special, in that it runs at temperatures of 2,300˚F in the fire box of the boiler, a temperature that will destroy virtually all contaminates that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.
Waste heat is reclaimed and used in many ways, including the preprocessing of the fuel supply. A crowning advantage is that particulates are easily scrubbed out of the stacks to make the final exhaust very Earth-friendly.
In the northeastern US and in Canada, biomass CHP holds a great potential to become the local power of choice; in fact, several CHP plants have already been constructed and many more are in the planning stages. Coastal Maine could maximize the use of tidal energy. These systems are completely submerged and have minimal environmental impact. Southern regions can cash in on solar and wind. It is clear that we cannot completely eliminate the use of fossil fuels, but we can certainly minimize our consumption, dramatically reducing carbon emissions.
Pellets require a lot of energy to create. Consider, instead, manufacturing larger briquettes with minimal processing. Innovative solutions and integrated well-designed power projects should take into consideration the many factors that constitute the whole. Incorporate technologies that can run 12 months a year and technologies that are useful in some way 12 months a year. A CHP plant’s role may shift with the season, providing building heat and power in the winter, and diverting the heat to industry for process in the summer.
Overall, the biggest single reality we all need to face is that conservation of energy is required for a sustainable, renewable, and environmentally friendly future. Power companies stand to gain by their customers using power more efficiently—less power use means fewer power plants to build. The end result is less pollution. Individuals and businesses should take advantage of incentive programs to make their homes or their buildings more efficient, saving money over time.
Cooperation is essential in the future of energy production. Opportunities should be found which bring two or more parties together to create win-win situations. For example, a local town option could be the capturing of landfill methane for industrial uses. Take that awful landfill smell and put it to work! In this example, a landfill is located across the street from a blacktop plant. The town captures methane and sells it to the blacktop company. They use it in their process and greatly reduce their use of fossil fuels, thereby, reducing their cost of operation; a win for both parties. In addition, because methane burns cleaner than oil, the emissions released into the air are also reduced; a win for the Earth.
Other examples might include a CHP plant nested among a small town, an industrial park, and a major manufacturer. Located in the northeastern US, a CHP plant burns wood from the local region, produces power for the manufacturer, and feeds back into the grid, thus providing thermal energy for the manufacturer, the industrial park, and a portion of the town’s heating needs. This scenario is currently in the planning stages for a small town in northern Vermont. CHP offers a diversity of fuels and output capacities while providing an extremely clean burning process—a very “Green” technology.