One of the most significant barriers to accelerated penetration of all biomass conversion technologies is that of adequate resource supply. In the long term, the potential for the sustainable use of biomass in the energy sector will be limited by factors such as competition with food production, the need for biodiversity, and competition between the use of feedstocks as fuels and using them for generating power.3 The negative effects of intensive farming and long transport distances can reduce the economic and environmental benefits of biopower. In this context, it will be attractive to convert biomass into an energy carrier with higher energy density. This can be achieved with flash-pyrolysis technologies that convert solid biomass into bio-oil, a liquid biofuel that can be transported economically over long distances.
Other challenges to increased market penetration of biomass-fired generation are the high initial cost of replacing boilers with biomass technologies and the higher capital costs for biomass systems compared with conventional technologies. While biomass combustion plants are commercially available at various sizes, their efficiency could still be improved and their costs further reduced. Technology improvements are also needed in areas such as gasification, the development of plants that can use a variety of biomass feedstocks, polygeneration and co-firing using a range of feedstocks.
'Uncertainty regarding biomass supply potential is discussed in Chap. 5, Road Transport Technologies and Fuels.
A significant challenge in developing countries is upgrading the efficiency of cogeneration units run on bagasse.4 While a handful of countries, including Mauritius and Brazil, use modern generating units, the technology in most countries could be improved considerably. Another issue is storage. For example, power plants in Mauritius only run on bagasse during the harvest season. Techniques for bagasse storage are needed so the plants can operate on biomass year-round.
Market barriers include the limited public awareness of the benefits of biomass technologies, and some unresolved environmental issues, such as emissions from boilers used in urban environments. Because the market for biomass conversion plants is at an early stage of development, there is a perception of high business risk for both suppliers and utilities. Obtaining development and project financing for plants can be lengthy and difficult. Standardisation of feedstocks and technologies could help to overcome these barriers to some extent.
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