Friday, December 16, 2011

Gasification: Definition, Please!

One of the themes that is becoming increasingly obvious to us at the Better BTU is that there is a lack of standardization of terminology in our emerging industry. This makes it difficult to classify different kinds of technology and creates barriers in communication with each other and the larger audience outside the renewable energy field.

A prime example of this involves the term ‘gasification.’ Merriam-Webster defines gasification as “a conversion into gas; especially: conversion of coal into natural gas.”

This overly simplistic definition by the dictionary leaves plenty of questions. Under this definition, you can argue that the fire pit you have in your backyard is a gasifier simply because the solid wood is converted into a gas as a result of being burned. Of course, because this isn’t an environmentally sound process, most in our industry today wouldn’t acknowledge your homemade gasifier.

Because it does fall under the broad definition, however, you will find all manner of waste-to-energy projects claiming the coveted gasifier status. A quick google search on gasification will bring up projects using fluidized bed boilers, plasma gasifiers and partial-oxidation gasifiers.

While some would classify all these projects under the broad spectrum of gasifiers and organize them along a line of stoichiometric combustion, others would insist that incinerators and fluidized bed boilers don’t belong there. This lack of definition leads to confusion and makes the unknowledgeable consumer vulnerable to marketing propoganda.

Vendors using older technology are re-branding themselves as gasifiers in order to appear current; and they aren’t wrong. Under the broad definition, they are indeed gasifiers. However, today’s industry has assigned a fluid and different meaning to the term intended to relay the idea of a cleaner process that produces significantly fewer emissions.

Before we can expect the rest of the world to jump on the clean air bandwagon, we must first clean up our language. We’ve got to define and categorize our technologies based on emissions output and not the process used to get there. 



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