2024 May 10

Industrial decarbonization a low hanging fruit for bioenergy deployment

On 10th May 2024, WBA Executive Director was invited to visit a biotechnology company in Handan city, Hebei province. The company had recently converted from natural gas to biomass for process heat. The visit was organized by the WBA board member Hong Hao, Chairman, Great Resources Ltd. 

Chenguang Biotechnology Group Co. Ltd, is an export-oriented company with primary focus on processing agricultural products for the food industry. It mainly develops and produces natural pigments, natural spices extracts and essential oils, natural nutrition and medicinal extracts, protein oils, preserved fruits, etc. The site WBA visited was using producing glucose from sugar crops. The process involves mixing an organic solvent with the feedstock and application of steam to recover the organic solvent. The maximum demand for steam is 40 tons per hour while the annual demand ranges from 150 000 – 200 000 tons.  


The facility was initially using expensive natural gas to produce the steam. However, there is a lack of enough supply of natural gas for both residential and industrial demand in the region. During certain cold winters, the government prioritises the limited natural gas availability towards households. Moreover, the price of gas during winters increases 3 times for industries to 0.8 Euros per m3. To manage the fluctuations in supply and cost, the company decided to shift to a biomass-based boiler.  
The total time to convert the facility took 1 year with additional 6 months for design. Total cost of the investment was 30 million RMB or 4 million Euros. The only cost of the feedstock is for shredding, transport and handling of the fuel. The conversion of gas to biomass has reduced fuel cost by 75% for the company. 
The region has a significant furniture industry to meet the demands of the rising residential and commercial establishments. The construction industry wood waste was previously sent to landfills due to lack of a demand. The Biotechnology group boiler uses about 40 000 tons of biomass fuel annually. The fuel is transported by trucks daily and stored on site. The reason for choosing construction wood waste was its low cost and availability throughout the year. Even though the region was a major agricultural area and had significant amount of residues, there is already an existing demand for such fuel for feed purposes and hence, they were not considered.  
The region has very strict environmental regulations in terms of emissions from energy generation. The maximum permissible limit of emissions and the current emissions from the facility show that they are well within limits. The company currently uses a variety of emission control systems including bag filters, NaOH scrubbers, Vanadium based sorbents.   
  Current Levels* Maximum Limit  Unit  
SOx   0.7 – 1.5   30 mg/Nm3 
NOx   0.3 – 3.6  50 mg/Nm3 
Dust   0.6 – 1.4   10 mg/Nm3 
The decarbonization of industrial demand for heat is a low hanging fruit for biomass. The WBA has seen numerous examples in Asia – China, India, Indonesia etc. where woody and agriculture-based biomass is replacing expensive natural gas to provide hot water and steam for industrial processes. The advantages include:  
  • Economic savings due to low cost of biomass fuel replacing expensive natural gas 
  • Dispatchable energy available throughout the year  
  • Environmental benefit due to reduced need for landfilling of biomass waste 
  • Social benefits due to creation of jobs throughout the entire value chain