Thanks to its versatility, biomass promises great potential for renewables and could fuel growth for the valve industry. Alas, its image problem has yet to be overcome.
Other renewables are in the limelight of public discussion. Wind and solar energy plants are in the open and can be seen nearly everywhere. Biomass however lurks in the shadows of debate, in a role that is far from justified. In Germany alone, biomass accounts for 33 per cent of energy generated from renewables, second place behind wind energy with a share of around 36 per cent. Without a question, biomass has great potential.
Time is running out
As supply slowly dwindles, the era of fossil fuels such as gas, oil and coal is drawing to an end. Not every country welcomes nuclear energy. The energy sector has long realised the signs of the time.
Companies from countries such as Germany and Austria are placing their bets on renewables, in parts thanks to subsidies from their respective governments. In Germany, biomass as an energy source is supported by the Renewable Energies Act (EEG). The act includes wood-fired biomass heating and power plants or fermentation of liquid manure from energy crops in biogas plants.
Its versatility makes biomass highly interesting. Biomass is “the only renewable that can generate all forms of required energy, such as heat, electricity and fuels“, underscores Germany's “EnergyAgency.NRW“. As a source of energy, it is an all-rounder, regardless of its solid, liquid or gaseous state.
Biomass is booming
Power companies in these countries are harnessing this potential and are busy constructing biomass power plants. In the Austrian town of Steyr, a biomass heating plant was put into operation to supply the district heating grid in Steyr. Both residential and industrial areas with companies such as the BMW Plant Steyr and MAN are supplied with heat from a renewable source of energy. Wood chips are used as fuel in the biomass heating plant Steyr. Steam is created in the biomass boiler with a thermal output of 30 MW, reaching a pressure level of around 90 bar and a temperature of 525°C. The steam is overheated in three superheaters and then flows to a back pressure turbine, which generates power with an output of 5500 kW. The entire exhaust steam is used for district heating. A buffer with a volume of 254 cubic meters is used to balance supply peaks. The plant in Steyr reduces CO2 emissions by more than 50.000 tons annually.
Electricity and district heating
Vattenfall also operates numerous biomass heating plants throughout Europe, such as the Sellessen power plant in the German federal state of Brandenburg. Biomass supplied to the power plant is first separated from extraneous materials like stone or metal, states the company. “The fuel subsequently reaches the boiler and is burnt at high temperatures“, utilising the energy set free to turn water into steam. “A turbine is powered by this steam, which in turn is connected to a generator“, the company explains. Electricity is thus generated. In turn, residual heat can be used for district heating. Residues such as ash however remain after the burning process. “These can again be used to a large extent. When possible, Vattenfall makes sure that ash and cinder are tested for quality and used as aggregates for building materials or as a base course layer in road construction.“
The most widely used biomass materials are saw dust, wood waste, tree bark, treated wood, straw, rice husk, biological sludge or waste materials with high organic content. Biomass materials are utilised either through burning or gasification.
Important role in the energy mix
German power company RWE enjoys the benefits of using biomass, too. It is “one of the most important areas we are focussing on. Biomass can play an important role in a broad energy mix in Europe“, the corporation emphasises. A lot of companies see similar potential. This kind of energy generation is therefore becoming of interest for valve and pump makers.
It is namely quite simple: no valves, no biomass heating or power plant. In the biomass and gas boilers, in thermal and cooling cycles, at the injection point and steam temperature control valves such as main stop valves and steam slides are needed to control the process. Throttle valves, pressure reducing valves and safety valves are also needed. In addition, district heating pumps, feed pumps, condensate pumps and frequency converters can't be done without.
German valve and pump maker KSB AG has discovered the attractive market for itself. The company already has long years of experience in power plant technology and is adapting to biomass power plants. “We offer individual solutions“ – a must for suppliers, as biomass comes in various states and can be utilised in many different ways. Plant dimensions can also vary to a high degree. They are used in market-gardens, public district heating systems, paper and pulp factories and entire industrial areas. KSB AG has the required pumps for feed water pumping, condensate transport and district heating in its product range.
