A comparison of integrated biomass to electricity systems

  • Andrew J. Toft

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis presents a comparison of integrated biomass to electricity systems on the basis of their efficiency, capital cost and electricity production cost. Four systems are evaluated: combustion to raise steam for a steam cycle; atmospheric gasification to produce fuel gas for a dual fuel diesel engine; pressurised gasification to produce fuel gas for a gas turbine combined cycle; and fast pyrolysis to produce pyrolysis liquid for a dual fuel diesel engine. The feedstock in all cases is wood in chipped form. This is the first time that all three thermochemical conversion technologies have been compared in a single, consistent evaluation.The systems have been modelled from the transportation of the wood chips through pretreatment, thermochemical conversion and electricity generation. Equipment requirements during pretreatment are comprehensively modelled and include reception, storage, drying and communication. The de-coupling of the fast pyrolysis system is examined, where the fast pyrolysis and engine stages are carried out at separate locations. Relationships are also included to allow learning effects to be studied. The modelling is achieved through the use of multiple spreadsheets where each spreadsheet models part of the system in isolation and the spreadsheets are combined to give the cost and performance of a whole system.The use of the models has shown that on current costs the combustion system remains the most cost-effective generating route, despite its low efficiency. The novel systems only produce lower cost electricity if learning effects are included, implying that some sort of subsidy will be required during the early development of the gasification and fast pyrolysis systems to make them competitive with the established combustion approach. The use of decoupling in fast pyrolysis systems is a useful way of reducing system costs if electricity is required at several sites because• a single pyrolysis site can be used to supply all the generators, offering economies of scale at the conversion step.
Overall, costs are much higher than conventional electricity generating costs for fossil fuels, due mainly to the small scales used. Biomass to electricity opportunities remain restricted to niche markets where electricity prices are high or feed costs are very low. It is highly recommended that further work examines possibilities for combined beat and power which is suitable for small scale systems and could increase revenues that could reduce electricity prices.
Date of Award1996
Original languageEnglish


  • integrated biomass
  • electricity systems

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