Coal only covered 5% of Spanish electricity generation last year, when in 2018 it accounted for 17.2%. Thanks to this, the CO2 emissions (main greenhouse gas) from burning this fossil fuel were reduced by 69%. This new reality is the result of the state's commitment to the closure of thermal power plants that use coal and/or its conversion to other less-polluting energy sources.

Spain is saying goodbye to coal and the biomass sector (organic matter used as fuel) is taking the opportunity to present itself as a possible alternative energy source. In a visit to the recently inaugurated biomass plant for the generation of electricity from Biollano, in Ciudad Real, the Association of Renewable Energy Companies (Appa) stressed the "fundamental role" of biomass "in ensuring the management of the electrical system and being able to meet the renewable energy targets set for 2030”.

It has also been put on the table that the As Pontes plant (A Coruña), the largest coal plant in the country, starts using biomass. "A path that other plants could well follow," says Margarita de Gregorio, director of Appa Biomass. It is not a new experience. The former 660 MW mega-coal plant in North Yorkshire (United Kingdom) has four of its six units running on biomass (the other two are gas).

In Spain, the use of biomass for electricity generation is low, despite the new plants. Until the beginning of the year, the installed capacity was 518 MW, compared to 5.5GW in Germany or 2.4 GW in the United Kingdom. The main use of this energy source in the country is for the production of thermal energy that is used for heating, production of sanitary hot water and as a contribution to certain industrial processes. A use that has progressively increased in recent years.

The question is: is biomass just as valid for generating electricity as for producing thermal energy? For Adriano Raddi, from the Centre de Ciència i Tecnologia Forestal de Catalunya (CTFC), the answer is no. "With the available technology it is much more efficient to use it for thermal uses", says the expert. On the other hand, it also points out whether "it makes sense to transport large amounts of wood between continents to be used as a raw material in these plants, as is already happening". Other arguments against it are the possible deforestation derived from this activity and the non-neutral nature of the emissions. However, there is no unanimity among the scientific community on this matter.

The supporters, for their part, emphasize that it is the energy source that generates the most jobs, which makes it an ally to improve, at the economic and labour level, the most rural areas.

What they do agree on is the potential of this resource. Spain is at the bottom of the European ranking for the use of biomass in power generation, either thermal or electric.

Source: La Vanguardia