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Current situation and development prospects

The use of biomass for generating energy has expanded rapidly in recent decades, especially in emerging regions such as Asia and Africa, Its use has also increased significantly in Europe in recent years, although the current level of consumption is still low compared with other regions of the world. Nevertheless, forecasts for the 2020- 2025 period indicate major growth of consumption in Europe and America in comparison with Asia.

Since 2010, the use of biomass to generate electricity has undergone sustained growth, mainly driven by the development of solid biofuels and renewable waste material. In the next few years a growth rate of around 5% is forecast worldwide, reaching and installed capacity of 140 GW by2021.

Evolution and forecast consumption of biomass worldwide
Mtoe;1990, 2014, 2020, 2025

Source: IEA International Energy Agency “World Energy Outlook 2016”

Technological trends

If we analyse the technological factor in more detail we can see several trends that, if developed successfully, could mean an attractive reduction in power generation costs in the medium-long term.

Electricity general and cogeneration:

  • A commitment to gasification plant on a larger scale as a future alternative to reduce generation costs, if the technology achieves commercial maturity. The commercial development of gasification processes on a small scale and the experience acquired could lead to:
    • Greater flexibility of gasifiers in terms of the type of biomass.
    • More evolved gas cleaning processes.
  • In this situation there may be development of gasification plants on a larger scale. Their generation costs would be around 14% lower than the estimated cost for steam cycle plants in 2020, and up to 25% lower in 2030.
  • The commercial development of biomass boilers linked to Stirling motors would enable the generation of heat and electricity for lower power levels. This technology would be suitable for a distributed generation model, in which these facilities could be installed in residential and service buildings. Even so, the technology is still at the prototype phase and its commercial development does not seem probable in the short and medium terms.
  • ORC (Organic Rankine Cycle) technology is an alternative that could reduce generation costs if it becomes mature in commercial terms. The commercial development of ORCs would provide flexibility in the type of biomass, higher electricity production yields and lower investment costs. In this way, they could mean a 20% saving in generation costs in small-scale plants in the long term. Likewise, if this process takes place there could be an extension of these cycles to larger scales, reducing generation costs by around 15% against the future cost of steam cycles.

Thermal generation:

  • Regarding thermal generation from biomass, the development of commercial processes of roasting biomass would allow higher volumes of biomass for heating (particularly for the housing market) at a lower cost per unit of energy and volume.
  • Another possible alternative is the valorisation of biomethanisation plants through the sale of purified biogas that would be directly fed into the natural gas network, or as fuel for transport. It is an attractive option from the energy efficiency point of view, because it allows the use of biogas for heating through combustion in the place of consumption. In this manner, higher thermal yields are achieved than through electricity generation. It is worthy of note that its use as fuel for transport would require major investments in biogas piping and distribution infrastructures.

Biomass in Euskadi

Biomass is the main source of renewable energy in Euskadi. Forestry biomass (mainly in the form of cogeneration in the papermaking sector) represents 54% of renewable consumption (solid urban waste and biogas account for 12%). The industrial sector concentrates two-thirds of the total consumption of biomass, despite the fact that its use in other sectors is increasing.
The main installations currently operating in our territory are:

  • Biogas from landfills and Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTP). Eight small installations (prior to 2003) with installed capacity of 5 MW: BioArtigas, BioSanmarkos, BioGardelegi, BioSasieta, WWTP Galindo and WWTP Loiola. The Ente Vasco de la Energía participated in the development of most of these, together with other public institutions, and currently maintains a shareholding in BioArtigas.
  • Solid Urban Waste (SUW): Zabalgarbi, opened in 2005 with an installed capacity of 20 MW (Power imputable to biomass), and Zubieta, on which building work began in May 2017.
  • Forestry biomass. Cogeneration plants in the papermaking industry, among them Zicuñaga (Hernani) and Smurfit Kappa (Durango), with a total installed capacity of 46 MW (Power imputable to biomass).
Chip and pellet boilers in the industrial sector (mainly the food industry), the service sector (hospitals, schools…) and the household sector. There are hundreds of boilers of this type in our territory.

Among the projects currently under way we would highlight district heating from biomass in the new Txomin Enea property development (1,400 homes) in San Sebastian.
The evolution of energy consumption from biomass has been closely linked to the level of industrial activity. After steady growth through the 1990s – and up to 2007 – it entered a downward phase and is now back to the 2007 level (above 300 ktoe/year).

A for technological development, the activities that are most developed in Euskadi are:

  • Engineering.
  • Ancillary industrial services (assembly, installations, maintenance…), where a wide range of companies operate.
  • Manufacture of biogas motors.

In general, they are companies with a long track record in the energy sector, with none of them exclusively specialising in biomass.

One subsector that is being developed nowadays is the manufacture of chip and pellet boilers. These companies are carrying out product development to improve their position against other European suppliers that dominate the market.

Plan for the Energy Use of Biomass 2017-2020

The Energy Use Plan for biomass sets out to improve the well-being of Basque society and the competitiveness of our companies through an increase in self-sufficiency through renewable energies.

The table below shows the resources available in Euskadi and the scope for action:

AGRICULTURAL Dispersion of properties and resources
180,000 t/year of straw and stubble (used for stockbreeding, application to the soil…)
30,000 t/year vine pruning (no express use)
Cereals (biofuels): penetration regulated by European legislation and project development and analysis
FORESTRY 400,000 hectares (55% of the surface area of Euskadi)
In the last 40 years: wooded surface area (+12%) and timber stocks (100%)
Woody: new channel to complement state resources (inactive to date) de actuación complementaria al aprovechamiento de los recursos forestales (inactiva hasta la fecha)
STOCKBREEDERS Dispersion of properties and resources
Physical characteristics of the resource with slight potential
Alternatives and projects analysed
INDUSTRY Linked to the papermaking, wood-processing and food sectors
The activity of the sector establishes the level of energy use
In general, the resource is generally exploited
SLUDGE TREATMENT Disperse generation of the resource in each WWTP
Of energy interest in large amounts (1 plant in Bizkaia and another in Gipuzkoa)
SOLID URBAN WASTE (SUW) Gradual closure of landfills and their biogas plants (low level of the resource)
ZBALGARBI in Bizkaia
Solution for SUW in Gipuzkoa

The following strategic lines of action are established:

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