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July 21, 2021

Anouk Blüm, Financing Director for StartGreen, explains in this blog what StartGreen considers truly green biomass.

Recently, there has been a lot of fuss about biomass as a green energy source. Because is extracting energy from organic material so sustainable? A logical question if you know that some types of biomass are obtained from afar and other types are also perfectly suitable as animal feed. In addition, CO2 free when burned.

Critical look
Let me start by saying that StartGreen takes a very critical look at the biomass projects that we finance. For example, we distinguish between fermentation and combustion of biomass. When fermenting, we look critically at what is mistaken. We prefer to ferment only manure, without adding food residues, for example ('mono-manure fermentation'). Manure is a waste product that you can do nothing with, except fertilize the land of course. Converting manure into biogas is called fermentation. You can make green gas from biogas or you can use it, for example, to power a combined heat and power installation that supplies green electricity and heat. In this way you still get sustainable energy from an absolute residual product.

not from far
Many people, however, immediately think of biomass as burning wood that is felled on another continent and then transported to the Netherlands by polluting diesel ships. StartGreen does not finance projects that obtain residual wood from abroad. We are stricter in this than the European Union. It only prescribes – broadly defined – sustainability requirements, such as knowing the origin. I find it sad that it is apparently cheaper to get wood from the US and Canada than to preserve it here. The province of Overijssel, one of our larger customers, fully agrees with this, not entirely coincidentally. That is why we exclude these types of projects from financing from the Energiefonds Overijssel, the fund that we manage for them.

shaky ecobalance
Of course, burning wood is not ideal, because CO . is released2 at free. You can say that at least recently, in its tree phase, this residual wood has absorbed its share of carbon dioxide. Fossil fuels have that too, but millions of years ago. The ecobalance of biomass is therefore better than that of fossil fuels and even better if you also plant sufficient new wood. But because wood grows more slowly than you burn it, you are forced to keep a close eye on the balance between planting and processing.

Industrial heat
All in all, biomass is not an optimal solution. Only, there are no better alternatives at this point in the energy transition. Some industrial processes require heat. And I'm talking about temperatures of 150 degrees or higher. Electrification with solar or wind energy is not a solution. In new construction you can easily use a heat pump with a boiler on solar panels to heat water or rooms. This is not enough for industrial high-temperature processes.

Strict requirements
Now you know why StartGreen sets strict requirements for biomass projects. When it comes to the fermentation of biomass, our focus is on mono-fermentation and further processing of surplus manure with at most second and third generation raw materials as additives. In our view, first-generation biomass can be more useful in other circular processes. Heat from combustion of residual wood may only be used for high temperature applications. But then only regionally obtained residual wood and only from organizations that are NTA 8080 certified. Moreover, that residual wood may only be processed in modern biomass plants, with the right filters to remove the CO .2– and minimize particulate emissions.

On the way to circular
It is clear that biomass must be a temporary solution. Fortunately, developments are moving very quickly and I expect an innovation that offers a better alternative at any moment. From that moment on, we can start using biomass as a raw material and not as residual material. For example, as a raw material for cosmetics and medicines, so that we no longer have to use fossil raw materials for that either. I think that's a nice, circular idea.

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