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Economic feasibility of a wood biomass energy system under evolving demand

Department of Electronics, Information, and Bioengineering, Politecnico di Milano, 20133 Milano, Italy

Special Issues: Thermo-chemical Conversion of Waste Biomass

In some European regions, particularly in mountainous areas, the demand for energy is evolving due to the decrease of resident population and the adoption of energy efficiency measures. Such changes are rapid enough to significantly impact on the planning process of wood-to-energy chains that are supposed to work for the following 20–25 years. The paper summarizes a study in an Italian pre-alpine district where some municipality shows a declining resident population together with increasing summer tourism. The planning of conversion plants to exploit the local availability of wood is formulated as a mathematical programming problem that maximizes the economic return of the investment, under time-varying parameters that account for the demand evolution. Such a demand is estimated from current trends, while biomass availability and transport is computed from the local cartography, through standard GIS operations. Altogether, the mixed integer optimization problem has 11 possible plant locations of different sizes and technologies taking their feedstock from about 200 parcels. The problem is solved with a commercial software package and shows that the optimal plan changes if one considers the foreseen evolution of the energy demand. As it always happen in this type of biomass-based plants, while the problem formulation is general and may be applied to other cases, the solution obtained is strongly dependent on local values and thus cannot be extrapolated to different contexts.
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