About Data Centers and Biogas

Gigaom

At first glance biogas — gas that is produced by the breakdown of organic matter — and data centers that are powering the world’s always-on websites don’t seem like a clear fit. The first is an industry in the U.S. in its infancy, and the second is undergoing a rapidly exploding construction boom.

But an increasing number of Internet companies are experimenting with turning to biogas as an emerging source to power part of their data centers. Why? Well, for quite a few reasons. Here’s what you need to know about this emerging phenomenon of biogas and data centers:

1). Where does biogas come from?: Biogas is created when organic matter is broken down in an anaerobic digester and the gas is captured. An anaerobic digestor is a closed tank that doesn’t let any oxygen in, and enables anaerobic bacteria to digest the organic material at a nice, warm…

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Composting Guidelines

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It seems everyone is concerned about the environment and trying to reduce their “carbon footprint”.  I hope this trend will continue and grow as a nationwide way to live and not turn into a fad.  Composting has been around for MANY years.  Composting is a great way to keep biodegradables out of the landfill and to reap the reward of some fabulous “black gold”.  That’s what master gardeners call compost and it’s great for improving your soil.  Plants love it.  Check out 10 Rules to Remember About Composting.

  1. Layer your compost bin with dry and fresh ingredients: The best way to start a compost pile is to make yourself a bin either with wood or chicken wire.  Layering fresh grass clippings and dried leaves is a great start.
  2. Remember to turn your compost pile: As the ingredients in your compost pile start to biodegrade they will start to get hot.  To avoid your compost pile rotting and stinking you need to turn the pile to aerate it.  This addition of air into the pile will speed up the decomposition.
  3. Add water to your compost pile: Adding water will also speed up the process of scraps turning into compost.  Don’t add too much water, but if you haven’t gotten any rain in a while it’s a good idea to add some water to the pile just to encourage it along.
  4. Don’t add meat scraps to your pile: Vegetable scraps are okay to add to your compost pile, but don’t add meat scraps.  Not only do they stink as they rot, but they will attract unwanted guests like raccoons that will get into your compost bin and make a mess of it.
  5. If possible have more than one pile going: Since it takes time for raw materials to turn into compost you may want to have multiple piles going at the same time.  Once you fill up the first bin start a second one and so on.  That way you can allow the ingredient in the first pile to completely transform into compost and still have a place to keep putting your new scraps and clippings.  This also allows you to always keep a supply of compost coming for different planting seasons.
  6. Never put trash in your compost pile: Just because something says that it is recyclable it doesn’t mean that it should necessarily go into the compost bin.  For example, newspapers will compost and can be put into a compost pile, but you will want to shred the newspapers and not just toss them in the bin in a stack.  Things like plastic and tin should not be put into a compost pile, but can be recycled in other ways.
  7. Allow your compost to complete the composting process before using: It might be tempting to use your new compost in your beds as soon as it starts looking like black soil, but you need to make sure that it’s completely done composting otherwise you could be adding weed seeds into your beds and you will not be happy with the extra weeds that will pop up.
  8. Straw can be added if dried leaves are not available: Dried materials as well as green materials need to be added to a compost bin.  In the Fall you will have a huge supply of dried leaves, but what do you do if you don’t have any dried leaves?  Add straw or hay to the compost bin, but again these will often contain weed seeds so be careful to make sure they are completely composted before using them.
  9. Egg Shells and Coffee grounds are a great addition: Not only potato skins are considered kitchen scraps.  Eggshells and coffee grounds are great additions to compost piles because they add nutrients that will enhance the quality of the end product.
  10. Never put pet droppings in your compost pile: I’m sure you’ve heard that manure is great for your garden, but cow manure is cured for quite a while before used in a garden.  Pet droppings are far to hot and acidic for a home compost pile and will just make it stink.

