The state of Illinois has formed the Illinois Biomass Working Group (IBWG) to study near-term uses for biomass in Illinois. The team is comprised of academics, government, industry and the private sector. Ted Funk, an Extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University of Illinois is one of the founding members and saw the need for the group because “everyone is talking about liquid biofuels.”
“Can we grow biomass on the farm and put it in your car tank? Yes, we know it’s possible, and we’re getting closer to that day, but we’re still sometime away from it,” said Funk. “My fear is that we’ll have a bio-refinery system built, based on what we’re learning about turning cellulosic materials into liquid product, but we won’t know how to get huge quantities of biomass to those refineries.
Funk said he felt there was a need to pull people together to discuss opportunities, what markets are available today that could accept large quantities of biomass and how to put together supply chains.
To answer those questions, Funk and others, including Hans Blaschek and Natalie Bosecker from the Center for Advanced BioEnergy Research at Illinois, and Fred Iutzi from the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University, organized a conference to analyze three markets they felt were currently open to the use of biomass for heat and power. One market is pellets to replace liquid propane, a second market is biomass to replace some of the coal used in industrial boilers and the third market is gasification.
“The IBWG has been an excellent way to get the right people in the room and start talking about possibilities,” added Funk. “We feel that the main function of the IBWG is to identify supply chains and put things together,” he concluded, “so that when the bio-refinery system is here, the supply chains will be here as well.”