Monday, December 12, 2005

Bio-mass: Sustainable Energy?

My Great Cousin Stig Nickull is the managing director at the world's largest (and most efficient) biomass energy conversion plant in Finland. The plant is in Pietarsaari and was specially designed to convert biomass fuel sources into electrical energy.

I write about this for two reasons. First and foremost, I am very proud of the heritage of my family and their contributions to the world. Stig is a brilliant scientist and seems to be causing positive change in the world. Imagine energy being freed from materials currently deemed garbage at an almost zero pollution factor? He has done it. We could definitely use this model in Canada since we have an abundance of wood chips, waste products etc.

The second is due to Carmen's comments about my hydrogen bashing on the previous blog entry:

Carmen points out that we need to change our thinking on this planet. She points out that these poor decisions are causing more problems and I agree. Politicians - try thinking - it doesn't hurt!!!!!

When evaluating alternative energy, please always question the Why, What, How and make sure you use the equation I wrote on the Hydrogen blog entry. We have to start thinking of solutions in terms of NET energy savings.

Peace to all!!


  1. Even our own compost waste has huge potential to contribute to our energy needs. They are already using compost for energy in Europe (district heating -where they use more than one source for electricity, even the crematorium contributes to the energy plant!!) and will use it for flexifuel cars in the near future.
    On another note regarding your last post and The First Law of Thermodynamics - energy can not be created, nor can it be destroyed. This is particularly important when considering the increase of pollutants in the biosphere. In addition, most of these pollutants can not be broken down and recycled in nature because they are very stable and not normally found in nature... so they continue to build up. That is why the Second Law of Thermodynamics is also crucial, Energy and or matter disperses. So essentially you could have a very stable pollutant that is made in China, but because of the first and second laws, they will continue to circulate the biosphere and systematically increase in concentration. The environmental concern should not be so much as we need to do something because fuel may run out, but that we need to do something because toxins will only continue to accumulate over time and will disrupt our most primitive functions at the cellular level (just look at the increase in cancer rates!). If you add a drop of blue ink into a fish tank, at first you probably won't notice anythin, but that doesn't mean the ink is no longer in the water, it just disperses. However, the more ink you add, the more it accumulates, and eventually it will turn the water blue and kill the fish. That's why changing the way we think needs a multi deisciplinary systems thinking approach guided by the overall "rules of the game", or scientifically principled definition of sustainability based on scientific consensus, something we can all agree upon. It's like driving a car, there are certain rules that we all follow, why should it be any different when working towards a more sustainable life and chosing better energy solutions.

  2. Heya Duane, good to see you posting about important stuff like this :)

    Biomass is pretty attractive - especially if it is waste from the forest industry say. Interestingly, the sunlight to chemical energy conversion efficiency of plants (biomass) is somewhere on the order of 0.1% ... thats pretty inefficient if you ask me compared to the highest efficiency solar photovoltaics which are around 40%. Here in BC most pulp mills have co-generation plants and total biomass generation is about 600MW or 5.5% of BC Hydro production. Ain't half bad. There is also a lot of micro-hydro of course.

    When it comes to hydrogen people do need to get a few heads out of a few asses. It's mostly just the car/oil industries and their lobbies that are diverting all the money. Makes sense for them cause today ALL hydrogen just comes from fossil fuels. Hydrogen makes some sense if you consider using something like a direct methanol fuel cell or have an onsite reformer. There are also lots of interesting hydrogen generation techniques currently being researched like using bacteria.

    Then of course if you are using a car you should just get a diesel and use the fry oil from your local restaurant. But if everyone did that then there would not be enough so that brings me to my last point. Nathan Lewis from CalTech gave a great presentation at the latest IEEE Photovoltaics Specialist Conference (where I also presented) and here is the link - it does not do it justice to just
    read it but it's really good.

    I could go on about energy for hours :)

    Anyhow, take it easy duane and I will hopefully see you in London in January.



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