GTZ Report: Smale Scale Energy from Biomass

GTZ Hera Report, August 2010

Experience with Small-scale Technologies for Basic Energy Supply:

Part I: Biomass Gasification

Small-scale Electricity Generation from Biomass GTZ-HERA has looked more closely into the small-scale use of biomass for rural off-grid electrification.

Following the hype and frustrations over a global bio-fuel market, expectations regarding biomass now focus on local power generation in rural areas of developing countries. International organisations and donors advocate wood gasification, biogas, and vegetable oil as sustainable sources for decentralized power supply. Countless success stories on biomass use for small-scale electricity generation have been published.

This set of report identifies a number of problems (toxic gases, tars, pollutants) without clearly understanding or describing how these are solved. It would be far more useful if it were written from an engineering perspective that highlighted lessons learned, paths forward and circumstances where gasification can work rather than concluding, essentially, that small scale gasification has failed because it does not meet the criteria of the European automobile industry.

Even highly productive systems were discounted because they didn't meet European environmental health and safety standards. Reading the report one would not know that there are affordable small scale systems that you can very safely run in your backyard in Germany. And you would have no understanding of the efforts to improve the systems to comply with the current safety standards.

Unfortunately, it looks like this report ignores come important sources that would have put the information that they did find in context and highlighted the lessons learned by these projects, and the paths taken to improve current and future projects.

To be of any use to industry or policy makers this introductory, or overview level, study should be followed up with a deeper study of how gasification can be used successfully. (A follow up could be done in collaboration with the IEA Task 33 on biomass gasification.) At best it will stimulate interest in making better gasification systems. At worst it will erode confidence (i.e. funding) at the policy level in the potential of small scale gasification.

The assessment resulted in a three-part series of papers on "Small- scale Electricity Generation from Biomass" covering biomass gasification (part I), biogas (part II), and plant oil (part III) for electric power generation.
The documents are now available for download:

Small-scale Electricity Generation from Biomass

Part 1 - Biomass Gasification

Part 2 - Biogas

Part 3 of the paper series which will cover plant oil for power generation will be available by the end of this year.