Increasing the energy conversion efficiency of biomass gasification plant to enable it to reach commercial viability has long been an aim of the renewables industry. Some experimental plant are operating, but electricity generating costs are generally about double those of wind power. Now the Fraunhofer Institute at Oberhausen in Germany reports that it has developed a fluidised bed converter for wood chips which enables the gases to be extracted and then cooled before they are used for powering a turbine with an output of around 5 MW. The overall efficiency of the cycle is much higher than if the wood were simply burned.
This potentially brings commercial biomass electricity generation closer and it is an important development. Biomass and wind energy have the potential to be major partners in renewables-intensive electricity systems of the future (Windpower Monthly, January 1996).
Tests with a 500 kW pilot plant at the institute will be used to optimise the combustion processes before a commercial prototype is built.