UN Sustainable Development Goals


How biomass-fueled power plants help combat climate change

Biomass-fueled power plants can give energy planners an important tool to address climate change. In Denmark, they also provide a reliable baseload when wind and solar go offline. 

Greenhouse gas concentrations are rising. 

Compared to pre-industrial levels, the atmosphere’s composition of CO2 and other greenhouse gases like methane has increased by 149%, according to UN figures. 

Scientists are cautious about predicting what will be the outcome of this global chemistry experiment. But it’s agreed combusting coal and other fossil fuels for power generation is a key reason the numbers keep going up. 

That’s why SDG13, the UN’s sustainable development goal for “urgent action to combat climate change”, is also a call to replace fossil fuels with biomass energy and other alternatives.  

Goals for the planet’s future

In 2005, the UN announced 17 sustainable development goals, or SDGs, which need to be reached by 2030.

As a builder and operator of biomass-fuelled power plants, the 13th SDG, ‘Climate action’ is a key focus area of BWSC.

Some politicians are hesitant to phase out coal and other fossil fuels because of the central role they play in our economy. 

If you take away fossil fuels, you take away economic growth, goes the thinking.  

The challenge, of course, is to find alternative energy sources that deliver electricity and power for modern economies, yet don’t reduce economic growth. 

In Denmark, biomass is that alternative together with wind and other renewables. The country has reduced greenhouse gas emissions, started to retire coal-burning power plants yet still enjoyed healthy economic growth. 

Until the 1990s, coal-fired power plants were the country’s primary source of electricity. But energy planners, private and public stakeholders came together to change the country’s energy mix. Coal-fired power plants were converted. And new biomass-fired plants were built. 

The Avedøre Power Station near Copenhagen is a good example of how a coal conversion to biomass delivers returns. Instead of having to purchase coal dug up from mines and dispose of toxic slag, the plant’s Unit 2 uses wood pellets made from the lumber industry’s leftover products such as tree trunks and branches. 

The unit’s BWSC technology supplies 585 MW of electricity. In addition, 570 MW of heat energy is channeled in a so-called cogeneration or combined heat and power (CHP) setup to the Copenhagen area’s vast district heating network, so homes and businesses have access to plentiful, carbon-neutral heat. 

At Avedøre, 96% efficiency ratings are achieved when Unit 2 produces electricity and heat as CHP. 

Thanks to conversions like the one at Avedøre, Denmark has reduced annual CO2 emissions by 7.4 million tons compared to 1990. That’s the equivalent of roughly half of the CO2 emissions currently produced by the transport sector.

The reliable, renewable mix

Together with wind and other renewable energy sources, biomass has been a crucial part of Denmark’s energy mix the past 30 years. 

There are simply days when the wind doesn’t blow, however. Or the sun doesn’t shine. In these situations, biomass-fired power plants supply the baseload supply needed to keep the grid going. 

As coal-fueled power plants are retired, biomass-fired power plants can provide the replacement, since wind falls shorts during calm weather, and solar is not much help at night or on overcast days. 

But Denmark is not the only country to benefit from BWSC’s world-class biomass boiler technology. Over the past 10 years, we built nine turnkey projects in the UK. The plants use a variety of biomass fuels including straw and wood chips from local growers and have helped UK realise its 2020 climate goals. 

“We have already demonstrated an ability to transfer knowledge from Denmark to the UK,” says Martin Wittrup Hansen, Director, Biomass-to-energy. “But worldwide, we urgently need carbon-neutral solutions to meet our energy needs. BWSC’s biomass products can be part of those solutions.”

“We have already demonstrated an ability to transfer knowledge from Denmark to the UK, but worldwide, we urgently need carbon-neutral solutions to meet our energy needs. BWSC’s biomass products can be part of those solutions.”

Martin Wittrup Hansen, Director, Biomass-to-energy

Biomass done right

Since 2016, Denmark’s power plants using biomass must document that they meet the following conditions:

  • Only certified biomass can be used
  • The power plant achieves significant CO2 reduction compared to use of coal and fossil fuels
  • The lumber industry’s waste products should be used when possible
  • Biodiversity is preserved
  • Safe working conditions for employees
  • Third party monitoring ensures the above
The vast majority of biomass used at Danish power plants comes from leftover or unused organic material from the lumber industry: branches, wood chips, sawdust and tree trunks. These leftover products would end up decomposing on the forest floor and releasing CO2 if they were not gathered. Instead, biomass fired power plants release their contained energy and put them to use. That’s energy that can be used instead of coal and oil. 

How biomass helped Denmark kick the coal habit:

Biomass is renewable. It can be replanted and replenished to extract CO2 from the atmosphere, it provides an important tool for addressing climate change – the 13th UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). 

Biomass – five benefits

1. Carbon and energy storage
Plants use the sun’s energy to naturally bind CO2 in biomass. In this way, a tree (or other biomass) is essentially a natural battery. When combusted in our high-tech plants, the chemical energy stored in a plant’s organic structure is released as heat energy which can be put to work.

2. Small footprint
Coal mining and oil drilling can have devastating impacts on the environment. 
3. Safely shipped and harvested
With proper care and safety procedures, biomass is safe to transport, store and use. 
4. Sustainable and renewable
As long as the sun shines, biomass can grow. Current estimates suggest our sun will provide life-giving energy to our planet for about five billion more years.

5. Emissions
Combusting biomass does release some pollutants (xx). But compared to coal and other fossils, the pollutants are minimal. 

BWSC shares the position of Denmark’s biomass trade organisations (Dansk Fjernvarme, etc) that if biomass is not produced in a sustainable way, it should not be used.