September 20, 2006 | General

"Fueling The Future" On Biomass Industries

BioCycle September 2006, Vol. 47, No. 9, p. 51
The strong agricultural and forestry industries in northern New York provide the infrastructure for harvesting, processing and delivering biomass materials to conversion markets.
Susan Powers

NORTHERN New York is distinctively positioned to develop and utilize biomass resources. The historically strong agricultural and forestry industries provide the infrastructure for harvesting, processing, and delivering biomass materials. The area has educational and research institutions and people with vision and capacity to support and implement the development of bioenergy enterprises. The “Fuel the Future Bioenergy Summit” held at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York in June, 2006, served as a catalyst to engage stakeholders from all aspects of the biomass and energy sectors and create a common vision for sustainable bioenergy development in the North Country. Over 150 people attended the various components of the bioenergy summit, including representatives of economic development, elected government, state and national agencies, forest products industries, agriculture, environmental organizations and academia. This article summarizes the activities and findings of the summit as a part of plans to maintain momentum in moving bioenergy projects forward.
The summit included preconference field trips (see sidebar) to showcase local successes, plenary presentations to educate attendees about the opportunities and issues related to expanding the region’s bioenergy industries, and work sessions, organized by energy product and process, to define the details of where the industry stands and where it can go in future. In each of these work sessions, a bioenergy industry was viewed as a system within broader environmental and social systems (Figure 1).
The six separate work sessions covered the following bioenergy categories: Combined heat and power (CHP) from direct combustion; CHP from gasification; CHP from anaerobic digestion of agricultural/food waste; Heat from wood/grass pellet combustion; Biodiesel from soybeans or waste vegetable oil; and Ethanol fuel from corn, willow, or agricultural wastes. Each session generated a document that identified the business components related to feedstock generation, transportation, conversion, distribution and use that are currently available in the region and those that are required to enable a complete and regionally based supply-chain path from feedstock to consumer.
The summit was organized under the auspices of the Syracuse Center for Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems (COEEES), a New York State-funded umbrella under which universities, industries and state agencies work together in partnership on energy-related activities. The Clarkson University Center for the Environment hosted the event.
Northern New York has an opportunity to capitalize on its underdeveloped but significant biomass resource base and underdeveloped industrial capacity to supply growing markets for renewable energy fuels and systems. The goal of the bioenergy strategic summit was to identify how to capitalize on this opportunity. It addressed the gap between the availability of ample biomass resources in rural areas like the North Country and the realization of sustainable, biomass-based, economic activities. The overall goals for the summit included: Identify ways to improve the North Country economy through the sustainable production and use of biomass energy resources; Provide a venue to integrate the academic research, economic development, agriculture, and forestry sectors; Showcase state-of-the-art bioenergy technologies; and Generate an action plan for development of the bioenergy sector and for establishing at least one bioenergy business each in St. Lawrence and Jefferson Counties.
The intended outcomes of the summit were: Key players in the region informed about opportunities and key issues as a basis for their involvement in bioenergy development; Key issues identified as a first step toward formulating an attainable vision for commercial production and deployment of bioenergy resources and technologies in the North Country region; A bioenergy working group charged with carrying forward the work of formulating the vision, developing an action plan, and defining a strategy and identifying resources for its implementation; A network of bioenergy practitioners across the Northeast region of the United States that enables local entrepreneurs and developers to take inspiration from and build on the experience of others; Recognition of the region as an applied laboratory for developing and implementing bioenergy resources and technologies via our strong academic institutions; and Website on biomass, bioenergy and rural economic development issues developed for public access to the Summit process (
Throughout the conference, several recurring themes were addressed that are critically important for moving in this direction. They include:
o The forest and agricultural lands in Northern New York can provide an abundance of biomass resources for energy needs.
o The growth and harvest of this biomass must employ suitable practices to ensure they are indeed a sustainable and renewable resource and that they do not concurrently prevent the use of land for sufficient food and feed production or wildlife habitat. A regional authority is needed to ensure that long-term sustainability goals are met.
o The agriculture and forest industries in this region have the right infrastructure now to support increased biomass harvesting and transportation. However, this infrastructure could disappear if new markets, such as the bioenergy industry could provide, are not established soon.
