Court Upholds Massachusetts Biomass Plant

massflagThe state Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts has upheld the legality of a proposed biomass plant. This article from MassLive.com said the decision is the third one in favor of the $150 million project in East Springfield, but opponents swear they’ll continue the fight.

Palmer Renewable Energy, which has been pursuing the wood-to-energy plant at Cadwell Drive and Page Boulevard for the past seven years amidst legal challenges, said it looks forward to “bringing the project to fruition.”

One of the plaintiffs, Michaelann Bewsee, said the court fight appears to be over, but there are additional options available to challenge the project.

“We were disappointed but not surprised,” Bewsee said. “However we still have a few other cards to play.”

The Springfield Public Health Council is considering if it should conduct a site assignment hearing for the biomass project.

Thomas A. Mackie, a Boston lawyer representing Palmer Renewable Energy did not comment on the company’s next steps. The company had two building permits issued for the project that had been on hold during the legal challenges.

“This ruling closes an important chapter in our effort to bring a $150 million green energy project to the City of Springfield,” Mackie said, “The SJC’s decision clearly and emphatically reaffirms that Palmer Renewable Energy has complied with every legal requirement and met every environmental standard needed to move forward.”

Genera Partners with Drone Company for Biomass

generaBiomass energy company Genera has teamed up with a drone company to improve the efficiency and quality of sustainable biomass crop production and distribution. This news release from the company says it is working with PrecisionHawk to develop algorithms to assess crop health and productivity using aerial farm imagery collected by satellites and drones.

“Working with PrecisionHawk to develop advanced data collection and analysis tools elevates commercial-scale biomass supply chains to the forefront of technological innovation for crop management, risk reduction, and efficiency” said Dr. Sam Jackson, Vice President of Business Development at Genera. “PrecisionHawk is the leading company in remote sensing in a variety of industries, including agriculture. Partnering our agronomic knowledge and skills with their outstanding technology platform is a win not only for us, but for the entire biomass industry.”

Since 2008, Genera Energy has grown to be the industry leader in biomass supply and supply chain services. Its expertise in dedicated energy crops allows it to provide unique services and solutions to its customers. The first group of research tools to be developed under the new partnership will focus on lignocellulosic crops, core to Genera’s expertise.

“This partnership is a great opportunity to develop decision support tools that provide a more sustainable and efficient path for energy production,” said Dr. Allison Ferguson, Director of Education and Research Partnerships at PrecisionHawk. “Genera Energy has built an impressive reputation in agriculture and energy, and we look forward to offering this suite of useful solutions for the betterment of the industry.”

The technology uses the DataMapper software platform.

Texas A&M Developing Biofuel, Forage Crop

jessupamResearchers at Texas A&M University are developing a crop that will double as a bioenergy and livestock forage source. This news release from the school says Dr. Russ Jessup, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research perennial grass breeder in College Station, is introducing a new biofuel-biomass feedstock hybrid that is a hybrid “similar to seedless watermelons, seedless grapes and other sterile triploid crops.”

Jessup is utilizing two grass species: pearl millet, a grain crop, and Napier grass, which is a very high-biomass crop that can be crossed to make progeny that are sterile triploids in the field.

“This is a dual-use crop with a low seed cost, high yield potential and quality perennial biomass suitable for both forage and dedicated biofuels,” he said. “So in light of current downtrends in oil prices, this crop can stand on its own as a forage crop in the interim, until that reverses.”

As a high-quality forage crop, Jessup said, it is sterile in the field but has seeded parents, unlike sugarcane that has to be planted from stocks.

To produce this hybrid he started with the larger seeded but shorter pearl millet to give it quality, large seeds and drought tolerance. Pearl millet is native to Africa and can be more drought tolerant than even sorghum, he said.

Then he crossed it with Napier grass, a closely related cousin of pearl millet that is grown in Africa for cut-and-carry silage and high biomass fodder.

“You can cross these two species and get ample seed off of the pearl millet parent,” Jessup said.

Canadian Province Puts in More Biomass Burners

canada flagThe government of a Canadian province is putting in more biomass burners at government facilities. This article from The Guardian says Prince Edward Island will have seven more biomass installations to go along with the 13 already in place at government properties.

“Biomass heat is a local, renewable, carbon neutral resource, and government is leading the way for biomass heat,” said [Energy Minister Paula Biggar].

Prince Edward Island’s total energy mix is made up of approximately 10 per cent biomass energy.

Biggar says Island biomass installations have displaced 2.4 million litres of fuel oil, which resulted in a reduction of 6,500 tonnes of greenhouse gas and cost-savings of more than $200,000 since 2012.

The installations planned for 2016 could result in a further reduction of 2.6 million litres of fuel oil and 7,200 tonnes of green house gas, per year.

One tonne of biomass chips can produce up to four megawatt hours of heat, which displaces approximately 580 litres of fuel oil.

The biomass is harvested through selective thinning of forests.

