There are three words that sum up the primary goal of the global environmental movement, clean renewable energy. Ever since it began to dawn on people that fossil fuels, like every other resource, had limits, there has been an ongoing search for a fuel that would never go away. Granted, the fears expressed early on about fossil fuels now seem a bit naïve. Remember back in the 70s when they said that by the year 2000 the world would run out of oil? It turns out that fossil fuels don’t really go away, they just get more and more expensive to get.
Unfortunately, once a society gets hooked on something, building everything around it, it becomes easier to accept the gradual price increases rather than change it all. But eventually there comes a time when people start to realize that the emperor has no clothes, and that there’s got to be a better way. One by one, people begin to look for, and then demand, alternatives. Once the trickle starts to become an avalanche, the flow of money begins to turn with it.
Today, one of the places money is beginning to turn to is biomass. Biomass represents the idea of growing our energy, essentially harvesting the suns rays indirectly, but on a continuous (renewable) basis. It’s a little like solar energy, using the suns rays to produce heat or electricity, except that plants, and perhaps animals, are used as a go-between. After all, plants are the oldest and still the most efficient solar collectors and converters on the planet. They’ve had ages to perfect the process. So why not farm energy crops the way we now farm food crops?
Of course, it’s never as easy as it sounds. Wood is the oldest energy source we have, a renewable biomass, but nobody is suggesting we go back to that, at least as a sole solution. In order for biomass to work, it has to be efficient and at least somewhat be economically competitive with fossil fuels, cleaner in a number of ways, and relatively easy to distribute to where it is needed.
There are many proposed biomass solutions, all of them hotly debated, and much of the debate is fueled by all of the unknowns that are involved. Biomass fuels have sometimes proven tricky to process, requiring the trial and error development of new equipment and handling techniques. In addition, the use of biomass results in emissions and the best solutions to that are still unclear. Still, biomass does have at least one significant advantage over wind and solar: it’s available 24 hours a day, every day, regardless of the weather. And there are economic advantages too, part of the reason Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell recently announced that it is shelving investments in wind and solar in favor of biofuels.
Currently, most biomass power plants burn lumber and agricultural waste, sometimes directly to produce steam for generating electricity and sometimes indirectly after turning the waste into gas. Biomass is currently the second largest renewable energy source in the country. In Brazil, nearly 40% of all motor vehicles run on alcohol made from sugar cane. In fact, almost any biological matter, including wood chips, animal manure, seaweed, and even garbage, can be used to produce power.
Some of the relatively few publicly traded biomass related stocks include Andritz Group (PINKSHEETS: ADRZF), Macquarie Power & Infrastructure Income Fund (PINKSHEETS: MCQPF), and Renegy (PINKSHEETS: RGYH). But one of the most exciting prospects is a company out of Florida called Clenergen Corp. (OTCBB: CRGE).
Clenergen has identified Bamboo and Marjestica, a fast growing species of tree, as the most reliable feedstock/biomass source for gasification and the continuous generation of clean energy. Their plan is to produce high-density, short-rotation biomass crops on a commercial scale, at a cost of production equivalent to or less than the price of coal, and to produce a renewable and sustainable source of electricity through advanced gasification technologies. But it’s more than just theory. The company installs, owns, and operates small to medium sized Distributed Environmental Power Systems (DEPS) to local municipalities, manufacturers, and national grids. They’re already developing a major project in India, and have just purchased a 90-year leasehold for 5,000 acres of land in South America for growing and exporting biomass to generate electricity in the U.S. and Europe.
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