Sustainable Energy

The bus bringing biomass... to the masses

Anmar Frangoul | Special to
Bringing biomass to the masses

An increasingly important part of the global energy mix, biomass can be derived from a range of sources, including wood and food waste, and even crops such as sugarcane and corn.

Heaters are used to burn wood pellets and the like, offering consumers an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional forms of heating and generation.

JillKyle | iStock | Getty Images

But although its green credentials are well known (the U.K.'s Energy Savings Trust says that in a four bedroom, solid wall detached home, replacing a coal-fired system with a wood-pellet boiler saves around 15.4 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually) there is one issue that is sometimes overlooked: often, the factory-produced granules have to travel long distances before they reach biomass boilers -- increasing environmental footprints.

In the Alsace region of France, one company, H-énergie, has come up with a solution: a mobile granulator that visits farmers and helps reduce the need for travel.

"For the environment, the fact that the granulator is mobile is advantageous, because it reduces the need for transport – raw materials can be processed on location rather than at a factory," H-énergie co-inventor Xavier Remond told CNBC's Sustainable Energy.

He said that previously, the by-products of agricultural processes were left to decompose – but now they're reused.

"It's advantageous because we go to a farmer, for example, and transform the raw materials that he has stored there. Otherwise, they wouldn't be used," Remond added.

Winemaker Xavier Muller says he has directly benefited from the service offered by H-énergie.

"It's true that, since this mobile granulator exists, it's a lot easier as it's the company that comes to me and transforms my wood into granules that I can use in my wood burner," he said.

"It saves a lot of transport and allows me to make use of the diseased vine shoots I would otherwise have to destroy."

This comes at a time when the popularity of biomass is growing. Consumption of biomass energy increased by over 60 percent between 2002 and 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, with biomass in 2013 accounting for around half of all renewable energy consumed and 5 percent of energy in the U.S.