Date: 16 May 2006

Modern Biomass Conversion Technologies

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Abstract

This article gives an overview of the state-of-the-art of key biomass conversion technologies currently deployed and technologies that may play a key role in the future, including possible linkage to CO2 capture and sequestration technology (CCS). In doing so, special attention is paid to production of biofuels for the transport sector, because this is likely to become the key emerging market for large-scale sustainable biomass use. Although the actual role of bio-energy will depend on its competitiveness with fossil fuels and on agricultural policies worldwide, it seems realistic to expect that the current contribution of bio-energy of 40–55 EJ per year will increase considerably. A range from 200 to 300 EJ may be observed looking well into this century, making biomass a more important energy supply option than mineral oil today. A key issue for bio-energy is that its use should be modernized to fit into a sustainable development path. Especially promising are the production of electricity via advanced conversion concepts (i.e. gasification and state-of-the-art combustion and co-firing) and modern biomass derived fuels like methanol, hydrogen and ethanol from ligno-cellulosic biomass, which can reach competitive cost levels within 1–2 decades (partly depending on price developments with petroleum). Sugar cane based ethanol production already provides a competitive biofuel production system in tropical regions and further improvements are possible. Flexible energy systems, in which biomass and fossil fuels can be used in combination, could be the backbone for a low risk, low cost and low carbon emission energy supply system for large scale supply of fuels and power and providing a framework for the evolution of large scale biomass raw material supply systems. The gasification route offers special possibilities to combine this with low cost CO2 capture (and storage), resulting in concepts that are both flexible with respect to primary fuel input as well as product mix and with the possibility of achieving zero or even negative carbon emissions. Prolonged RD&D efforts and biomass market development, consistent policy support and international collaboration are essential to achieve this.