Writes Mahmood Ebadian, of the Biomass and Bioenergy Research group at University of British Columbia, ( https://biomass.ubc.ca ) one of the primary barriers to the utilization of agricultural and forest residues in Canada is lack of established supply chains that are capable of meeting target biomass costs and quality specifications of bio-conversion technologies.
In a special report obtained by Madison’s this week, Ebadian details solutions to these resource utilization barriers.
Why we need transition in biomass supply chains to support the steady development of a bioeconomy: UBC Biomass Research Group
Despite the abundant availability of agricultural and forest residues in Canada and the increase demand for renewable energy nationally and internationally, these available biomass resources are currently underutilized in Canada. About 50 million dry tonnes of crop residues, 12 million dry tonnes of forest residues and 30 million dry tonnes of unharvested timbers within AACs are available annually in Canada for industrial applications such as bioenergy and biofuel production. One of the primary barriers to the utilization of these resources is lack of established supply chains that are capable of meeting target biomass costs and quality specifications of bio-conversion technologies.
Figure 1 — Example of biomass delivered cost distribution for 20%, 30%, 40% and 50% farm participation rates in a commercial-scale biorefinery project. Biomass yield, biomass moisture content, bale bulk density, dry matter loss, logistic equipment capacity and efﬁciency, machine breakdown and repair times, and road transportation time are the primary parameters that impact the biomass delivered cost (Biomass and Bioenergy Research Group).
Both agricultural and forest sectors have been using the existing logistics equipment to harvest, collect, store, handle and transport biomass. However, a review of the pioneering bio-conversion technology developers in commercializing their first industrial-scale projects shows that the existing biomass supply chains have difficulty of meeting target costs and the quality specifications of these projects. For example, seasonal availability of biomass and unfavourable weather conditions during the harvest window has made the storage management a daunting task for the biomass suppliers and users. Fire hazard and biomass degradation are the two main risks in commercial biomass storage practices.
In addition, the industry has not been able to develop an optimal governance of the biomass supply chains in which all actors of the supply chain are able to meet their financial goals based on their levels of investments in the supply chain. The supply chain actors include land owners, crop growers, forest companies, custom harvest groups, biomass aggregators, transportation companies, and end users.
Figure 2 — Impact of ash content and particle size on the heating value of woody biomass: relationship between: (a) ash content and particle size; (b) calorific value (or higher heat value) and particle size (Oveisi et al., 2018, Biomass and Bioenergy Research Group).
Another significant challenge is variability in physical and chemical properties of biomass. Low bulk density, fine generation, variability in particle size and shape, moisture content, sugar content and contaminations such as sand and chlorine create an unreliable and harsh environment for handling, feeding and processing of biomass before the final conversion process resulting in corrosion, plugging, difficulty in continuous feeding, higher chemical consumption, and lower conversion yields. To secure a continuous flow of bulk materials into a digester, physical and chemical properties of biomass much be well understood and a customized fleet of handling, feeding and preprocessing equipment are developed. For example, to produce 25 million gallons of biofuel, 1100 dry tonnes of biomass need to be delivered to the gate of the biofuel plant on a daily basis and one tonne of biomass need to be fed into the digester every 90 seconds, which is a difficult task given the variability in properties of bulk materials fed into a digester.
The development of a customized fleet of handling, feeding and preprocessing equipment based on biomass physical and chemical properties will be capital intensive and require the establishment of a solid biomass and biofuel market in Canada to encourage the equipment suppliers to invest on this equipment.
Another scenario would be to upgrade the biomass into a feedstock that can use the existing supply chains for collection, handling and transport. A good example of this is the wood pellet industry that produces a product similar to agricultural grain and use the existing supply chains from the grain industry to transport wood pellet nationally and internationally. In addition to the technical challenges, optimal supply chain governances need to be developed to encourage all the supply chain actors to participate in the fulfillment of target biomass costs and quality specifications of bio-conversion technologies by providing enough profit margin for each player.
In summary, a vibrant bioeconomy requires the development of cost-efficient and effective biomass supply chains that are capable of reducing costs, preserving and enhancing quality, controlling supply and quality risks and guaranteeing reliable operations.
— Written by Mahmood Ebadian, Biomass and Bioenergy Research group, UBC