60% New Electricity Generation Renewable Power

Becoming a trend, renewable energy sources accounted for more 60.2 percent of the 7,276 of new electrical generation placed in service in the U.S. during the first three quarters of 2015. According to the latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Office of Energy Projects, 26 new units of wind totaling 2,966 MW of new electrical generation have been placed in service so far this year. This accounted for 40.76 percent of all new capacity brought online year-to-date.  Among renewable sources, solar followed with 1,137 MW (142 units), biomass with 205 MW (16 units), geothermal steam with 45 MW (1 unit), and hydropower with 27 MW (18 units). Thirty-four units of natural gas contributed 2,884 MW.

wind power in Iowa

Photo Credit: Joanna Schroeder

Only 9 MW of new generation from oil and 3 MW from coal were put into production and there was no new capacity from nuclear power. In total, new capacity from renewable energy sources so far this year is 1,460 times greater than that from coal while new capacity from wind alone exceeds that from natural gas. In just September, wind (448 MW) again dominated, with 54.83 percent of new capacity followed by natural gas (346 MW), and solar (20 MW).

Renewable energy sources now account for 17.40 percent of total installed operating generating capacity in the U.S.: water – 8.59 percent, wind – 5.91 percent, biomass – 1.43 percent, solar – 1.13 percent, and geothermal steam – 0.34 percent (for comparison, renewables were 16.35 percent of capacity in September 2014 and 15.68 percent in September 2013). The share of total installed capacity from solar alone has more than doubled over the past two years (1.13% vs. 0.54%). Total installed capacity from non-hydro renewables (8.81%) now exceeds that from conventional hydropower (8.59%).

“With Congress and numerous states now questioning the ability of renewable energy sources to meet targets called for in the Administration’s new Clean Power Plan (CPP), the explosive growth of wind, solar, biomass, hydropower, and geothermal in recent years confirms that it can be done,” noted Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “In fact, the latest FERC data suggest that the CPP’s goals are unduly modest and renewables will handily surpass them.”

Cellulosic Biofuels Celebrated at DuPont Plant Opening

DuPont cellulosic grand openingNevada, Iowa is officially home to the world’s largest cellulosic ethanol biorefinery with the official plant commissioning. When the DuPont facility is at full production, in about a year, it will produce 30 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol from agricultural residues such as corn stover.

The celebration was kicked off with the National Anthem sung by music legend Simon Estes followed by nearly a dozen speakers. The first to take the stage was William Freehery, president, DuPont Industrial Sciences who discussed the theme of DuPont’s advanced biofuels production: “RE. FORM. ENERGY”. Freehery focused his remarks on how the company is changing the way the world thinks about biofuels. He explained how their technology is “reforming” how energy is produced and in the future and how they will “reform” ways to create new materials, “reform” new ways to use them and “reform” new ways to produce them.

“What is significant about today is that we’ve reinvented manufacturing itself,” said Feehery. “Feeding renewable biomass into a commercial scale industrial facility. We’ve also reinvented how we think of and supply energy, and our next act will be reinventing how we turn those same agricultural feedstocks into to new types of materials that people use everyday.”

Also speaking was an individual who came to Nevada to turn the dream of cellulosic ethanol production into reality: Terraun Jones, operations manager. He was lured to Iowa on the platform of his fascination of turning agricultural waste, something Iowa has too much of, into biofuel and bioproducts. When he arrived, his first task was to create the foundation for the plant -the pouring of concrete and adding steel. “It was not just the foundation of our facility, but it was the foundation of an entirely new industry and renewable energy,” said Jones.

Photo: Joanna Schroeder

Photo: Joanna Schroeder

Event speakers included: Host: Jan Koninckx, Global Business Director, DuPont Biofuels; Simon Estes; William Feehery, President, DuPont Industrial Biosciences; Honorable Terry Branstad, Governor, State of Iowa; Honorable Kim Reynolds, Lieutenant Governor, State of Iowa; Honorable Chuck Grassley, U.S. Senator, State of Iowa; Honorable Steve King, U.S. Representative, State of Iowa; Honorable Bill Northey, Secretary of Agriculture, State of Iowa; Terraun Jones, DuPont Employee Representative; Honorable Lynn Lathrop, Mayor, City of Nevada; Dr. Johnathan Male, U.S. Department of Energy;  and Brian Sampson, Grower Harvest Program.

Listen to the full program here: DuPont Cellulosic Biorefinery Welcome Program

Renewable Industries Call on Secy of State for Support

COP 21 is fast approaching and the U.S. will be in the spotlight for its efforts to reduce climate change impacts. In anticipation of the worldwide climate event, leaders of the U.S. biomass, geothermal and hydropower industries are urging Secretary of State John Kerry to support a “pan-renewable technologies approach”. The National Hydropower Association, Biomass Power Association and Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) said in the letter that today these technologies provide 86 percent of the world’s renewable power and this amount is anticipated to grow in the coming years.

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 2.57.22 PM“As baseload renewable power technologies, our industries are particularly critical to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and we encourage Secretary Kerry to recognize the contributions our industries are making to fight climate change,” said Linda Church Ciocci, executive director of the National Hydropower Association.

