Large-Scale Biomass Solutions

The Capture Group’s Eric Larson is part of an initiative to assess the long term potential of biomass-based energy in the United States, particularly for meeting transportation needs. In the “Role of Biomass in America’s Energy Future” project, researchers from ten U.S. institutions are analyzing the economics and impacts of large biomass facilities that would use thousands of tons of biomass per day to meet a substantial portion of United States’ transportation energy needs.

Larson’s work on fuels made from biomass via gasification (e.g., Fischer-Tropsch diesel and gasoline) indicates that if built at large scales (5000 tons of plantation-grown biomass per day), such plants have the potential to be competitive with petroleum fuels made from $50/barrel oil, even without considering the costs of the much greater carbon emissions associated with the petroleum fuels.

Figure 1. Eric Larson with a biomass gasifier in the village of Hechengli, Jilin Province, China

Pulp Mill Biorefineries

Another area of biomass research has centered on the pulp and paper industry. Currently, black liquor, the lignin-rich byproduct of kraft pulp-making, is burned in boilers to provide steam and power for the pulp mill. Previous work by Eric Larson and colleagues had shown that gasification of black liquor could be used to economically provide electricity and heat for a mill much more efficiently and cleanly than today’s technologies.

This year Larson received a DOE grant to study the technology and economics of pulp mill biorefineries that might gasify black liquor and logging residues to supply energy for mill operations and export liquid fuels and/or electricity. Energy contained in black liquor and logging residues used in the industry today total about 1.5 Quads, equivalent to more than 1 % of U.S. primary energy supply. In addition to reducing industry emissions, economical biorefining with electricity export would both cut costs and give the U.S. paper industry a new source of income, enhancing its competitiveness in the world marketplace.