Contributed by Roxanne Porter whose original blogpost can be viewed at http://www.nannypro.com/blog/10-rules-to-remember-about-composting/

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A Primer on Waste-to-Energy

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Energy is the driving force for development in all countries of the world. The increasing clamor for energy and satisfying it with a combination of conventional and renewable resources is a big challenge. Accompanying energy problems in different parts of the world, another problem that is assuming critical proportions is that of urban waste accumulation. The quantity of waste produced all over the world amounted to more than 12 billion tonnes in 2006, with estimates of up to 13 billion tonnes in 2011. The rapid increase in population coupled with changing lifestyle and consumption patterns is expected to result in an exponential increase in waste generation of upto 18 billion tonnes by year 2020.

Waste generation rates are affected by socio-economic development, degree of industrialization, and climate. Generally, the greater the economic prosperity and the higher percentage of urban population, the greater the amount of solid waste produced. Reduction in the volume and mass of solid waste is a crucial issue especially in the light of limited availability of final disposal sites in many parts of the world. Millions of tonnes of waste are generated each year with the vast majority disposed of in open fields or burnt wantonly.

Waste-to-Energy (WTE) is the use of modern combustion and biochemical technologies to recover energy, usually in the form of electricity and steam, from urban wastes. These new technologies can reduce the volume of the original waste by 90%, depending upon composition and use of outputs. The main categories of waste-to-energy technologies are physical technologies, which process waste to make it more useful as fuel; thermal technologies, which can yield heat, fuel oil, or syngas from both organic and inorganic wastes; and biological technologies, in which bacterial fermentation is used to digest organic wastes to yield fuel. Waste-to-energy technologies can address a host of environmental issues, such as land use and pollution from landfills, and increasing reliance on fossil fuels.

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Lignocellulosic Biomass

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First-generation biofuels (produced primarily from food crops such as grains, sugar beet and oil seeds) are limited in their ability to achieve targets for oil-product substitution, climate change mitigation, and economic growth. Their sustainable production is under scanner, as is the possibility of creating undue competition for land and water used for food and fibre production.

The cumulative impacts of these concerns have increased the interest in developing biofuels produced from non-food biomass. Feedstocks from ligno-cellulosic materials include cereal straw, bagasse, forest residues, and purpose-grown energy crops such as vegetative grasses and short rotation forests. These second-generation biofuels could avoid many of the concerns facing first-generation biofuels and potentially offer greater cost reduction potential in the longer term.

The largest potential feedstock for ethanol is lignocellulosic biomass, which includes materials such as agricultural residues (corn stover, crop straws and bagasse), herbaceous crops (alfalfa, switchgrass), short rotation woody crops, forestry residues, waste paper and other wastes (municipal and industrial). Bioethanol production from these feedstocks could be an attractive alternative for disposal of these residues. Importantlylignocellulosic feedstocks do not interfere with food security. Moreover, bioethanol is very important for both rural and urban areas in terms of energy security reason, environmental concern, employment opportunities, agricultural development, foreign exchange saving, socioeconomic issues etc.

Economically, lignocellulosic biomass has an advantage over other agriculturally important biofuels feedstocks such as corn starch, soybeans, and sugar cane, because it can be produced quickly and at significantly lower cost than food crops. Lignocellulosic biomass is an important component of the major food crops; it is the non-edible portion of the plant, which is currently underutilized, but could be used for biofuel production. In short, lignocellulosic biomass holds the key to supplying society’s basic needs for sustainable production of liquid transportation fuels without impacting the nation’s food supply.

