Overcoming the Barriers of Commercial Biomass Gasification
Progress in the U.S.
Both Taylor Biomass and ICM are also working on international projects. Childress says that while interest is growing among the GTC’s 65 domestic and international members, most of whom are involved in some aspect of large-scale fossil fuel gasification, in the U.S. biomass gasification is being done at smaller or demonstration scales.
“There have been some large-scale applications in Europe, but in the U.S., that’s where we are,” Paisley echoes. That has largely been driven by U.S. DOE policies over the past several years, he says. “The DOE has focused on liquid fuels—ethanol specifically—and even though they were interested in power some years ago, they sort of abandoned that for a while. There’s some renewed interest now, but we’re one of the few large-scale projects underway and probably the furthest along relative to the production of power in the U.S.”
Another hindrance is a misconception of what biomass gasification really is. “During our permitting process and public hearings, you run into people who believe that if it is high temperature by definition, it’s incineration,” Paisley says. “That’s obviously not correct from a technological standpoint, as it’s hard to operate an incinerator without air going through it. The technical community typically understands that gasification is an intermediate step. You can almost look at it as a pretreatment step where you have the ability to clean up all of the potential environmental issues so that when you do the final conversion to electricity, it’s far superior to a direct-combustion process.”
Paisley is hopeful that anti-biomass sentiment in the U.S. will soon be overcome so that biomass gasification will be more readily accepted, allowing for widespread implementation. “Not just for the Taylor process, but all gasification processes,” he adds. “I’m a firm believer in biomass energy and its potential because, as far as renewables go, biomass gasification gives us the ability to produce virtually any energy product that we want, from power to liquid transportation fuels to natural gas substitutes. It gives us the ability to grow our energy.”