News | December 2017

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From Coal To Pellets: Emissions Strategies

Creating a sustainable, low-carbon energy future means reducing coal power plant emissions significantly but in a cost-effective and efficient manner. Using wood pellets as a substitute for coal in power generation is a solid strategy for decreasing carbon emissions during power generation, according to Dr. William Strauss, PhD, President of FutureMetrics, in a recently released position paper.

Reducing CO2 emissions associated with power generation is critical to future generations and softening the impacts of climate change, but carbon mitigation strategies should also minimize disrupting existing economic systems and standards of living, Strauss says. The paper, “Wood Pellets as a Substitute for Coal in Power Generation,” shows how the use of wood pellets is highly suitable and a proven process for use in large utility boiler systems that accept pulverized coal fuel, which are common throughout the world.

Wood pellets from sustainably managed forests do not increase the net stock of CO2 in the atmosphere, and are an easy substitute for coal using existing power generation infrastructure. Pellet production is another proven process, Strauss says, and the supply chain for transporting pellets is “mature and robust.”

Substituting pellets for coal maintains an on-demand baseload power source, unlike wind or solar, making the use of pellets a non-disruptive and reliable strategy in transitioning to a low-carbon energy future, the paper says.

Using Drax Power’s massive six 645 MW turbines generator facility that’s the largest wood pellet-consuming power station in the world as an example, Strauss shows how pellets form a critical part of the UK’s power grid foundation.

Three of the facility’s six turbines run on 100% pellets, and the paper shows how carbon intensity drops as coal and natural gas become a smaller part of the fuel mix.

The paper admits that wood pellet-generated electricity costs more than coal—anywhere from $30-$70 per megawatt hour (MWh) depending on market dynamics surrounding specific plants. However, Strauss emphasizes that the external costs of coal-fired power generation in the form of environmental impacts can’t be addressed without smart policy and regulation.

Charts accompanying the paper show how co-firing and gradually increasing pellets in the fuel mix lowers that gap between fuel costs. “With a gradual glide path from 100% coal to 100% pellets over a decade or more at selected critical baseload power plants, markets can adjust,” Strauss believes.

Concluding that wood pellet characteristics such as sustainability, on-demand baseload power fuel and ease of use in existing infrastructure make it a proven solution in pursuit of decarbonized power sector, Strauss adds, “No other solution provides the most reduction in CO2 emissions for the lowest cost per avoided ton while providing stable consistent baseload power from (existing) power plants.”

Industrial Pellets Hit 13.4 Million In 2016

 Projections for global industrial pellet demand point to significant increases during the next decade as new projects and regulations come on line, according to a report delivered by John Bingham, a director with Hawkins Wright, a UK-based consulting group that provides intelligence and analytical services to the international pulp, paper and biomass industries, during the recent U.S. Industrial Pellet Assn. exporting conference in Las Vegas.

Bingham noted that global industrial pellet consumption in 2016—pellets used to generate electricity and heat in utility-scale plants—was 13.4 million metric tons (MT). He then noted projects and developments in countries around the world that will boost demand in the future.

In the UK, three major projects will boost UK industrial pellet demand to 9.6 MT by 2021, up from 6.4 MT in 2016. Together the projects account for 2.6 GW in additional pellet-fueled power.

Meanwhile, four Netherlands projects starting up now and in 2018 represent 839 MW in pellet-fired power production that should produce 3.5 MT in new pelleted demand (up from zero in the (Netherlands before 2017) by 2021.

Noting that industrial pellet demand in Denmark is more seasonal and temperature-dependent than in other countries, Bingham cited ongoing efforts to displace coal there will increase pellet demand from 1.45 MT now to 2.1 MT in 2021.

Overall, Bingham projects European industrial pellet demand to expand significantly in the next few years, going from 10.7 MT in 2016 to 19.2 MT in 2021.

Of the 13.4 million tonnes of global consumption in 2016, following the UK at 6.4 million were South Korea, 1.7 million; Denmark 1.450 million; Sweden, 1.2 million; Belgium, 1 million; Poland, 500,000; Japan, 350,000.

UK Continues Focus On Clean Growth

UK Energy Minister Richard Harrington confirmed that up to £557 million will be made available for less established renewable electricity projects as part of the government’s Clean Growth Strategy to drive economic growth and clean up the energy system.

Since 1990 the UK’s emissions are down by more than a third while the economy has grown by two-thirds. Low carbon generation provided more than half (52%) of the electricity this summer, according to National Grid, while PwC analysis shows the UK decarbonizing faster than any other G20 nation.

As part of the strategy, developers will compete for up to £557 million of funding in Contracts for Difference auctions.



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