Wood waste for electric generation?

      Could wood be an efficient source for eventual conversion into electric power? 1998.

by Professor Gene Wengert

I am on a search to find out more about the state of Alaska's research about utilizing bark, chips, sawdust, etc. in the production of methane, which in turn could be utilized in the generation of electricity to run electric meters backwards...a common practice...any other states or persons having any knowledge of this technology? The methane was used instead of fossil fuel to run diesel gen sets. The ones I saw in the early 80's were cats generating 100 kws.

The person to contact about this is Ken Kilborn, USDA FS, 3301 C Street, Suite 522, Anchorage, AK 99503.

Note that electric meters cannot run backwards and it is illegal to do so. But every electric utility is required to buy electricity from a producer, if the electricity is "clean" and on frequency, at a competitive price. Unfortunately, the price they pay is the price that it costs them to make electricity, which is (due to their large size) much less than the small gasifier/generator price, unless you can get a tax credit or government assistance. In other words, it is not economical to make electricity for sale, even in Alaska.

The technology of gas generation from organics--wood, coal, cow pies, etc.--and then using the gas to power a diesel generator is well proven, however. (Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA had a neat set-up 10 years ago. And in WW II, gas generation was very popular in Sweden and many other countries, including the U.S.) It just boils down to economies of scale.

Another good source of historic information is John Zerbe, US Forest Products Lab, One Gifford Pinchot Drive, Madison, WI 53705.

Professor Gene Wengert is Extension Specialist in Wood Processing at the Department of Forestry, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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