o There are funding sources ready to invest in bioenergy industries. Tapping into these financial resources requires a strong business plan that includes commitments for a long-term supply of feedstock and adequate markets for the product.
o Federal and state incentives exist for renewable energy projects. These are not, however, well understood by all stakeholders.
o Local to regional coupling of feedstock sources, conversion facilities and markets can decrease the cost of the bioenergy system. Synergies with other related industries (e.g., consumers of thermal energy) can also decrease the cost of producing bioenergy.
o Community support and general education about the opportunities and benefits of bioenergy projects are critical to the development and success of new projects.
The six working groups also generated a substantial number of detailed findings and recommendations that were shared at the final plenary session. Questions for the work groups to answer included: What businesses are required to establish this overall bioenergy industry? What business components are necessary, and of those, which already exist and which provide new opportunities? What are the current barriers and incentives that impact the development of this bioenergy industry? For example, in the combined heat and power (CHP) from anaerobic digestion, feedstocks include manure, whey, and food and agricultural wastes. Existing business components include farms, food processors, wastewater treatment plants, topsoil blenders and organic farms. New business opportunities include a greenhouse or other processes co-located to use power and excess heat, and development of gas cleaning technologies. Barriers include variation in operating procedures on farms, high capital and O&M costs; incentives include net metering for farms, odor control and recycled bedding.
The ensuing discussion led to the identification of several common areas to address to move the overall bioenergy industry forward: Promote current successes and establish new ones soon; Education of the present and future workforce and farmers, as well as the general public on benefits and opportunities of bioenergy; Conduct an inventory of regional feedstocks to enable realistic business plans to be written; Organize workshops with work groups to further develop each industry; Get leadership buy in, establish champions among local state elected officials, agency representatives and representatives from each sector; Establish networks for continued dialogue (covering Forest and Farm, Energy Policy and Economic Development); Join and support allied programs (e.g., Cornell Cooperative Extension); Find and inform all about other models of success; and Write, distribute press releases related to energy progress and activities in the region.
The bioenergy summit planning committee continues to move the agenda defined by the summit forward. These efforts are being coordinated with input from several partner organizations. For example, the Cornell Cooperative Extension Service is working with Community Energy Services/NY$ Energy Smart Communities to plan a follow up workshop to educate farmers about agronomy and economic issues related to planting biodiesel feedstock crops (canola, soy). The website is also being redesigned to modify its intent from a conference information page to a longer-term mechanism to communicate with stakeholders from this region on activities, incentives and news related to bioenergy projects.
It is clear that there is a lot of potential for development of bioenergy industries. There is also a lot of work required to organize and carry out the initiatives and further develop the opportunities described in this article. An organizational structure needs to be established that includes a paid coordinator to work with leaders of multiple stakeholder groups to keep the communication and education processes moving forward.
Susan Powers is the Associate Dean for Research & Graduate Studies, Coulter School of Engineering, and Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York. She can be reached at
THE FUEL The Future Bioenergy Summit in June 2006 started out with tours of three renewable energy/biofuel sites in the Potsdam region. These sites included:
Lyonsdale Biomass – Direct Combustion CHP: Lyonsdale Biomass is an independent power company that receives wood chips and logs for heat and power generation. Direct combustion of 750 tons of wood per day creates 19MW power per hour. Excess heat is used by the adjacent Burrows Paper Company. The facility is on the edge of the Adirondack Park and is committed to sustainable forestry practices.
SUNY-ESF Sustainable Willow Wood Harvest Test Site: The willow yield trial and demonstration site is at the Belleville-Henderson Central School west of Adams, New York. Several new varieties as well as block demo plantings of shrub willows were planted in May 2004. They were coppiced last winter and resprouted this spring. Fast-growing shrub willows (Salix spp.) can be bred and selected for use as dedicated energy crops to provide a long-term, sustainable replacement for fossil fuels in temperate regions. Chips from willow can be combusted directly or gasified for combined heat and power or used as a lignocellulosic feedstock for ethanol production.
Sheland Farm Anaerobic Digester: Sheland Farm in Jefferson County has 400 milking cows. They are currently working with Siemens Corporation on the design, construction and operation of a completely mixed anaerobic digester to treat manure waste and use digester fiber for bedding. The project was under construction in June, with major components in place.

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