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Biomass Energy – An Introduction

Biomass is the material derived from plants that use sunlight to grow which include plant and animal material such as wood from forests, material left over from agricultural and forestry processes, and organic industrial, human and animal wastes. Biomass comes from a variety of sources which include:

  • Wood from natural forests and woodlands
  • Forestry plantations
  • Forestry residues
  • Agricultural residues such as straw, stover, cane trash and green agricultural wastes
  • Agro-industrial wastes, such as sugarcane bagasse and rice husk
  • Animal wastes
  • Industrial wastes, such as black liquor from paper manufacturing
  • Sewage
  • Municipal solid wastes (MSW)
  • Food processing wastes

In nature, if biomass is left lying around on the ground it will break down over a long period of time, releasing carbon dioxide and its store of energy slowly. By burning biomass its store of energy is released quickly and often in a useful way. So converting biomass into useful energy imitates the natural processes but at a faster rate.

Biomass wastes can be transformed into clean energy and/or fuels by a variety of technologies, ranging from conventional combustion process to state-of-the art thermal depolymerization technology. Besides recovery of substantial energy, these technologies can lead to a substantial reduction in the overall waste quantities requiring final disposal, which can be better managed for safe disposal in a controlled manner while meeting the pollution control standards.

 Biomass waste-to-energy conversion reduces greenhouse gas emissions in two ways.  Heat and electrical energy is generated which reduces the dependence on power plants based on fossil fuels.  The greenhouse gas emissions are significantly reduced by preventing methane emissions from landfills.  Moreover, waste-to-energy plants are highly efficient in harnessing the untapped sources of energy from wastes.

Solutions for Major Issues arising in Biomass Energy Projects

This article makes an attempt at collating some of the most prominent issues associated with biomass technologies and provides plausible solutions in order to seek further promotion of these technologies. The solutions provided below are based on author’s understanding and experience in this field.

  1. Large Project Costs: The project costs are to a great extent comparable to these technologies which actually justify the cause. Also, people tend to ignore the fact, that most of these plants, if run at maximum capacity could generate a Plant Load Factor (PLF) of 80% and above. This figure is about 2-3 times higher than what its counterparts wind and solar energy based plants could provide. This however, comes at a cost – higher operational costs.
  2. Technologies have lower efficiencies: The solution to this problem, calls for innovativeness in the employment of these technologies. To give an example, one of the paper mill owners in India, had a brilliant idea to utilize his industrial waste to generate power and recover the waste heat to produce steam for his boilers. The power generated was way more than he required for captive utilization. With the rest, he melts scrap metal in an arc and generates additional revenue by selling it. Although such solutions are not possible in each case, one needs to possess the acumen to look around and innovate – the best means to improve the productivity with regards to these technologies.
  3. Technologies still lack maturity: One needs to look beyond what is directly visible. There is a humongous scope of employment of these technologies for decentralized power generation. With regards to scale, few companies have already begun conceptualizing ultra-mega scale power plants based on biomass resources. Power developers and critics need to take a leaf out of these experiences.
  4. Lack of funding options: The most essential aspect of any biomass energy project is the resource assessment. Investors if approached with a reliable resource assessment report could help regain their interest in such projects. Moreover, the project developers also need to look into community based ownership models, which have proven to be a great success, especially in rural areas. The project developer needs to not only assess the resource availability but also its alternative utilization means. It has been observed that if a project is designed by considering only 10-12% of the actual biomass to be available for power generation, it sustains without any hurdles.
  5. Non-Transparent Trade markets: Most countries still lack a common platform to the buyers and sellers of biomass resources. As a result of this, their price varies from vendor to vendor even when considering the same feedstock. Entrepreneurs need to come forward and look forward to exploiting this opportunity, which could not only bridge the big missing link in the resource supply chain but also could transform into a multi-billion dollar opportunity.
  6. High Risks / Low pay-backs: Biomass energy plants are plagued by numerous uncertainties including fuel price escalation and unreliable resource supply to name just a few. Project owners should consider other opportunities to increase their profit margins. One of these could very well include tying up with the power exchanges as is the case in India, which could offer better prices for the power that is sold at peak hour slots. The developer may also consider the option of merchant sale to agencies which are either in need of a consistent power supply and are presently relying on expensive back-up means (oil/coal) or are looking forward to purchase “green power” to cater to their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives.
  7. Resource Price escalation: A study of some of the successful biomass energy plants globally would result in the conclusion of the inevitability of having own resource base to cater to the plant requirements. This could be through captive forestry or energy plantations at waste lands or fallow lands surrounding the plant site. Although, this could escalate the initial project costs, it would prove to be a great cushion to the plants operational costs in the longer run. In cases where it is not possible to go for such an alternative, one must seek case-specific procurement models, consider help from local NGOs, civic bodies etc. and go for long-term contracts with the resource providers.

