Millions Of Homes Could Utilize Straw As A Potential Energy Source
October 21, 2013

Millions Of Homes Could Utilize Straw As A Potential Energy Source

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

According to research published in the journal Applied Energy, straw could be used to help supply energy for homes in the future.

Researchers from several organizations found how eight to 13 million tons of straw could be used sustainably for energy or fuel production in Germany. This could provide 1.7 to 2.8 million average households with electricity and 2.8 to 4.5 million households with heating in the European country.

Scientists analyzed the development of residual substance resulting from German agriculture and found from 1950 to 2000 there was about 30 megatons of cereal straw produced each year. However, only about half of this straw was actually available in the end because not all the straw can be used.

Some of the cereal straw must be left scattered on the agricultural land to prevent nutrients from being permanently extracted from the soil. Scientists calculated the humus balance of three soils and found 8, 10 or 13 megatons of straw can be used every year for energy production.

"To our knowledge this is the first time that a study like this has been conducted for an EU country, demonstrating the potential of straw for a truly sustainable energy use, while taking into account the humus balance," Professor Daniela Thraen, scientist at the German biomass research center DBFZ and the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (UFZ), said in a statement.

Scientists determined there could be between 73 and 92 percent reduction in fossil fuels when using straw for the generation of heat, combined heat and power generation, or as second-generation biofuel production.

This study emphasizes how the use of bioenergy needs to be taken into account. The use of straw in combined heat and power generation would be best for the climate in Germany, researchers said.

"Straw should therefore primarily be used in larger district heating stations and/or combined heat and power stations, but technology must be developed for an environmentally-friendly utilization," Dr. Armin Vetter, from Thueringian regional institute for agriculture, who has been operating a straw-fueled power station for 17 years, said in a statement.

The researchers suggest straw-based energy applications be developed in Germany in regions with favorable conditions and appropriate power plants. They said this could make an important contribution to the energy turnaround.