Humboldt State University

Schatz Energy Research Center


The SERC biomass gasifier; the hopper chamber sits on top of the reactor chamber below.

Biomass from agriculture and forestry has tremendous potential for providing renewable energy if it is harvested in an environmentally sustainable manner. Thermal gasification offers a clean, efficient way of producing energy using biomass. The incomplete combustion of biomass in a gasifier results in the production of combustible gases consisting mainly of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. These product gases, after being cleaned and filtered, can be used in a variety of energy applications.

SERC was awarded approximately $422,000 as part of a $1 million project funded by the Indonesian Sugar Group. The goal of the three-year project, which was carried out jointly with the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley, was to explore the potential to use gasification technology to convert biomass, and especially sugar cane waste, also known as bagasse, into useful energy products. SERC faculty, engineers, and several HSU graduate students participated in the project, testing a variety of feedstocks, including bagasse, wood chips, and rice hulls.

We found that bagasse gasification has promise in the long term as part of a high efficiency biomass to electricity conversion system for 10 MW+ scale plants. However, in the near term other alternatives (e.g. increasing system pressure and temperature in a conventional steam cycle) offer a more cost effective pathway for efficiency gains. There are also some significant fuel handling challenges for the use of bagasse in a gasification system, and further research would be needed to address them.

For woody biomass applications on the north coast, we again see gasification technology as having medium or long term potential as an element in systems for efficient biomass power production. In the near to medium term, though, we see torrefaction as a more promising approach for utilizing dispersed woody biomass and have thus focused our attention on developing that technology.

For more detailed information on SERC’s gasification work, see the following stories from past issues of SERC Energy News: