ENERGY TRANSITION: FROM COAL TO BIOMASS-COAL

Saturday, 13rd february 2021 | Renewable energies
Marco Arezio - Consulente materie plastiche - Energy Transition: from Coal to Biomass-Coal

The CO2 reduction targets, in the face of the increase in energy demand, require the re-modulation of production through an energy transition.


Although there has been talk of decarbonisation for years, the world’s production of electricity, through the use of coal-fired power plants,still plays a key role. In fact, until 2017 there were no disposals of plants, indeed, there was an increase in energy production of more than 250 TWh.

The consequence of this behaviour can be seen from the increase in CO2 emissions in the atmosphere, which, globally, was 1.4 and the fraction of the competence of coal-fired power plants in the production of electricity is around 45.

Despite the advancement of renewables, it is estimated that electricity generation from coal will see only a slight decline from 2021, a decline that alone does not give any appreciable environmental advantage.

The largest users of coal for energy production are:

  • In Asia: China and India
  • In Europe: Germany, Poland, Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom
  • In America: The United States

To reverse the trend and reducing the air pollution that citizens breathe in and to re-enter the commitments made to the Paris climate conference in 2015,in which renewable energy development paths such as biomass, solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and marine power, have been set, action must be taken on reducing the use of coal in power plants that are still in operation.

Among the aforementioned sources, biomass can have an industrial affinity with coal to create electricity production, through co-combustion between the compound fraction of coal and the natural one, with the aim of maintaining production efficiency and the reduction of pollutants in the atmosphere.

Through co-combustion, greater production efficiencies than the use of biomass at 100, a lower cost of reconversion of coal-fired power stations than building new biomass-only plants and extending the life of coal-fired power stations, as long as the energy transition can put a stop to this type of activity.

From an economic point of view, co-combustion does not save money compared to traditional coal-only production and it is not always easy to combine the heterogeneity of biomass during the production phase with lignite, but certainly, from an environmental point of view, there are undoubted advantages.

But in order to make the conversion of coal-fired power stations attractive, states need to create economic incentives to lower the cost of energy produced without making traditional production regret.

There are countries that are producing regularly through the co-combustion process and which, at the same time, have structured funds for the economic sustainability of production, such as Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

On the other hand, there are other countries, such as Germany, Italy, France and Finland,where there are similar plants, where this form of energy production does not receive incentive plans preferring to invest the resources available in totally renewable sources.

There are countries, especially in eastern Europe, such as The Czech Republic, Poland and Bulgaria, but also Kosovo and Greece where electricity is mainly produced through lignite and a first conversion to a co-combustion activity, waiting for renewable energies to be established, would create a important environmental improvement for the population.

In non-European countries, the biggest consumer of coal for energy production is certainly China,which has embarked on a massive conversion of production by inserting biomass into its coal-fired power stations with the aim of combating the appalling problem of environmental pollution.

Finally, in the United States, Australia and South Africa,despite having abundant sources of biomass (United States) and coal (Australia and South Africa) this type of technology has not developed due to the lack of state incentives.

It should also be taken into account that the process of using coal in power plants leads to the production of waste, in the form of ash,which constitutes a solid waste to be disposed of.

At present, about 50 of the waste ash ends up in landfills and this is becoming a problem as international regulations push for the disincentive of the use of landfills.

Projects have therefore been created that use the waste dusts of coal-fired power plants, such as the creation of zeolites, microporosiic minerals of three-dimensional conformation, which, by virtue of their branched and encompassing structure, are used in the reclamation of soils and contaminated water.

Another application we can find in the area of the tiles, especially in the porcelain,where the coal powder is used in the mixture saving natural raw material.

Automatic translation. We apologize for any inaccuracies. Original article in Italian.

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