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Creating New Biomass Renewable Energy Feedstocks

It began with simply trying to get rid of organic waste. That was the attitude in many European countries in the 1970s. Fast forward to the Europe of today and there is now competition for this organic waste! While North America is several years behind Europe when it comes to competition for organic waste to produce biomass renewable energy, we should nevertheless start paying attention to the European experience and research on using forestry waste and straw in anaerobic digestion.

 Creating New Biomass Renewable Energy FeedstocksToday over 1,000 anaerobic digestion facilities in North America produce biomass renewable energy at landfills, wastewater treatments plants, on farms, etc. While exact biogas volumes from these anaerobic digestion facilities is unknown, with estimates varying from 800 – 2,000MW+, one number that is catching everyone’s attention is that if it were possible to make biogas from straw, forestry and other lignocellulosic waste, biogas production in North America could be 40 times higher!

The problem, however, is lignin. Lignin is the organic substance that binds the cells, fibres and vessels in wood and other lignocellulosic biomass, such as straw. It is the lignin that makes wood and straw inaccessible to the anaerobic microorganisms that produce biogas, and is why feeding lignocellulosic biomass such as straw and forestry waste into an anaerobic digestion facility isn’t such a good idea.

The Swedish Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Engineering (JTI), however, has a plan. First, JTI researchers start with a biological pre-treatment method using a type of white rot fungus that breaks down lignin. Next, they compare the biogas potential of the straw that has been treated with the fungus to that of untreated straw in anaerobic digestion tests within their laboratory. So far research results show that this type of biological pre-treatment could be an economically and environment-friendly way to produce biogas from forestry waste and straw.
Break Down Lignin
JTI’s researchers uses the microorganism white rot fungus in an attempt to break the lignin’s bond to the cellulose.

A commercial example where biomass renewable energy is already being produced from forestry waste is the GoBiGas project, built by Göteborg Energi in Sweden. This first of a kind project is taking forestry waste and converting it into renewable natural gas (a natural gas substitute). The catch is that the forestry waste is not digested in an anaerobic digestion facility. Instead the renewable natural gas is produced once the forestry waste has been gasified into synthetic gas.

For more information about utilizing lignocellulosic biomass such as straw and forestry waste to your anaerobic digestion facility, or if you have any questions regarding biomass renewable energy, please contact us.

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