The letter highlighted some of hydropower, biomass and geothermal benefits:

  • Hydropower was the leading renewable power technology in each of the top five renewable electricity producing countries: China, U.S., Brazil, Canada and Russia.
  • Biomass provides a significant percentage of renewable power around the world, and was the leading renewable electricity source in Germany in 2014, providing 10% of the country’s electricity.
  • Geothermal provides power in 24 countries, including 51% of in-country power supply in Kenya, where these additions are credited with reducing consumer bills by over 30%.

Karl Gawell, GEA executive director, called on the Administration to increase its support of renewable electricity generation. “We are asking for a U.S. approach that recognizes hydropower, biomass power and geothermal power are also important contributors to avoiding fossil fuel emissions today and will be important contributors to meeting future climate goals.

The group stressed in the letter, “. . .[P]ower grids will continue to be a vital means for electricity delivery. Therefore, enhancing the grid and grid-connected technologies is important.

Bob Cleaves, president, Biomass Power Association, added, “Biomass power is recognized the world over for its many environmental and economic benefits. As a baseload power source, it’s an essential part of any renewable energy mix that uses low-value materials that often have no other use. Biomass will play an important role in reducing the use of fossil fuels.”

Growth Supports Next Energy Generation

The next generation of renewable energy, and by extension agricultural experts, are in college and now have an opportunity for some financial support. Growth Energy is providing $90,000 in scholarships over the next three years to students majoring in agricultural education.  The “Upper Division” scholarships will be awarded by the National Association of Agricultural Education and given to students during their student teaching appointments.

NAAE logo“Student teaching can be a financial strain on agricultural education majors,” said Dr. Wm. Jay Jackman, NAAE executive director. “They spend every day teaching, so they are essentially working a full-time job with no pay. There is a national shortage of agriculture teachers, so anything we can do to help students finish their degree and get into the classroom is critical.”

Previously, NAAE’s Upper Division Scholarships were $750 each, and approximately 15 were given each year. Growth Energy’s gift means that the scholarship amounts will be doubled, and beginning in 2016, more of these larger scholarships will be awarded.

Tom Buis, co-chair of Growth Energy added, “There is nothing more important to the future of agriculture than those who wish to enter a career that will help further the innovation, promise and bounty of America’s farmers. American agriculture and those invested in it are the backbone of this nation and Growth Energy is thrilled to help support the future leaders of this industry. We are thrilled to help support those who will write the next great chapter of American excellence by providing food, feed and fuel to move our nation forward.”

Growth Energy’s gift is a special project of the National FFA Foundation.

Coal-fired Plant in MO Soon to Burn Biomass

columbiawaterlightA Central Missouri coal-burning power plant that’s been around for more than 100 years will soon get new life using biomass as its fuel. This story from KOMU-TV says Columbia Water and Light’s Municipal Power Plant burned its last coal on Sept. 22 and is undergoing changes to burn the cleaner biomass.

[Columbia Water and Light spokesperson Connie] Kacprowicz said Columbia’s energy efficiency initiative is part of the reason the plant is undergoing changes. In 2004, voters passed the energy mandate before the city council increased the percentages. The ordinance says Columbia must generate 15 percent of its electric sales from renewable sources by 2018. The percentages jump to 25 percent by 2023 and 30 percent by 2029. Kacprowicz said Water and Light is experimenting with several alternatives to coal.

“Our plans at this point are to test out more biomass, which is an approved renewable resource according to Columbia’s ordinance,” Kacprowicz said. “But you can’t just all of a sudden switch from coal to biomass.”

Kacprowicz said the city must either find a biomass that mimics coal or switch out some of the equipment at the plant. The plant was burning small amounts of wood, a type of biomass source, in addition to its coal production.

Christian Johanningmeier, the power production superintendent, said the plant’s experience burning wood makes it a good candidate as an alternative energy source.

“We are looking at converting one of our boilers to 100 percent wood,” Johanningmeier said. “We have lots of years of experience burning the wood and we know that’s a good fuel, it’s readily available and it seems like it works good for us.”

Maine Biomass Plant Gets $500K USDA Grant

woodpelletsA Maine-based power plant is getting $556,520 in U.S. Department of Agriculture grants. This article from BDN Maine says Athens Energy is getting the money to build a new biomass-fueled power generator that runs on wood waste from logging and timberland thinning operations.

The USDA said the proposed Athens biomass plant would produce enough electricity to power about 5,409 homes. It would use $56,520 of the award to use waste heat from the biomass generator to dry wood chips at an adjacent pellet plant, owned by a sister company.

The agency also gave $500,000 to a subsidiary of the company Village Green Ventures, VGBLADS LLC, to build an anaerobic digester that can produce enough electricity to power 727 homes.

USDA also awarded grants to a dozen other rural Maine businesses, mostly to install roof-mounted or sun-tracking pole-mounted solar panels.