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Global researchers give thumbs up to advanced biomass gasification

Conventional and advanced biomass gasification is a promising and economically beneficial technology, according to a new study by a global team of researchers.

A new review paper published in journal Energy & Environmental Science presents a case for biomass gasification as a promising, viable and economically beneficial technology for fuel and energy.

Until recently, very few biomass gasification processes have proven economically viable but this paper shows how new advancements and refinement processes have pushed the technology to the forefront of potential sources of sustainable renewable fuel. 

In the paper, titled "An overview of advances in biomass gasification", the authors provide a holistic view of the current research, development, deployment and provide insights into the future of biomass gasification. The study was led by researchers from London-based Imperial College and China-based Tsinghua University, together with researchers from The University of Sydney and Cranfield University.

Greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels for power generation are one of the main contributors to climate change.

Research is increasingly looking for ways to target the switch from conventional to renewable power sources (such as biomass, solar, wind, hydroelectric). A major advantage of biomass over other renewable sources is that it is less dependent on aspects such as location and climate, according to the researchers. Biomass is also easily storable and transportable.

“Biomass gasification has great potential to be a major player in the future as an alternative, renewable power source,” said Paul Fennell, reader in the Department of Chemical Engineering and one of the lead authors on the research.

Future energy mix

Furthermore, according to the industry experts, biomass is abundantly available and has a lower environmental impact than fossil fuels and for this reason both underdeveloped and developed countries are focusing on utilising it as part of their future energy mix.

These advantages make biomass energy one of the most widely explored research fields in energy and environmental science: the major driver is to exploit low-cost feedstocks, to increase process efficiency and to decrease installation and operational costs.

One important aspect of biomass gasification is that it can use waste biomass and convert it into fuel. In contrast to conventional methods which involve burning, gasification can produce a clean fuel gas, containing mainly carbon monoxide, hydrogen and methane. This can subsequently be upgraded to a liquid fuel using the Fischer-Tropsch process.

Fennell said: “What we’ve shown is that biomass gasification is a very promising technology for the production of renewable energy. With the right tools, approaches and advancements we can make sure that it is utilised in a cost-effective manner, with minimal social and environment impacts. It has great potential to be a major player in the future as an alternative, renewable power source.”

The paper was co-authored by nine world-leading experts, four researchers from the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London: Peter Clough and Joseph Yao (Postgraduate students), Professor Nilay Shah (Professor of Process Systems Engineering) and Paul Fennell (Reader in Clean Energy).