Biomass: a green and local energy source
Biomass is full of resources. But where does it come from? What does it consist of? How can we make the most of its qualities? Carbonloop tells you all about it.
Biomass is a made up of organic plant or animal matter. Some of this biomass (food or agricultural waste, wood, leaves and slurry) can be recovered in the form of energy (gas, electricity, heat).
The first uses of biomass date back to prehistoric times. Our ancestors burned it for heat, light and cooking. Over the centuries, biomass has remained the main fuel used in homes and businesses. The first biofuels appeared around 1900 with the creation of the first engine using vegetable oil, peanut oil. A few years later, oil became the preferred fuel, to the detriment of biomass.
In the context of the current energy transition, the use of biomass is once again developing in a sustainable way throughout the world. The leading source of renewable energy in France, biomass represents more than 55% of the production of renewable energy. It is an abundant and local resource. It is competitive and creates jobs that cannot be relocated. From the point of view of atmospheric emissions, the energy produced by biomass reduces the production of greenhouse gases, unlike most energy resources, even renewable ones. Biomass represents a huge energy potential. In France for example, the WWF estimates that biomass, according to some hypotheses, could cover between 260 and 270 TWh/year of primary energy by 2050, 120 to 130 TWh/year for agricultural biomass, 140 TWh/year for forest biomass (Ed.: primary energy consumption in France in 2020 was a total of 2650 TWh).
At Carbonloop, we use forest biomass, i.e. residues from forest maintenance or the wood industry (branches, bark, chips, etc.) that would not otherwise be used. These residues are collected and then crushed for use, to create forestry chips. This fuel wood does not compete with human food, unlike other biomass sectors. On the contrary, it provides income for forest maintenance or for industrial sectors such as construction or carpentry, as this wood represents an outlet for off-cuts not used by other industries or not valued locally.
In France, the forest resource is largely preserved because wood harvesting is slower than the natural growth of the forest, through the implementation of controlled and certified sustainable forest management (PEFC or FSC). The volume of wood in the forest therefore increases every year. France’s forest increased from 10 million hectares at the beginning of the 20th century to 17 million hectares today and it is estimated that an additional 10 million cubic metres of fuel wood could be collected without compromising this sustainable forest management policy.
Moreover, being local and independent of international energy producers, energy produced from forestry chips meets the challenges of energy sovereignty and secure supply.
To produce energy from biomass, Carbonloop uses thermolysis not combustion. In a conventional biomass combustion process, the carbon captured by the biomass during its growth is released into the atmosphere when it is burned. ADEME considers that energy produced from biomass is carbon neutral in the use phase.
Thermolysis is a thermochemical reaction of the biomass through different stages of rising temperature in an oxygen-poor environment, so without combustion. This process produces a gas stream, which is then processed into a synthesis gas that can be used to produce electricity, heat or hydrogen, and a solid stream, biochar. This biochar sequesters a majority of the carbon absorbed by the biomass during its life cycle. The IPCC considers it a“negative emission technology“, i.e. one that removes CO2 from the atmosphere.
This specific transformation of this local and abundant biomass resource allows Carbonloop to produce so-called ” carbon negative ” energy.