COAL-BASED FUELS: Biomass adds renewable component
By Kelly Bragg
The same scenic beauty that draws tourists to the state of West
Virginia also attracts the development of new and innovative ideas for
providing alternatives to imported petroleum.
The rich green carpeting of trees rolling over West Virginia’s hills
offers a peaceful background for hikers and bikers and can help fuel
the nation’s vehicles and power plants. Combined with the coal that
powers West Virginia’s economy, wood and crops known collectively as
biomass can be turned into a gas or a fuel.
The state of West Virginia advances coal-biomass-to-liquids (CBTL)
projects as an alternative to imported petroleum. These clean coal
projects will demonstrate the overall enhanced environmental
performance of liquids from coal when compared to conventional
“CBTL projects are complex and touch a number of different aspects of
West Virginia’s economy,” said Kelley Goes, secretary of the West
Virginia Department of Commerce. “West Virginia has knowledge and
expertise in mining and energy, forestry and wood products as well as
geology, all of which are tapped when we consider the development of
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is released into the atmosphere when biomass dies.
The same thing occurs when biomass is turned into a gas. Biomass
offsets this release because its components -- plants and trees --
remove CO2 during their life cycle. Biomass as a fuel source for
gasification is termed carbon neutral because its natural growth
offsets the CO2 released when it dies or is gasified.
Beyond its importance in reducing CO2 when it is used as a component of
fuel manufacturing, biomass offers modern production yet another
benefit: today’s gasification systems that accommodate coal can also
use biomass. This reduces or eliminates costs to producers while
offering environmental benefits.
West Virginia also advances what is known as carbon sequestration: techniques for permanently storing CO2 underground.
“Almost any clean coal project done today will include disposing of the
CO2 to address concerns with greenhouse gas emissions,” said Michael
Ed. Hohn, director of the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey
and the state geologist. “Putting CO2 underground, which still faces
some scientific review and research, is not that dissimilar to storing
methane or natural gas underground, processes that are already familiar
and well-tested. West Virginia has received U.S. Department of Energy
funding for several years for carbon sequestration study.”
Renewable resources have a major role to play in the development of
liquid fuels from coal, enhancing the environmental performance of the
traditional coal-to-liquids process. West Virginia is uniquely
positioned to merge its abundant and renewable resources with its
well-established coal industry, easing the nation’s dependence on
foreign sources of petroleum.