Interview with Dr Javier Parrilla-Martínez
Javier Parrilla-Martínez studied Physics at the University of Zaragoza and specialised in biomass as well as biomass fuels. Having finished his studies, he worked as a project manager and led studies on the production of heat, power, and fuel from plant oils.
He held a scholarship from the Brandenburg University of Technology, where he focused on logistic solutions for wooden biomass before he was employed at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). There he analysed energy systems and developed the software BIOSPHERE that optimises the value chains of biogenic resources.
Javier Parrilla-Martínez received his doctorate in October 2018.
- Bioenergy know-how in harvesting, densification, transport and conversion of wood resources
- Analysis of energy systems (PERSEUS, TIMES, BIOSPHERE)
- Modelling of virtual flows
Of interest to
- Public authorities fostering new infrastructures for sustainable power generation
- Suppliers and investors in the bioenergy sector
- Everyone interested in intelligent power networks
Your dissertation deals with the potential of wood. How is this potential defined, and in what ways can it be used?
Of all existing wood resources, such as forest residues, landscape wood raw material, woody green wastes, wood wastes and industrial wood residues, only the first two types currently have unexploited potentials that could be tapped. Forest residues are a waste product obtained from logging activities in forest areas with the aim of producing wood as a feedstock. Landscape wood raw material, on the contrary, is not a residue but an actually unconsumed natural resource that can be gained from trees and shrubs in wooded formations such as copses and groves.
The energy use of wood resources can occur in the form of heat, power or biofuels. My work, however, is only concerned with power generation because new base load power plants are urgently needed due to the progressive nuclear and coal phaseouts.
To generate power, this wood potential could be exploited according to either a decentralised or centralised approach, depending on which of the more cost-efficient conversion technologies is implemented. These would include the use of fluidised bed gasifiers, which can generate a maximum of 20 electrical megawatts (MWe) when connected to a gas engine, or a power capacity of at least 200 MWe if coupled to a combined cycle.
You developed a software for your research that is designed to optimise the value chain of wood resources. Which reference points does the software use to accomplish that?
The BIOSPHERE software enables decisions to be made on which actors and/or processes should be used to transform material or energy resources into new products. This energy and material flow model optimises the targeted system by minimising the total expenditures. Besides, BIOSPHERE contains a mathematical restriction for any feasible utilisation pathway—consisting of a supply chain and a conversion plant—to ensure its profitability. This will avoid uneconomical investments for plant operators and/or investors.
In order to implement this novel methodological approach, a number of equation systems with an array of new variables are required. These variables are the virtual flows and stand for the smallest indivisible energy and material flows that sequentially connect all possible successive processes within a utilisation pathway. In addition to the amount of energy, they also show a breakdown of the real energy flows into their essential components. This means that the virtual flows determine exactly what actors (processes) produce, transform and finally consume energy in the analysed system. In this respect, they will be extremely important, for example in the management of intelligent networks.
By now, sustainable energy is a public issue with high social relevance. How would you evaluate the findings of your dissertation in relation to that topic?
In terms of greenhouse gas levels, the mere generation of power from wood resources is a sustainable process. Firstly, as it consists in the thermal conversion of a carbon-neutral combustible. This means that as much carbon dioxide from combustion is emitted into the atmosphere as the trees absorb from air for their growth. Secondly, the formation of nitrogen oxides is reduced to a minimum thanks to the low operating temperatures occurring in fluidised bed systems. This minimum can, however, be cost-effectively removed by using suitable gas cleaning techniques—especially in large power plants.
Other pollutant emissions such as particulate matter, ash or soot arise to a smaller extent, but they should equally be eliminated or reduced.
It would also be important to lessen emissions along the entire supply chain from harvesting via densification to transport—possibly even by means of its electrification, especially for machinery and vehicles.
Ultimately, the unexploited potential of wood resources in Baden-Württemberg could account for up to 4% of its gross electricity consumption on a truly climate-neutral basis.
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