May 24, 2006 | General

Editorial: Creating Renewable Energy When It's Needed Most

BioCycle May 2006, Vol. 47, No. 5, p. 4
Jerome Goldstein

Six years have gone by since BioCycle organized the first annual conference on Renewable Energy From Organics Recycling. During that time since 2001, the world has transitioned into a series of petroleum woes that have made initiatives into renewable energy all the more urgent and compelling. Whether sited at operating facilities, company and university laboratories or showing up as hard-won policies in state legislatures, these initiatives will be described at the upcoming Sixth Annual Conference to be held in Minneapolis, Minnesota October 30-31 and November 1, 2006.
Our theme, Power from Organics, stresses what it takes to develop renewable energy systems where public priorities, research knowledge and commercial markets come together. Biomass recovery from woody materials, MSW, crop residuals, manure and food processing wastes must be accomplished now. We can create fuels like biogas, biodiesel and ethanol – plus healthy soils – by using anaerobic digestion, fermentation, gasification and composting.
“In addition to technologies, this Conference covers economics, environmental impacts, marketing and public policy,” declared Floyd Barwig, executive director of the Iowa Energy Center, at a plenary session in 2001. “These are pieces of a radical change whose nature, pace and eventual scope will only be understood with the benefit from hindsight. This is not a centrally planned change, but a messy chaotic process that can take a long time, and then all of sudden, seem to appear overnight. We have a whole new perspective on national security after September 11.” Our focus then as now is on organic residuals and biomass conversion. Our speakers stressed that “anything you can make out of petroleum, you can make out of renewable biomass.”
While we continue to be forced to hear platitudes and empty wishes from our nation’s capital in Washington, DC, we are reinforced by the actions that come from individual states. Such as Wisconsin where, Governor Jim Doyle set up the Consortium on Biobased Industry to use biobased products for bioenergy generation. The Consortium is assessing ethanol (including cellulosic ethanol), biopower, anaerobic digestion and biodiesel.
Minnesota agencies and companies are actively developing ways to turn organic wastes – over six million tons annually by 2020 – into renewable energy opportunities. At the Conference, you’ll hear firsthand how these concepts are being fulfilled through new projects and research studies. With the active participation of Conference cosponsors – staff at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, NRG Processing Solutions, Great Lakes Regional Biomass Energy Program, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, energy departments, power companies and economic development agencies and other groups – the speakers will explain the progress being made and hurdles overcome.
You’ll also find out how New York State is making biofuel in vats that once brewed Miller Lite and how ethanol is replacing MTBE, the gasoline additive that causes groundwater contamination. Governor George Pataki has allocated $20 million to produce noncorn-based ethanol and open up fuel stations to market the fuel.
In New England, consumer-owned energy cooperatives are using sustainable resources to create an energy future that is locally-rooted to produce biodiesel from waste vegetable oil. On the West Coast, major projects are converting food processing residuals into methane recovery. And back to Minnesota, where centralized digesters are serving the needs of regional farms and communities. We are definitely on the right track to achieve meaningful goals.
Let’s accelerate the pace. See you in Minneapolis in October.

Sign up