NICENICHE FOR CASHCROPSOFFUELBIOMASS…
The development of electricity generating stations in central
Ireland could provide a useful and profitable outlet for
growers entering the biomass market, believes Jim Martin
DIFFICULT times encourage farmers to look for alternative incomes – and one avenue to explore could be the cultivation of biomass, says Jim Martin who has spent all his working life in such developments.
"With the introduction of electricity generating stations in central Ireland which currently use large amounts of peat, it would appear that a good opportunity exists for farmers to exploit energy requirements by growing cash crops of fuel biomass," he says.
Mr Martin advocates the planting of willow or similar quick growing timber, with it being harvested after a three or four-year growing period.
At each of the various Bord na Mona peat briquette factories and ESB milled peat fuelled generation stations there is a large volume bunker to mix and blend the various types and moistures of milled peat – the intention being to produce a uniform fuel for the power station.
This, says Mr Martin, would be very useful for a farmer sending in quantities of biomass – forestry waste, coppiced willow or coppiced trees, for example.
"Chipped biomass fuel is similar in moisture content, calorific value and density to milled peat and could be blended with milled peat with little difficulty," he explains. "Delivered price to be expected could be £13/t grossing about £130/acre for the supplier."
Mr Martin estimates there to be an annual market of 1m tonnes for biomass fuel in Ireland, which would represent about 25% of the present consumption of milled peat.
This would require a production area of some 40,000 ha (100,000 acres) and would provide a cash crop of about £13m to about 3000 farmers each growing 13ha (33 acres).
The supply of more than a quarter of present peat requirements to Bord na Mona and ESB would be purely a matter of availability – the Bord na Mona could use up to 50% of chipped wood biomass in briquette manufacture without problems, whilst the ESB could replace all its milled peat fuel by biomass chipped wood with benefits for its CO2 emissions.
Despite Mr Martins clear enthusiasm for extensive biomass production in central Ireland – and the advantages it would offer farmers – he concedes the way forwards is not easy.
"The advantages will not be sufficient to gain a welcome for such plans to briquette factories or ESB generating stations using milled peat – even if the biomass fuel costs less than the milled peat," he says.
"It would require the Irish Farmers Association to produce organised support on behalf of the body of interested farmers prepared to supply biomass on a long-term basis." *