A semiarid country like Spain, often have very low grain yields and per hectare income from winter cereals. Since a 16MW straw based power plant in Bivriesca, Burgos, started 200.000 tons/yr and 12M € have been part of the local economy. Acciona Energy owns and operates electricity generation plants based on biomass, and actively researches in this field to select raw materials, find the most efficient technological processes, and obtain major improvements in supplier logistics. While cereal production costs increases as fertilizer and fossil energy prices rise, the use of biomass straw residues derive in large benefits for farmers, for the energy sector but also to the environment and society.
See more about the power plant here
The exploitation of biomass for obtaining energy, producing electricity, making use of the heat generated and making biofuels opens up new opportunities for the creation of added value in the rural world and also new jobs. It also helps territorial cohesion by mitigating the exodus of people from the countryside to urban areas and contributes to achieving a less centralized and more self-sufficient energy system.
Straw for power is again, a good example about food security and rural income being increased in a region promoting renewable energies.
Unfortunately, prime minister in Spain Mariano Rajoy, is trying to reduce the Spanish deficit and any policy movement with good figures in the short term are viable options for him. But cutting off all aids to renewable energy promotion will have worse results in the midterm. Biomass has so many synergies with rural activities, agriculture, employment and food crops that most measures this government applied would result in more negative effects. The power plant in Bivriesca has generated an estimated of 100 permanent new jobs, 17 companies providing services for straw supply, farmers extra income and many other social benefits.
All this is managed according to a strict criteria of sustainability. From the point of view of emissions, the 16MW power plant of Acciona Energia in Spain, achieved 117 million tons of CO2 avoided from coal replacement in power plants. At the time some extremist environmentalist still argue that biomass power energy plants could derive on more emissions, the fact is that in the years this facility has been working, straw consumption avoided the equivalent emissions that a forest of 6 million trees would have been done, as local municipality has estimated. Additionally, the plant has been declared to be dayly reporting emissions to government and to use recycled water from the nearby city of Bivriesca.
Using agricultural residues is an easy way to start biomass valorization. Farmers have earnings from grains and also from straw. Something similar occurs with corn stover, fruit husks, bagasse, rice residues, sawdust, etc. But what about the environmental aspects? Well, CO2 emissions won’t be a serious problem since we are replacing fossil energy that is not used (could be coal or in the case of Spain it is natural gas). All fossil inputs in the farm stages are used anyway for cereal production (food) and straw is just a residue. Windrowing and baling straw let biomass in the ground during operations (not so much as all straw would be used) but it is calculated that about 1 ton of straw goes directly to the ground. Additionally, rotations and fertilizer management can provide a sustanable framework.
But the fact is that cereal straw promotes also cereal monoculture. That’s why we promote perennial grasses in marginal areas. Elytrigia elongata, Switchgrass, Miscanthus and many other grasses allow a rotation of cereals with perennials in several environments and cliamtes. And that would be another way to enhance food production with renewable energies and in particular with perennial bioenergy crops.
Some studies on straw uses for biomass can be read here: