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Biomass : How is it best used?

Biomass is defined as biological material obtained from living or recently living plant derived materials. Biomass is considered a renewable energy source that qualifies for carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol.

Biomass can be used directly to produce thermal energy or indirectly to produce biofuel such as biogas and syngas using chemical conversion or biochemical conversion methods. USP&E Global has investigated many sources of Biomass and conversion methods with the intent of finding the highest energy yield Biomass and the best conversion technologies.


How biomass is best used?

In Sierra Leone – Africa, USP&E Global investigated the use of Biomass to provide energy conversion for a 100MW Biomass Power Plant for one of its customers, London Mining Company (LMC), for which USP&E Global previously performed Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) on a 13MW Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) Power Plant. USP&E Global (doing business as USP&E Africa) is also providing on-going Operation and Maintenance (O&M) on the same LMC 13MW HFO Power Plant. LMC was interested in finding a renewable energy solution to its expanding power needs. During the Bankable Feasibility Study and related investigation USP&E was faced with three major challenges relating to Biomass energy production in Sierra Leone:

* Finding the correct Biomass feedstock that will readily grow in Sierra Leone and produce the highest energy content per acre of cultivated land.
* Finding the right technology to process or convert the Biomass feedstock into the highest yield biogas or syngas.
* Finding a workable solution to match the extreme weather patterns of Sierra Leone.

USP&E Global determined viable solutions to the above challenges by sourcing and investigating over twenty different types of Biomass agricultural energy crops such as Giant King Grass, Elephant Grass, Sugar Cane, miscanthus, switchgrass, hemp, corn, poplar, willow, sorghum, sugarcane, bamboo,eucalyptus, oil palm and others that could be grown in Sierra Leone Africa. USP&E Global consulted with Biomass conversion technology specialists worldwide, and also spent over a month on the ground in Sierra Leone looking at suitable land and interviewing other local Sierra Leone companies that are either in the process of developing or have developed Biomass projects.

One of the companies interviewed by Glen Cox, Director of Engineering & Projects at USP&E Global and Jim Wessner, Project Manager at USP&E Global was Addax Bioenergy. Addax Bioenergy is a division of the Swiss-based energy corporation Addax & Oryx Group (AOG) who was at the time well into the process of developing a Greenfield integrated agricultural and renewable energy project in Sierra Leone to produce fuel ethanol and electricity. The project’s intent was to produce about 90,000m3 of ethanol per annum, primarily for export to the European Union (EU) market and 15MW of power to be fed into the national grid. Addax Bioenergy staff were very helpful in communicating the challenges of growing and harvesting Biomass energy crops in Sierra Leone.

Based on the above mentioned challenges the results of the Biomass Bankable Feasibility Study are summarized as follows:
* The best feedstock for producing the highest energy crop yield per acre was found to be Giant King Grass. Giant King Grass is a derivative of the locally grown Elephant Grass and was not considered to be a threat to local indigenous flora.
* The two suitable technologies found were Anaerobic Digestion and Gasification which produce Biogas and Syngas respectively. The preference was to use Anaerobic Digestion as a means of converting the Giant King Grass to an energy that could be used to power a Gas Turbine or Reciprocating Engine for driving an Electrical Generator. The reason for this was that Biogas has a higher energy content per cubic foot than Syngas.
* The challenge in Sierra Leone is that the country gets high levels of rainfall in the rainy months making it difficult to harvest the energy crops and during the non-rainy months the agricultural crops required irrigation from the nearby river. These challenges were overcome by staging the planting, growing and harvesting of the energy crops to best match the rainfall patterns.

More details of the results of the Biomass Bankable Feasibility Study may be obtained from USP&E Global after executing a Non Disclosure and Confidentiality Agreement.

USP&E Global provides Conventional, Alternative and Renewable Energy Solutions as well as related Consulting, Engineering, Procurement, Construction, Commissioning, Testing, Operation and Maintenance Services.

About the author: Glen Cox, Director of Engineering & Projects at USP&E Global has completed over fifteen bankable feasibility studies for Renewable and Alternative Energy projects over the last four years which include Biomass to energy, Waste to Energy (Municipal Solid Waste or MSW or garbage), Wind to energy (wind turbines) and Solar to energy (Solar Photo voltaic Panels or PV Panels). You may contact Glen Cox directly via email at

Related Biomass Bankable Feasibility Study acronyms and organizations are referenced below:
IWMP – Integrated Waste Management Plan
ABC – Agricultural Business Center
LCA – Life Cycle Assessment
AfDB – African Development Bank
BSI – Better Sugarcane Initiative
MHI – Major Hazard Installations
CER – Certified Emission Reduction
MSDS – Materials Safety Data Sheet
CDM – Clean Development Mechanism
CRPF – Comprehensive Resettlement Policy Framework
EHS – Environment, Health and Safety
NCD – Non-Communicable Disease
EMS – Environmental and Quality Management System
NPA – National Power Authority
ESHIA – Environmental, Social and Health Impact Assessment
NSADP – National Sustainable Agriculture Development Plan
ESMP – Environmental and Social Management Plan
PAPs – Project Affected Persons
EU – European Union
PHU – Primary Health Care Units
EU RED- European Union Renewable Energy Directive
PPE – Personal Protection Equipment
FAO – Food and Agriculture Organization
RAP – Resettlement Action Pan
FBO – Farmer Based Organization
FDP – Farmer Development Programme
RSB – Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels
FFLS – Farmer Field and Life Schools
SCP – Smallholder Commercialisation Programme
GHG – Green House Gas
SEMP – Social and Environmental Management Programme
GIS – Geographic Information System
HAZOP – Hazard Operability Study
HSSE – Health, Safety, Security and Environment
UN – United Nations
IEC – Information, Education and Communication
UNFCC – United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
IFC – International Finance Corporation
VLC – Village Liaison Committee
IITA – International Institute of Tropical Agriculture
ILO – International Labour Organization Conventions
IPM – Integrated Pest Management

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