Contributed by Mr. Setu Goyal (TERI University, New Delhi) who can be reached at setu.goyal@gmail.com

Salman Zafar’s Articles in ISER

Renewable energy in South Africa

Issue 4 2010 / 13 December 2010 / Salman Zafar, Renewable Energy Advisor

South Africa, the most industrialised country in Africa, has a population of approximately 50 million living on a land area of 1.2 million km2. The country has large reserves of coal and uranium, and small reserves of crude oil and natural gas. Coal provides 75% of the fossil fuel demand and accounts for 91% of electricity generation. South Africa is enjoying sustained GDP growth of approximately 5% per annum. (more…)

Renewable Energy in Jordan

Issue 3 2010 / 14 October 2010 / Salman Zafar, Renewable Energy Advisor

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is heavily dependent on oil imports from neighbouring countries to meet its energy requirements. The huge cost associated with energy imports creates a financial burden on the national economy and Jordan had to spend almost 20% of its GDP on the purchase of energy in 2008. Electricity demand is growing rapidly, and the Jordanian Government has been seeking ways to attract foreign investment to fund additional capacity. In 2008, the demand for electricity in Jordan was 2,260 MW, which is expected to rise to 5,770 MW by 2020. Therefore, provision of reliable and clean energy supply will play a vital role in Jordan’s economic growth.

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Biomass energy resources in the MENA region

Issue 4 2009Past issues / 22 December 2009 / Salman Zafar, Renewable Energy Advisor

The high volatility in oil prices in the recent past and the resulting turbulence in energy markets has compelled many MENA countries, especially the non-oil producers, to look for alternate sources of energy, for both economic and environmental reasons. The significance of renewable energy has been increasing rapidly worldwide due to its potential to mitigate climate change, to foster sustainable development in poor communities and augment energy security and supply.

The major biomass producing MENA countries are Sudan, Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Jordan. Traditionally, biomass energy has been widely used in rural areas for domestic purposes in the MENA region. Since most of the region is arid/semi-arid, the biomass energy potential is mainly contributed by municipal solid wastes, agricultural residues and agro-industrial wastes.

(more…)

 

African Development Bank (AfDB) and Clean Energy

The African Development Bank (AfDB) has supported its member countries in their energy development initiatives for more than four decades. With growing concerns about climate change, AfDB has identified a host of clean energy projects and programs in its pipeline for 2010-2014 to set Africa on a low carbon growth path and develop clean energy systems in the African continent. The AfDB’s Clean Energy Investment Framework aims at promoting sustainable development and contributing to global emissions reduction efforts by using a three-pronged approach: maximize clean energy options, emphasize energy efficiency and enable African countries to participate effectively in CDM sector.

The FINESSE Africa Program, financed by the Dutch Government, has been the mainstay of AfDB’s support of renewable energy and energy efficiency since 2004. FINESSE programme has been instrumental in developing a portfolio of sustainable energy projects for the Bank. In addition, the Bank’s Private Sector Department, with support from the Danish Renewable Energy Technical Assistance, has compiled a project pipeline comprised of small- to large-scale wind-power projects, mini, small and large hydro-power projects, cogeneration power projects, geothermal power projects and biodiesel projects across Africa. The AfDB’s interventions to support climate change mitigation in Africa are driven by sound policies and strategies and through its financing initiatives the Bank endeavors to become a major force in clean energy development in Africa.