Attractive French market
MT-Energie has also gained a foothold in the biomass sector. The company received an order for the construction of eight biogas plants for agriculture in the Champagne. Each plant is designed for an output of around 500 kW. Catch crops, liquid and solid manure and pressed pulp made from sugar beets will be used as substrates. The 12 million euro order will make a profit for MT-Energie.
MT-Energie's commitment to the French market is bearing fruits. “We have been working in the French market for several years, because we have always seen great potential in it,“ emphasises Torben Brunckhorst, managing partner of MT-Energie GmbH. Further orders are expected to follow. “The outlook for the French market is very good.“
France is not the only market which is very attractive. Over 50 per cent of MT-Energie's current, 216 million euro heavy order volume of 216 million euro stems from international markets. MT-Energie: “Next to France, Great Britain, Poland and Slovakia offer a good outlook for the further roll-out of efficient biogas technology.“
Valves for biomass projects
The valve sector already is profiting from the biomass boom. VAG supplied the Dutch coal power plant Maasvlakte Power Plant 3 in Rotterdam with butterfly valves with a nominal diameter of DN 2000. They will be used as controlled pump-check valves in the main cooling line. As the seawater used for cooling is very aggressive, the pumps were made from stainless duplex steel. Apart from coal, the power plant also uses biomass.
Metso, a Finnish company, is also highly engaged in the biomass market. Valves and instrumentation were supplied to the Swedish GoBiGas project for sustainable and renewable gas production. Metso Power is constructing a biomass gasification plant for Göteborg Energi AB in the harbour of Göteborg. The worldwide first plant of its kind turns biomass into renewable biomethane for the gas grid. It includes a slew of control and on/ off valves and positioners for safety valves in both parts of the plant, i.e the gasification and methanation sections. In total, the order includes 320 valves, such as regulating flaps, rotary globe valves, segment and ball valves. The first section was finalized by the end of 2013.
Metso also received an order from Archangelsk Pulp and Paper Mill to construct a biomass steam boiler. The boiler for the Russian company will have a capacity of 60 mW and was put into operation in the first quarter of 2014.
Processes in biomass power plants also need to be defined as precisely and effectively as possible. Foster Wheeler chose systems from Emerson Process Management to automate its new, biomass-powered boiler in a power plant located in Polaniec, Poland. The Eastern European country has set ambitious goals for its energy sector. It is investing heavily into power generation from biomass to meet its goal of a 15 per cent share of renewables in energy production by 2020.
Converting coal plants
New plants are not the only thing promising lucrative orders. Coal power plants are being retrofitted to become environment-friendly biomass power plants. “One of our successful projects for instance is retrofitting a coal power plant in Amer, the Netherlands, and converting it into a biomass power plant more friendly to the environment,“ declares RWE. The former coal power plant in Tilbury, Great Britain, was also converted by the company into a biomass power plant with a capacity of 750 MW.
Thanks to the good outlook, companies are taking a closer look. Metso has started researching industrial use of biochar. The TISCO-Projekt (Torrefaction – Integration and Suitability for Co-firing) is examining the industrial-scale use of heating materials made by torrefaction as an aggregate in coal power plants. Emissions of wood-based heating materials throughout its entire life-cycle are being examined, from supply to electricity and heat generation. Metso considers it conceivable that biochar could replace coal used in power plants to a certain extent.
Despite all of its advantages, biomass is still a hot topic of discussion due to ecological considerations. Its range of use and unlimited availability haven't had an impact on the disucssion. Opponents of biomass also aren't appeased by the fact that the CO2 output is balanced, as only the amount of CO2 is emitted the biomass stored beforehand.
In contrast to wind and solar energy, biomass does create pollutants, namely during the burning process. Long transport routes can also have a negative impact on the energy balance. Opponents of biomass will finally argue against biomass with changes in land use. “Cultivation of biomass stands in direct competition with food production in various regions“, admits the “Energy Agency.NRW“. This can have an impact on food supply and prices in parts of the world.
In order to be fully convincing, it is necessary to produce biomass in a sustainable, controlled fashion. Should the biomass industry be able to do so, then this source of energy should climb to the top in an impressive manner – making it even more attractive for the valve industry.
Press Contact Valve World Expo 2014:
Kathrin Kleophas van den Bongardt
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