Improve Your Facility's Power Reliability and Environmental Performance, While Saving Money—Can It Be Done?

April 20, 2004

Photo of lean-burn engines.

Lean-burn engines designed to generate electricity from landfill gas.

In recent years, as the digital revolution has made its mark on manufacturing and commerce, there has been heightened interest in power quality and reliability. The computer software and hardware, that underpins modern manufacturing, electronic databases and e-commerce, provides two key benefits: automation and, in the case of databases and e-commerce, instantaneous access to information. However, the degree to which these benefits can impact productivity is directly related to the quality and reliability of the power supply. This is also true in the federal sector where many facilities rely on electronic databases and communications systems to provide critical services. For example, information contained in Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) databases, such as criminal profiles and fingerprints, must be available to federal, state, and local law enforcement officials 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In addition to the critical nature of many government functions, some federal facilities, like many manufacturers, rely on automated processes whose disruption can have a significant financial impact. For example, a power disruption at a distribution center for the U.S. Postal Service can result in labor costs associated with rework and downtime in addition to the cost to customer satisfaction as a result of delays in the delivery schedule.

The interest in power quality and reliability has spurred interest in distributed energy resources. Because of its environmental attributes and availability, natural gas is the dominant fuel choice for distributed energy applications. However, more recently, as natural gas prices have proven to be volatile and generally upward trending, renewable energy resources have received renewed attention. These resources have several intrinsic advantages: 1) they are typically local resources whose use can benefit the local community; 2) as renewable resources, they can qualify as green power garnering a premium market value; 3) they are greenhouse gas neutral.

Biomass is the oldest and most prevalent energy resource and even today is the world's most popular fuel for heating. With rising fossil fuel prices and growing environmental concerns, biomass energy systems are reclaiming their positions in schools, factories, military bases, and community energy plants. Biomass recently surpassed hydropower as the nation's leading source of renewable energy and now accounts for more than half of all renewable energy used in the United States. Thousands of large and small U.S. power plants use biomass fuels to produce more than 7700 megawatts of electricity.

In support of the Biomass and Alternative Methane Fuels (BAMF) Super ESPC Program, the National Energy Technology Laboratory has identified numerous on-site power generation opportunities at federal facilities using bio-energy. To date, most of those opportunities have been with biomass waste streams such as wood waste and landfill gas. These waste streams can often be obtained for a relatively low cost relative to fossil fuels. Bio-energy from these waste streams can be cost competitive with fossil energy in many niche applications, while providing waste reduction, along with the other benefits typically associated with renewable energy resources. When these low cost renewable resources are used in combined heat and power (CHP) applications, there is the potential to bring together an unlikely combination of advantages: higher reliability, lower costs and improved environmental performance—so maybe you can have your cake and eat it too.

To find out more about the process for using the BAMF Super ESPC to implement a biomass energy project at your facility, contact one of the following: Christopher Abbuehl, BAMF National Program Representative, at 215-656-6995; Craig Hustwit, BAMF Technical Lead, at 304-285-5437; or Danette Delmastro, FEMP BAMF Team Lead, at 202-586-7632.