Cite this asBastiaans R (2023) Biomass to hydrogen: A short biomass potential availability and conversion survey for Dutch municipalities. Open J Environ Biol 8(1): 010-014. DOI: 10.17352/ojeb.000034
Copyright© 2023 Bastiaans R. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
The local availability of lignocellulosic biomass was estimated for an arbitrary but representative Dutch municipality to facilitate the conversion and use of hydrogen on a decentralized scale. This study reveals that there is a large potential for this biomass at many locations to play important roles in the energy transition. It is meant as a call to the scientific community to activate individuals and get some inspiration.
Many Dutch municipalities have the ambition to become a frontrunner in the energy transition. They are mostly countryside municipalities that have some regional prominent economic characteristics which are threefold 1) a large amount of agriculture, 2) quite some companies rooted in the agricultural sector and 3) a good infrastructure. The first two points are condensed into a single term ‘the agro-food sector’.
Additionally, for many Dutch municipalities the challenge is to increase their innovativeness, sustainability, and knowledge and to enforce in this way their economic potential.
Therefore, I asked myself the question of what the potential availability of biomass in such communities is and how it can be used in the energy sector. In the process from the energy source to usage, some conversions are required. As an intermediate energy carrier, I immediately identified hydrogen, H2, as a means. But of course, direct combustion of biomass is possible. I used hydrogen as an intermediate because of its overall recognized abilities which lead to a standard and the associated technology found a breakthrough a couple of years ago by many stakeholders which lead to increasing price reductions of its required infrastructure. The process keeps on going and this momentum should be used although it is of course not the best choice for any application.
Additionally, the study emphasizes that it is important to take action in the right direction, the best direction is just an unimportant luxury.
Of course, such a study can provide valuable insights and information for a variety of stakeholders, including government officials, entrepreneurs and members of the general public. It can serve as a starting point for further research and can help inform policy and decision-making related to the use of lignocellulosic biomass for hydrogen production on a decentralized scale. The study will likely include several conclusions, strategy suggestions, and recommendations that can guide future efforts in this area. Additionally, it will identify areas where more research is needed to fully understand the potential of this technology and how it can be best utilized to support a sustainable energy transition.
Small-scale integrated (synthesis and application) systems are important if not crucial because of their advantages being fourfold
To my opinion, it is both required and challenging to initiate a movement towards a more sustainable energy transition fast, for people feeling a sort of responsibility and don’t want to leave it to (rather slow) governments. Individuals, small groups, and entrepreneurs can play an important role in getting the process started. By building their own decentralized hydrogen production and usage systems and joining efforts, they can serve as "opinion leaders" and pave the way for wider adoption. The key is to find a few people who are passionate about the cause and are willing to take the first steps, which can be difficult. But once the movement starts to grow, it will become easier to attract more people and resources to the cause and to facilitate the transition to a more sustainable energy future.
This document is meant to serve as a kind of convincing manual to provide several important and facilitating partners, like municipalities for an efficient process for obtaining government permits or licenses for a specific project or activity. This can include streamlined and/or simplified paperwork, reduced wait times for approvals and reduced regulatory burdens. Governments may implement quick licensing procedures to encourage investment, stimulate economic growth, and make it easier for businesses and individuals to undertake projects that align with public policy goals, such as clean energy development. Of course, a similar survey may be conducted to adjust it to specific situations.
It is very difficult to investigate the availability potential of an area covered by multiple applications of it. Common land applications include residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, and natural/conservation areas. The latter two are the main inputs for biomass whereas the first two might add in waste streams. Each type of land use may have different regulations, zoning requirements and potential impacts on the environment and local communities. Understanding the division of land applications can help plan for sustainable land use and development, and balance competing land use demands. However, it is quite impracticable to investigate potential biomass sources by their very local use and integrate it. This could be executed by detailed interviewing of notably agricultural businesses. A gross estimation would be more helpful.
Therefore, a literature search was performed to find a reference case. This case was then mapped, to obtain an order-of-magnitude estimation, for the case considered. The study will also examine the potential applications of this technology, such as its use in residential, commercial, or industrial settings.
