One of the most important considerations of any move to a green technology is the ease of conversion. A new idea that requires massive rebuilds and infrastructure changes already has a big strike against it, as unpredictable economies and tight budgets put the squeeze on even conservative plans. The most desirable technologies are the ones that can be phased in, causing the least disruption and initial costs. Unfortunately, wind, solar, and nuclear power all carry significant up-front investments.

An exception in the green lineup is biomass, the use of renewable agricultural stock for power generation. If done right, the energy generation costs of biomass approach that of coal, and the carbon dioxide footprint is nearly zero since growing the stock absorbs as much carbon dioxide as is released during burning. But one of the biggest benefits is that biomass can be used now without the costly upheavals of other approaches.

Although boilers in coal-fired power plants are generally not compatible with full biomass use, torrefaction is an emerging technology that converts biomass into bio coal that can be directly substituted in any amount for coal in existing coal plants. In addition, a relatively small modification can allow most coal plants to replace up to 20% of the coal currently being used with biomass pellets. This will reduce power plant carbon dioxide emissions by 20%, allowing them to meet reduction targets for the next decade. A pellet is simply biomass that is dried and pressed into a pellet, making it more economical to ship and process.

In order to maximize the cost effectiveness of biomass, however, the source of the feed stock is critical. At the top of the list is Giant King Grass, a proprietary hybrid grass from ViaSpace, Inc. Giant King Grass has energy properties and composition similar to corn stover and other bio-waste now used in biomass energy applications. However, it’s extremely rapid growth and multiple harvests gives Giant King Grass 10 times the yield of corn stover in terms of tons per acre, and it has four times the yield of switchgrass, a popular biomass candidate.

Given that over 40% of global electricity generated comes from coal-fired power plants, the use of cost effective Giant King Grass pellets in existing coal plants can have an immediate positive impact on carbon emissions around the world, and without the overwhelming costs.

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