I attended the presentation of the completion of the Community Biomass Energy (CBE) project presented on January 11, 2012 that was a proposal of a more economical use of biomass field grasses and agricultural wastes as a fuel source. The Project Lead for this CBE project was Tony Nekut who recently passed away in September. With his involvement, valuable efforts, and support the project was able to get off the ground and evolve. Continued efforts to complete what his work had helped to make possible led to this presentation. My presence was on behalf of the New York Biomass Energy Alliance (NYBEA) with a role as their intern. Also in attendance was George Adams of CBE, John Bootle of Renewable Energy Resources, Alice Brumbach, administrator of the NYBEA, Dave Grusenmeyer, Managing Director of the NYFVI, Betsy Keokosky of the Danby Land Bank Cooperative and CBE, Bob Rynk, Associate Professor of Agricultural Engineering at SUNY Cobleskill and RBEG Project Investigator along with an intern from SUNY Cobleskill. The consultant who provided technical assistance to the CBE project and who presented was David Waage P.E. The project presented was one selected to receive technical assistance funded by the Rural Business Enterprise Grant. The selection process was performed by the NYBEA, New York Farm Viability Institute (NYFVI), and SUNY Cobleskill who all jointly administer the technical assistant program. Through this program submitted projects go through a selection process and the chosen projects are then matched up with consultants who can provide technical assistance to the project.
Recognizing the benefits of using waste hay, field grasses, and waste straw as a potential energy source that would offset fossil fuel usage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions while providing a boost to the Upstate New York farming economy, CBE proposed a concept to use these fuel sources in an economically feasible way. With the assistance of David Waage, P.E. the concept was explored and a design drafted.
The more economical approach to utilizing field grasses and waste agricultural products avoids the technical problem of low bulk density which is usually resolved through pelletizing and briquetting that is energy intensive and suffers other difficulties, by using a transportable container that delivers the field grasses as a prepared, compact fuel for burning.
The concept of the containers would be mobile storage containers that utilize rolling compaction and are self-unloading. This would ensure that the fuel grasses which are chopped to ¾ inches would maximize capacity in the transportable containers, optimizing trucking costs and providing adequate combustion. So not only are the containers used for transportation but for storage until use. By avoiding pelletizing and only performing chopping, coarse milling, drying, and rolling compaction, a power savings of 75% is projected over pelletizing. The feedstock is then readily usable for the end user to burn once it is delivered. The feedstock can be stored in the containers for long periods of time until they are needed. The design of a lid for the container will keep out moisture and other unwanted things.
The field grasses once processed at a Central Processing Facility (CPF) and ready for use have potential market to end users heating with biomass fired boilers and furnaces. Such end users would be institutions, commercial buildings, micro generating facilities, and liquid fuel facilities.
In the state of the current market, CPFs can be profitable particularly with switchgrass; and with increasing energy prices CPFs can expect even greater profit. The one fuel that it will be difficult to compete with is natural gas which is a very inexpensive fuel source compared to other fuel sources at $0.73 per therm. But liquid fuels such as fuel oil and kerosene are more attractive to replace, fuel oil having a current market value of $3.60 per therm. Based on the delivery costs of other fuels and the delivery cost of fuel grasses, field grasses can compete with liquid fuels and electric heat. This would provide savings for the end user to use field grasses over these fuels.
The farmers that provide the feedstock would benefit monetarily from the use of field grasses as a fuel source as well. Having around 200 acres of harvested land farmers could expect an average yield of two tons per acre for fuel grasses of $28,000/year at $70/ton. This would boost the economy of local farmers providing for the CPFs.
By refining this concept of using self-unloading mobile storage containers with densification and direct boiler feed capacity, it becomes economically feasible to consider the use of field grasses, switchgrass, and other agricultural wastes as a fuel source in the place of currently expensive fuel sources.
For more information about the Technical Assistance for Customer-Sited Rural Biomass Energy Projects, please contact: Alice Brumbach, firstname.lastname@example.org, 607-316-3437.