Monday, March 31, 2014

the Need to Develop a Framework towards Sustainable Use of Forestry Biomass

Biomass is normally considered a "renewable and carbon neutral energy source" but unless the biomass is harvested in a sustainable manner with long term plans to regenerate those plants and trees, it would not remain a truly renewable and carbon neutral source. Here, we discuss some brief ideas on how to develop a basic framework for sustainable harvest of forestry biomass. 
The world (or at least the primary energy producers) need to focus on energy needs by region, biomass resource availability by type (crop residues, forest residue, methane (landfills/manure management, wastewater), urban wood residues and mill residues, and a discussion on the matching capabilities of these resources by economic extraction value. For the US and N. American regions, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden CO has some excellent interactive mapping tools available online [1].
Map of Forestry Residues (Contiguous lower 48 USA); Query source: NREL
A detailed thermodynamic analysis of the use with existing technologies should be estimated for a foreseeable short period of about five years. Beyond five years, we should develop synergistic technologies that can take advantage of cyclical solar energy to produce viable biobased fuel products in various biorefineries as well as biomass combustion units. The stakeholders involved in this could be the entities that own the forests (government units such as Dept of Environment/Forests, timber mills, businesses with leases on biomass use for energy), indigenous people/society that is dependent on forest for livelihood etc. In certain regions, the use of forest biomass should take the societal aspect also into consideration [2].
The efficient use of these forest residues and projections over next twenty years could have a significant impact on the ecological, economic and societal aspects for a large portion of our growing population. The balance between agricultural expansion into forest land, forest thinning practices and timber management’s impact on woody fuel production are all significant issues that need to be addressed by several states and also need to be addressed by consortia of multiple states in some cases. 
There is a pressing need for a real framework to be developed for carbon emissions measurement, the reach of regulatory bodies (existing and necessary new rules) and a quantification of the sustainability of forest use through an accounting and documenation procedure. Specific quantitative rules that assess the balance between use of woody biomass from forests in thermochemical processes versus other opportunistic fuel use should be discussed based on regional constraints. A thermodynamic analysis juxtaposed with heat rate needs for populations in the forestry’s harvest region would be one determining factor for the rate of forest thinning. A detailed look at the existing framework of rules for certifying the sustainability of forestry biomass use should not just be carbon centric but should also be water centric [3]. 
References
1. NREL. 2014; Available from: http://maps.nrel.gov/biopower.
2. Myllyviita, T., et al., Sustainability assessment of wood-based bioenergy – A methodological framework and a case-study. Biomass and Bioenergy, 2013. 59(0): p. 293-299.
3. WWF. Position Paper on Sustainability Criter for Forest Based Biomass in Europe used in Electricity, Heating and Cooling. 2012; Available from: http://awsassets.panda.org/downloads/forest_based_biomass_position_paper_finale.pdf.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fusion Energy Developments: for Space travel


It may not be the most efficient way of producing propulsion or power for consumption on earth, but for travel in the space/reducing travel time etc, fusion could be one of the best bets. 


So much so, that NASA has given two rounds of funding to a joint team of scientists from U Wash and  MSNW for a fusion based rocket project. Most of the big details of Slough et al's work is discussed in the paper (below) and Technews's article (link below).


One set of three rings weighing about 350 gm will be used for each implosion, Slough said. The pressure inside the rings will reach 600,000 atmospheres for a few microseconds, vaporizing the rings. The resulting superheated ionized metal will be ejected out of a divergent magnetic nozzle at high velocity. (link)

What I am really hoping is that this Lithium based fusion plasma reactor could spawn the development of a economical and safe fusion reactors for civilian power on earth.

This project has been partly funded by the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts Review.



Sources: The Fusion Driven Rocket: Nuclear Propulsion through Direct Conversion of Fusion Energy    Slough et al. 2013 (PDF paper)

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