It has been some time since HVGE contributed to the Grass Energy blog. This is primarily due to the resignation of our former Project Manager, Libby Murphy. Libby has moved on to graduate school, but not before infusing our project with her enthusiasm and leading our team in many significant accomplishments.
An additional challenge to our project has been the extreme weather that was experienced by southeast NY in August/ September, 2011. Not only did this weather divert some of our (Soil and Water Conservation District) Project staff to flood response work, it essentially prevented our participating farmers from making ‘pellet’ hay as they attempted to cope with the many impacts of this unprecedented weather.
Despite these challenges, the Project has made some significant advances this past summer/fall. In July, we were visited by Jim Carrabba of NYCAMH who performed a safety analysis of our mobile biomass pelleting equipment/operation. Jim was able to observe our preparation and start-up procedures, and was able to observe our equipment line producing grass pellets for some time before a motor issue required us to shut down. Given that our self-contained mobile system had no real model to follow, the design instead being essentially a ‘from scratch’ amalgamation of many off-the-shelf and fabricated components, we were extremely pleased that Jim found our equipment and operational procedures to be very safe and well planned. Jim’s report did make note of several areas where suggested improvements could be made, but overall these were relatively minor concerns and they all have been addressed by our project team already.
Improvements we have made recently include a fines recycling system, a road-worthy roof over the pelleter trailer, and a safety rail around the bed of the truck that carries our gen set and pulls our pelleter trailer (0ne of Jim’s suggestions). Our talented fabricator, Toby, who is also our driver/mill operator, is currently building a storage tank on our flat bed truck that will pre-heat water using excess heat from the gen set before delivering it to the steam generator on the pelleting trailer. Previous testing suggested that our steam generator might not be generating enough steam to deal with hard-to-pellet or excessively dry materials. We are hopeful that pre-heating the water feeding the steam gen will increase its steam output sufficiently to deal with these types of materials. Among the many other things we have learned at the school of hard knocks, one is that we will encounter a wide variety of materials and moisture contents from one Hudson Valley farm to the next. While we can’t possibly deal with all of them, the more accommodating we can be – the better. A rule of thumb that seems to have coalesced is, better too dry than too wet. We can add moisture, but can’t in any practical way remove it to any significant degree.
If the weather cooperates at all, we hope to continue field operations and pellet production/testing in the coming winter months. What about grass pellet marketing and use? Briefly, two of our project team members are continuing to test the wide variety of biomass pellets we have made in residential multi-fuel stoves (a US Stove 6041 and an Enviro M-55) with very encouraging results. We are working closely with one local Town who hopes to install a small commercial scale pellet furnace in a new Dial-A-Bus garage scheduled for construction in 2012, and fuel it with biomass pellets from farms within their town. A number of other marketing initiatives are under way, but progress in this area has been slow and somewhat frustrating. This frustration results partly from the current lack of a Project Manager to keep the various initiatives on task, but also from some significant technical, institutional and related challenges to the use of biomass pellets in commercial scale heating appliances. I suspect most readers of this blog are already quite familiar with these particular issues. We also know that many of you are actively working on these and other related issues. HVGE would like to coordinate and collaborate more closely with other grass energy advocates around the Northeast. Unfortunately, we have found it to be an extreme challenge simply finding the time and organizing work days to optimize our equipment line, complete grant deliverables and visit farms that originally signed on to collaborate with us on this project. While we do have paid staff, the project still relies heavily on the contributions of volunteers and SWCD staff with limited availability. We hope to soon have a new Project Manager and to be able to interact more actively with others promoting and developing grass energy.