To the uninitiated, a process that heats biomass - wood chips, grass clippings, food wastes and the like - with hot sand to create a gas, which is then burned to power a turbine, which then generates electricity, seems like an exercise in inefficiency. To the contrary, say the inventor of this process. Future Energy Resources Corporation, and operators of Burlington Electric's McNeil Power Station which will be the site of the world's first commercial-scale plant to use this new technology.
Small scale tests have shown that this new process is 30 to 50 percent more efficient than the combustion processes now used to generate electricity. This increased efficiency will make the electricity generated at McNeil cheaper than other sources of power.
The new plant will use up to 400 green tons of woodchips per day to generate 15 megawatts of power. Markets for low grade wood products are welcomed by most foresters. It is only economically feasible to remove poor trees if there is a market for them and these markets have been weak in the past. Although some people worry that too many nutrients are taken from the site when whole trees are harvested, others think that the losses are small and outweighed by the advantages of being able to improve average tree quality.
The McNeil Station has been generating electricity from wood chips for over 10 years and was chosen in part because it has a system of wood procurement in place. All harvesting, both for the present plant and for the new facility, is supervised by foresters and certified to be in accordance with silvicultural and environmental standards.