Biomass, the world’s second largest source of renewable energy

Biomass is the second largest source of renewable energy in the world. The combustion of organic plant or animal matter has a calorific value that can be harnessed to produce heat or electricity. Through three of its subsidiaries EDF is involved in this segment, which provides a solution to the problem of how to manage municipal and farm waste.

The word “biomass” encompasses a very broad range of materials: wood, wood processing industry waste, farm waste (straw, liquid manure, etc.), the fermentable fraction of household waste and food & beverage industry waste, landfill biogas, and the by-products from anaerobic digestion (liquor, treatment sludge, solid residue, etc.).

This organic matter is recovered through thermal processes (pyrolysis, gasification and direct combustion) or biochemical processes (anaerobic digestion) to produce energy. Municipal and farm waste can thus be used as infeed for thermal power plants or electricity generators. Two categories of biomass are used in this instance:

  • ligneous biomass: wood, straw or bagasse (sugarcane fibre) used in thermal power plants
  • fermentable biomass: liquid manure, residual liquor and waste. This biomass is first converted into biogas by microorganisms, which is then burned in specifically designed electricity generators.

In Europe, wood processing industries (mainly paper mills) supply the raw material used to produce heat and electricity in cogeneration plants.

In France’s overseas administrative departments, the bagasse from sugarcane processing is mainly used to generate electricity.

EDF’s use of biomass

Biomass is used by three EDF Group subsidiaries to produce electricity and/or heat:

  • EDF Renouvelables specialises in the recovery of the agricultural industry’s by-products. For example, in Lucena, Andalusia (Spain), a 26 MW plant recovers 180,000 tonnes of olive waste a year
  • Dalkia Wastenergy, a Dalkia subsidiary, is specialised in the production of renewable energy from waste. Dalkia Wastenergy is an innovative player in the biomass recovery segment. Its industrial-scale implementation of new processes sits at the heart of the development of energy services: anaerobic digestion for the production of biogas and compost compliant with recognised standards; solid recovered fuel (SRF); and hot water to heat commercial glasshouses
  • Dalkia Biogaz, a Dalkia subsidiary, specialises in electricity generation using biogas sourced from landfills, wastewater treatment plants and anaerobic digesters.
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