China Group Develops Plan to Turn Biomass Into Low-Carbon Natural Gas

Researchers in China have published the results of a study that the group said provides an efficient catalytic approach to directly transfer solid biomass into natural gas, while enabling the gas to have a low-carbon footprint.

The researchers said bio-natural gas produced from the hydrogen combined with lignocellulosic biomass could be used at power plants, and would have applications for transportation and other industries. The group said it could be transported using existing pipeline infrastructure.

China’s Biomass Energy Industry Promotion Association (BEIPA) last year reported that the country annually produces more than 900 million tons of agricultural and forestry biomass. BEIPA officials said the biomass could generate power equal to that from about 400 million tons of coal, and said the figure is higher when including organic waste from urban and rural areas.

The study, supported by several entities including the Natural Science Foundation of China and published in January by the scientific journal Nature Communications, provides what the group calls new guidance for the catalytic transformation of raw biomass. The researchers said they have developed “a catalytic-drive approach to directly transfer solid biomass to bio-natural gas … a catalyst with Ni2Al3 alloy phase enables nearly complete conversion of various agricultural and forestry residues, the total carbon yield of gas products reaches up to 93% after several hours at relative low-temperature [300C]. And the catalyst shows powerful processing capability for the production of natural gas during 30 cycles. A low-carbon footprint is estimated by a preliminary lifecycle assessment, especially for the low hydrogen pressure and non-fossil hydrogen, and technical economic analysis predicts that this process is an economically competitive production process.”

Lower Emissions

Fang Lu, a professor with the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics (DICP) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), and the leader of the study, said, “Lifecycle assessment revealed that the lifecycle primary fossil energy depletion and greenhouse gas emissions in this process could be reduced by 26% and 34%, respectively, compared to the fossil-natural gas.”

Other groups involved in the project include the National Key R&D Program of China, the Strategic Priority Research Program of the CAS, and DICP Grant.

Want to learn more about biomass and power generation? Read “Biomass Power: Environmental Benefit or Numbers Game?” in the February 2022 issue of POWER.

The researchers said biogenic and thermogenic processes are the two widely accepted methods for producing natural gas, which is a raw material for making ammonia and hydrogen. They noted that the high content of carbon dioxide in gas products “is inevitable during these processes.”

The group said, “The present study is aimed to produce natural gas by mimicking natural formation conditions,” and through its research determined that “the lifecycle assessment shows that lifecycle primary fossil energy depletion and greenhouse gas emissions in this work can dramatically decrease with the low hydrogen pressure and non-fossil hydrogen.”

Carbon-Neutral Goal

Chinese officials recently said that electricity generated from biomass, combined with carbon, capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), could provide a source of negative emissions for the rest of the energy system as the country moves toward its 2060 carbon-neutral goal. Mallika Ishwaran, chief economist of Shell International, in a January webinar hosted by Shell’s business unit in China, said, “With early and systematic action, China can deliver better environmental and social outcomes for its citizens while being a force for good in the global fight against climate change.” Shell is among the largest global investors in China’s energy sector. The company supplies liquefied natural gas to China, and has expanded its business there to include electric vehicle charging technology and hydrogen power.

China in a roadmap to reach peak emissions by 2030 has said it plans more investment in renewable energy, along with technologies using hydrogen and biofuels, along with CCUS.

Zhang Dayong, secretary-general of the BEIPA, last year said “The development of the biomass energy industry in China has ushered in an important window period under China’s strong green commitment and the industry has great potential for further growth.” Dayong added that the carbon-neutral goal “will provide more opportunities of growth for biomass energy development,” said said that “if [biomass] is equipped with BECCS technology, [bioenergy with carbon capture and storage], the process of turning biomass into energy can achieve negative emissions.”

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).


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