The investigation started by taking a representative arbitrary (but very useful, though as it is the place of my residence) Dutch countryside municipality, which was Land van Cuijk, further abbreviated as LvC. LvC is inhabited by about 90.000 individuals and has a surface of 351 km2. I found a trustworthy 2011 study of Oak Ridge National Laboratories (USA), invoking 50 scientific experts and 11 scientific reviewers, commissioned by the USA Department of Energy (DOE) . Although from a totally different region, I found it adequate for use as a reference. In  we observe that a local yearly amount of biomass production can amount up to 5500 dry tons per annum and per square mile in the United States, Figure 1. It was based on a conservational estimation of available resources of cellulosic feedstocks including forest and agricultural biomass, as well as specific energy crops. The limit of $ 60 per dry ton is a realistic market price limit and can compete with other energy carriers. Other assumptions are realistic, including sustainability, and do not have any severe impact. To my opinion, LvC can compete with this amount as agricultural intensity, soil fertility, and efficiency can be assumed at least as large. Therefore, I would estimate LvC's annual biomass production at 2000 dry tons per annum per square km. A regional surface of 351 km means a yearly availability of 700000 tons. For confirmation, I contacted the current principal investigator, of this project . He referred me to the updated report  in which it was confirmed that nothing changed severely. Because this is just an order-of-magnitude survey I kept the 2011 numbers.
In a recent review on biomass conversion to hydrogen, , it is concluded that the best H2 yield from biomass is through (thermochemical) gasification. The general air gasification reaction of biomass is presented in Equation (1),
In which LHC denotes light hydrocarbons. We can easily convert many species on the right-hand side by thermochemical means, separate or safely emit, filter them out, or use them. It can be taken care of by internally integrated means or by after-treatment.
From local estimated yearly feedstock and table 4 of  (H2 Yield of ~ 100 (g/kg feedstock)) we can conclude the potential possibility to produce 70-106 kg of H2 each year. With a hydrogen energy density of 120 MJ/kg, we obtain 8.4 PJ/yr at a conversion efficiency of 100%. A value of 30% would be a quite conventional lower estimate. With this, we come up to 2.5 PJ/yr and we can provide feedstock for the electricity consumption of 250000 households1.
This would be equivalent to about 700 GWh altogether usable potential even in the case of partial use/ decentralizing feedstock harvest, conversion, and application efficiency. For the total household energy supply (including gas) the ratio is about 3 to 1, for gas use and electricity respectively. So, for the total energy use, we would need 4 times as much as the amount above, reducing the number of households to 62000, still more than we probably host in our region! Indeed, with about 100000 people let us assume a clustering of 3 people per household the region's household energy need can be covered almost two times. If local industry needs are equivalent to total household needs we can possibly cover the entire region in total energy demand.
In the following points, we concentrate on the best H2 yield from biomass through (thermochemical) gasification. Thermochemical conversion has the advantage of being available at a large production scale because the technologies used are based on current well-established methods for converting fossil fuels. Therefore, the industrial application has already been established. Gasification and pyrolysis implementation methods are already designed for a wide variety of dried feedstocks, while steam gasification and steam reforming are the best compromises for wet biomass treatment which is somewhat more complex.
Other interesting research found may be covered in recent scientific archival publications [7-39], including many reviews, but currently merely out of the scope of the goal of this short communication. However, probably very valuable for continuing investigations on a multitude of aspects including economic and social implications.
1According to CBS the mean Dutch domestic annual electricity consumption in 2021 was 2810 kWh = 10 GJ .
Although this report is based on a limited amount of data, the data is quite trustworthy and therefore able to serve as a good reference, we can already conclude on important points. There is a huge potential in the amount of biomass in LvC available. Furthermore, existing efficient technologies to convert this energy source to the desired form are available, either power (electricity) or heat. However, not a real large potential for competing suppliers of small-scale gasifiers to H2 exists yet. As LvC is estimated as having the capacity of supplying more than sufficient total energy for households it can serve industrial activities as well, probably covering everything. Bottomline is that LvC has the potential to play as a frontrunner in the energy transition. Such a region must remain aware of appearing affordable associated technology. My expectations are high on the latter issue. LvC, and thus many Dutch municipalities, can be a self-sufficient energy region based on its agri-food sector. The message holds for any community over the world if a prefactor is applied. Added literature might be used to lift implementations a step higher. The author saw it as his task to uncover this potential, not unimportant, but now the vast majority of work starts by actually liberating this potential by using it and trying to make your municipality the winning team! For local applications starting the process with even a fraction of the estimated amounts is always possible and contributes to the mitigation of the climate problem.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
The author was supported by the Eindhoven Institute for Renewable Energy Systems (EIRES), Eindhoven University of Technology.
I thank Alessio Fancello, Niels Deen, and Matthew Langholtz for helpful comments and discussions. Furthermore, I appreciate the motivating roles of Wiljan Laarakkers and Roger Engelberts.
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