Strauss: Pellets to be solution for inevitable US carbon policy

By Sue Retka Schill | May 23, 2014

The U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts are wrong for biomass utilization in the power sector, according to FutureMetrics LLC consultant William Strauss, writing  in his latest white paper, “Wood Pellet Fuel: A Solution to Reliable Baseload Low Carbon Electric Power Generation.”

While the EIA is predicting the proportion of renewable energy will grow only slightly, and coal and natural gas’s contribution to the U.S. power portfolio will remain constant at about 70 percent, climate change is going to change that, Strauss argues. He predicts the U.S. will have a carbon policy within the decade. “The U.S. will alter its policy into one that follows the lead of much of the rest of the developed world.” 

Looking at the EU gives some indication of where the U.S. is likely to go, Strauss suggests, highlighting how biomass plays a starring role in the European Union. “The EU’s use of biomass today is greater than the EIA projection for the U.S. in 2040. Also, in the EU, many power stations use the rejected heat from the turbine steam cycle for district heating (combined-heat-and-power or CHP) which provides a significantly improved efficiency in converting the energy in the fuel into useful energy.”

In making the case for using wood pellets for power generation, Strauss cites a couple of examples of pellet conversions in Ontario and England, and the importance of a commitment to sustainable supply chains. “The forest is the world’s oldest natural battery that runs on solar power,” Strauss writes. “As long as we do not reduce the stock of trees, that carbon cycle will remain closed and no new net carbon will be added to the atmosphere by using sustainable wood for manufacturing fuel.”

Sawmill residues are the traditional source of input wood for pellet manufacturing, he points out, which follows the demand for lumber, but changes in the pulp and paper industry are likely to increase the availability of wood supplies for pellets. In addition, the long-term supply agreements common among power generators will have an impact. “The front end of the supply chain can invest in new modern equipment and make significant improvements in silviculture, thus improving the productivity of the working forests. That will also increase the supply of wood for making low carbon fuel for our energy needs.”

While pellet fuel today is more costly than coal, Strauss concludes, that will change. “If we are to mitigate anthropologic climate change, the external costs associated with unregulated CO2 emissions will have to be internalized by the power generators (and that includes natural gas generators). That is already the case with sulfur (acid rain), particulates (smoke), oxides of nitrogen (smog and ozone), and other regulated pollutants. CO2 mitigation policy and regulation is also already the norm in many countries in the developed world and also in some developing nations.”