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2003/04 Challenges

PPL Challenge #1

Look at creative ways to convert biomass into electricity.  Research the issues (types of biomass energy resources, costs, benefits, impediments, etc.). Develop a business case that provides a well-researched direction that PPL could pursue to increase energy production from biomass resources.

Attention: Students of the winning team for this Challenge will receive two shares each of PPL Corporation Stock.


PPL Biomass Challenge Background:

Using a diverse fuel mix of fossil fuels, nuclear power, renewables and new technology to generate electricity is a sound business strategy. In the area of renewables, there is potential to generate electricity from biomass resources.  But some key questions arise: Is biomass cost effective? If it is more costly than existing resources, will customers pay extra because of its environmental benefits? Is there a sufficient demand to warrant investment into biomass as an energy resource to make electricity?

So what is biomass?  Essentially, biomass is any living or recently living organic matter, chiefly plant matter.  The definition extends itself to materials and wastes produced by or from living matter, such as paper, cardboard, lumber, even manure and sewage.  Also, much of garbage burned at municipal solid waste incinerators is classified as biomass, as is landfill gas that results from the decomposition of organic material in landfills.

According the United States Department of Energy (US DOE), biomass materials that are byproducts from activities such as wood products manufacturing, construction, agriculture, and forest harvesting or management are referred to as "residues."   In many cases, these residues represent an inexpensive and clean source with which to produce energy.

Conventional and advanced technologies such as boilers, turbines, Sterling engines, gasifiers, fuel cells and others can be used to produce thermal and electrical energy from biomass feedstocks/fuels. 

Biomass is the second most used renewable power generation resource in the U.S., having more than 12,300 MW (megawatt) of installed capacity. The 71 billion kWh (kilowatt-hour) of electricity produced each year from biomass is more than the entire state of Colorado uses annually.

In 2000, Pennsylvania generated a little over 2 billion kWh of electricity from biomass sources.  This is just over 1% of the total electricity generated in the state for that year. The US DOE estimates that 10.8 billion kWh of electricity could be generated using renewable biomass fuels in Pennsylvania. This is enough electricity to fully supply the annual needs of 1,080,000 average homes, or 26 percent of the residential electricity use in Pennsylvania.

Other states may have similar potential for biomass use.


Among the benefits of using renewable fuels, such as biomass, are the reductions in air pollutants, which contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, acid precipitation, excess nitrogen deposition (eutrophication) in watersheds such as the Chesapeake Bay, and the number of reported respiratory ailments.


Economics – old large power plants are completely paid for and more cost effective to operate than building new power plants (you may want to research the benefits of co-firing, the mixing of fuels, when using biomass).

Demand – is there sufficient demand from the public to warrant constructing or modifying existing power plants to utilize biomass feedstocks for environmental and health benefits?

Consumer Cost – is the public willing to accept any price increases that may be realized by generating power from a cleaner, renewable energy source?

Sustainability – a power generating company must be assured that sufficient feedstock material can be obtained for many years and at a reasonable cost to warrant construction and/or operation of newly powered station.

Lack of information and confidence – is there enough information available to decision makers and consumers about the technology, benefits, costs, etc. to enable an educated decision and feel confident?

Change is difficult – change, sometimes because of its uncertainty, is difficult to implement and accept.

PPL Expectations

Business Case Considerations – A professionally presented Business Case can have various formats, but should address certain key items including key assumptions and risks, short and long term objectives, resource requirements, and expected revenue. An executive summary that explains your findings and recommendations is desirable.

Technical Considerations – Consider investigating the opportunity of establishing multiple small sources of biomass power that might capitalize on local or regionally abundant feedstocks, such as forestry or agricultural residues. Think about the benefits that such a “distributed power” network might provide over a larger centralized power plant. Consider the optimal size of a plant and concerns associated with transportation of the biomass material. Research opportunities or drawbacks of Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). If in place, a RPS obligates each retailer seller of electricity to include a certain amount of electric generation from renewables in its resource portfolio.

Please remember that it is hard to qualify something if you don’t quantify it.  In other words, include as much data in your response as possible.  This might mean defining the tons of biomass material available within a certain mile radius of a proposed site, the number of kWh or mWh or Btu’s that could be generated, an approximate cost for ton of material, and more.

Suggested Research Areas:

PA Biomass Fact sheet:

PA Energy Resources:

The Northeast Regional Biomass Program:

Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS):

The US DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory Bioenergy Information Network:

A directory of bioenergy businesses in the US and internationally:

US DOE's Biopower web site:

A link to determine the quantities of wood residues, state and by county:

Information from a technology vendor on waste to energy technology

Two anaerobic digester fact sheets from PSU:
http://server.age.psu.edu/extension/Factsheets/g/G77.pdf and http://server.age.psu.edu/extension/Factsheets/g/G86.pdf

A publication on biomass technologies:

A publication on biomass co-firing:

A publication on direct firing biomass:

A publication on biomass gasification:

A publication on biomass feedstock availability by state and delivered cost:

PPL Timeline:

Written Proposal —You must submit your written proposal for the PPL Challenge by March 12, 2004.

Oral Presentation — Your team coordinator will be notified by April 2, 2004 whether or not you are selected to give an oral presentation. If you are, the presentation will be held on Thursday, May 6, 2004 at PPL Headquarters in Allentown, PA. You will be sent directions and an agenda.

PPL Awards for Winning Teams:

Each student on the team winning of the PPL Biomass Challenge will receive 2 shares of PPL Corporation Stock. Each student on the runner-up team (if one is selected) will receive one share. Also, the winning team will receive a team trophy suitable for the school’s trophy case, and each student taking part in the PPL Oral Presentation will receive a Let’s Get Real T-shirt.

About PPL Corporation:

PPL Corporation is a worldwide energy corporation. PPL generates electricity at power plants in the northeastern and western United States, sells electricity in key U.S. markets, and delivers energy in Pennsylvania, the United Kingdom, and Latin America.


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