Biomass, an untapped renewable energy source

posted August 10, 2017 at 12:01 am
by  Rudy Romero
The energy sources that are widely discussed as alternatives to fossil fuel are geothermal, solar, wind and wave energy. Hardly ever do biomass— farm and urban wastes of an organic character—and biogas figure in discussions regarding renewable energy (RE). Biomass is being treated as a poor relative of the other, more glamorous sources of renewable energy.

This is a great pity not only because biomass-sourced energy is as clean as the other RE sources but also because the supply of raw material is close to limitless.

I was first introduced to biomass-sourced energy many years ago, when I was running a small business consulting company. A friend brought to my office a German businessman who was looking for a joint venture with a Philippine company interested in getting involved in a biomass energy project. I sat fascinated as the German explained to me, verbally and with diagrams, the process by which urban and farm wastes are converted into clean, comparatively inexpensive energy. I recall endorsing my visitor to San Miguel Corporation, which had varied manufacturing operations – for example, animal feed production and meat processing – that generated large quantities of waste on a regular basis. As I endorsed my new German friend, I told myself that I wished my company were in a position to be the joint-venture partner he was looking for.

 My interest in biomass as a renewable-energy source was re-ignited by a presentation made recently on the subject by the president of First Environtech Alliance Corporation, Ditmar Gorges. Mr. Gorges’ central thesis was that agriculture has always been regarded primarily as a source of food and fiber; it should also be recognized as a source of energy. With every advance in biogas technology, the connection between agriculture and energy has become closer.

The potential of biomass as a major player in the RE field could be inferred from some of the words and phrases contained Mr. Gorges’ presentation: farm wastes, rice bran, food processing wastes, animal materials from piggeries, fish innards and wastes from wet markets. Even sludge from septic tanks and waste water from ethanol plants could be a source of biogas. The availability of these materials in huge quantities on a regular basis is a fact that doesn’t need statement, Dr. Gorges said. Fully utilized, these farm and urban wastes together had “the potential capacity to contribute about 10 percent of (the Philippines’) power output,” he declared.

“Farm waste and organic materials coming from wet markets as well as animal materials from piggeries could be used to power biogas plants,” the First Environtech Alliance president said, He added: “Food processing wastes, whether in solid or liquid form, could be the feedstock for biomass plants.”

 In every Philippine farm there is plenty of waste material that can be used for mini-biogas plants. Chief among these are piggery and hatchery wastes and the residue from rice cultivation, such as bran. The German businessman I spoke of at the beginning of this column told me that the methane gas produced by the operations of a Philippine farm using the proper technology could produce enough power to light up the family residence and run the farm equipment.

 In the cities the abundant resources of biogas-plant raw materials would, as already stated, be wastes from wet markets and sludge from septic tanks. Treatment plants would be necessary for the septic-tank sludge.

There are enormous quantities of farm and urban waste that are going unharnessed. The technology has long been available. The market is there. All that is needed, Mr. Borges concluded, is for the government—more particularly, the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture—to recognize the potential of biogas as a major source of renewable energy and then implement a program for generating biogas with the vast amounts of farm and urban waste as raw material.

 The relentless pressure from climate change and this country’s limited renewable-energy options necessitate the making of such a policy response.

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Topics: Rudy Romero , Biomass , renewable energy source , fossil fuel , geothermal , solar , wind , wave energy
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