Alternative Energy in Agriculture

Alternative Energy in Agriculture, Chapter 4: "Biomass Gasification"

From the article:

Modern agriculture is an extremely energy intensive process. However high agricultural productivities and subsequently the growth of green revolution has been made possible only by large amount of energy inputs, especially those from fossil fuels. With recent price rise and scarcity of these fuels there has been a trend towards use of alternative energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal etc. However these energy resources have not been able to provide an economically viable solution for agricultural applications.

One biomass energy based system, which has been proven reliable and had been extensively used for transportation and on farm systems during World War II is wood or biomass gasification.

Biomass gasification means incomplete combustion of biomass resulting in production of combustible gases consisting of Carbon monoxide (CO), Hydrogen (H2) and traces of Methane (CH4). This mixture is called producer gas. Producer gas can be used to run internal combustion engines (both compression and spark ignition), can be used as substitute for furnace oil in direct heat applications and can be used to produce, in an economically viable way, methanol – an extremely attractive chemical which is useful both as fuel for heat engines as well as chemical feedstock for industries. Since any biomass material can undergo gasification, this process is much more attractive than ethanol production or biogas where only selected biomass materials can produce the fuel.

Besides, there is a problem that solid wastes (available on the farm) are seldom in a form that can be readily utilized economically e.g. Wood wastes can be used in hog fuel boiler but the equipment is expensive and energy recovery is low. As a result it is often advantageous to convert this waste into more readily usable fuel from like producer gas. Hence the attractiveness of gasification.

However under present conditions, economic factors seem to provide the strongest argument of considering gasification. In many situations where the price of petroleum fuels is high or where supplies are unreliable the biomass gasification can provide an economically viable system – provided the suitable biomass feedstock is easily available (as is indeed the case in agricultural systems).

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