Steam-treated wood pellets: environmental and financial implications relative to fossil fuels and conventional pellets for electricity generation
McKechnie, Jon and Saville, Brad and MacLean, Heather L. (2016) Steam-treated wood pellets: environmental and financial implications relative to fossil fuels and conventional pellets for electricity generation. Applied Energy, 180 . pp. 637-649. ISSN 0306-2619
Steam-treated pellets can help to address technical barriers that limit the uptake of pellets as a fuel for electricity generation, but there is limited understanding of the cost and environmental impacts of their production and use. This study investigates life cycle environmental (greenhouse gas (GHG) and air pollutant emissions) and financial implications of electricity generation from steam-treated pellets, including fuel cycle activities (biomass supply, pellet production, and combustion) and retrofit infrastructure to enable 100% pellet firing at a generating station that previously used coal. Models are informed by operating experience of pellet manufacturers and generating stations utilising coal, steam-treated and conventional pellets. Results are compared with conventional pellets and fossil fuels in a case study of electricity generation in northwestern Ontario, Canada. Steam-treated pellet production has similar GHG impacts to conventional pellets as their higher biomass feedstock requirement is balanced by reduced process electricity consumption. GHG reductions of more than 90% relative to coal and ~85% relative to natural gas (excluding retrofit infrastructure) could be obtained with both pellet options. Pellets can also reduce fuel cycle air pollutant emissions relative to coal by 30% (NOx), 97% (SOx), and 75% (PM10). Lesser retrofit requirements for steam-treated pellets more than compensate for marginally higher pellet production costs, resulting in lower electricity production cost compared to conventional pellets ($0.14/kWh vs. $0.16/kWh). Impacts of retrofit infrastructure become increasingly significant at lower generating station capacity factors, further favouring steam-treated pellets for both environmental and financial metrics.
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