San Miguel Alfaro, Guillermo and Corona Bellostas, Blanca
Hybridizing concentrated solar power (CSP) with biogas and biomethane as an alternative to natural gas: Analysis of environmental performance using LCA.
"Renewable Energy", v. 66
Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) plants typically incorporate one or various auxiliary boilers operating in parallel to the solar field to facilitate start up operations, provide system stability, avoid freezing of heat transfer fluid (HTF) and increase generation capacity. The environmental performance of these plants is highly influenced by the energy input and the type of auxiliary fuel, which in most cases is natural gas (NG). Replacing the NG with biogas or biomethane (BM) in commercial CSP installations is being considered as a means to produce electricity that is fully renewable and free from fossil inputs. Despite their renewable nature, the use of these biofuels also generates environmental impacts that need to be adequately identified and quantified. This paper investigates the environmental performance of a commercial wet-cooled parabolic trough 50 MWe CSP plant in Spain operating according to two strategies: solar-only, with minimum technically viable energy non-solar contribution; and hybrid operation, where 12 % of the electricity derives from auxiliary fuels (as permitted by Spanish legislation). The analysis was based on standard Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology (ISO 14040-14040). The technical viability and the environmental profile of operating the CSP plant with different auxiliary fuels was evaluated, including: NG; biogas from an adjacent plant; and BM withdrawn from the gas network. The effect of using different substrates (biowaste, sewage sludge, grass and a mix of biowaste with animal manure) for the production of the biofuels was also investigated. The results showed that NG is responsible for most of the environmental damage associated with the operation of the plant in hybrid mode. Replacing NG with biogas resulted in a significant improvement of the environmental performance of the installation, primarily due to reduced impact in the following categories: natural land transformation, depletion of fossil resources, and climate change. However, despite the renewable nature of the biofuels, other environmental categories like human toxicity, eutrophication, acidification and marine ecotoxicity scored higher when using biogas and BM.