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Archive for March, 2011

By Doreen Barker

Since we have been mentioned in prior blogs, I think it would be best to help others understand who we are and why Broome Biomass came about.

Rich Barrows was a sixth generation dairy farmer until 1985, when he left agriculture and became a sheet metal worker. He owns approximately 80 tillable acres that have not been properly utilized over the past decade. In 2009, he began researching different crops that could be planted. Leaning toward non-traditional plants for renewable energy, he discovered that Cornell University was hosting a field day about switch grass. We decided to attend.

We listened to the speakers discuss the grass as a renewable energy resource and the sales person in me starting to wonder… “What and where do you send it once harvested?” I have worked in sales and marketing for nearly two decades. It is second nature for me to wonder what the answers are. After the speakers were done and people were milling about, I started asking questions to those that were there. Light bulbs kept flashing in my head as I kept hearing all the negatives. Statements of “Nowhere to send it. It needs processing. Too much ash,” kept ringing in my ears. The marketing side of me started asking, “Is it just specific to switch grass or all grass?”

Rich and I discussed all we had learned for a couple of days before we discovered EnviroEnergy, the Millers, in Unadilla. We decided to take the nearly two hour road trip to go for a visit. So there is no confusion, EnviroEnergy produces grass pellets for combustion and from my understanding they work with the Catskill Grass Energy Project. Bob Miller was patient and walked us through the entire process, answered questions and discussed the hang-ups with grass energy. Bob taught us a considerable amount about grass energy that day but, there were still too many unanswered questions.

After that, we spent many hours on the phone, the computer and at the library discovering all the information we could about biomass in general (all aspects) and other sustainable energy. I have worked full time since that fateful day in August of 2009. Actually, it has become an obsession and I live, eat and breathe grass biomass. Rich has worked diligently to discover alternative options of production, seed mixtures, harvesting methods and combustion cycles. I have worked hard to develop a marketing strategy. I have spent time learning test results, burn cycles, ash contents, mineral and chemical compositions, effects of moisture contents, and different process methods. I have also spent time seeking advice through world-wide industry leaders. We are both very passionate about what grass energy can do for the agricultural industry. This is our largest driving factor for grass as a renewable energy.

From our initial assessment, we discovered the need for a consistent product that could fit into industrial or commercial parameters. To fulfill that need, it was discovered that the most efficient way to produce was by making a product that is very similar to the old alfalfa cubes used to feed horses. We also discovered an area within our region that needed just this sort of business. We chose Tioga County, New York due to the simple fact that farm land usage has seen drastic reductions over the last five to ten years. This will provide us with the opportunity to utilize the currently unused acres and not interrupt traditional farming methods. We are in the process of finalizing our timeline for construction and are anticipating being in full production by July.

Grass energy is a fickle industry. I think the largest downfall to the industry is the perception that grass isn’t a workable material for combustion. Most of us involved with this blog know different and there seems to be an increasing awareness out there…but, I will caution this one detail: we all need to be diligent and put nothing but the best products we can produce into the market stream. One wrong move could cripple the grass energy market within our region. It is going to take determination and dedication moving forward to secure the future for all.

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I will try to complete the overview of our installations.

The rest of the story about the Quadrafire is that we have been able to burn these stoves successfully at two locations.

We finally interfaced with the proper person at Hearth and Home Technologies who supplied us with the latest tables to burn grass pellets. The first unit that we removed was reinstalled in the dining hall at the 4H camp in Delaware County. This unit has functioned as well as we had expected from the success at Cornell University.

The second Mt Vernon was installed this fall and it too is burning grass with no major problems. The one drawback with this unit is the rather small ash pan. The inherently higher ash content of grass dictates the frequent emptying  of the receptacle and as already stated in other posts the units, stoves and furnaces, need frequently cleaning to function properly.

Last post I commented on the Central Boiler furnaces. I will now continue reporting on our other hydronic furnaces. We have placed three Woodmaster pellet furnaces into service, two ASF 1100 and one AFS 900. All of these units work very well when they are operating. The AFS 11oo are manual light that are lighted with a starter gel once lighted they burn constantly but switch to a maintenance mode when the water jacket reaches operating temperature. In this mode the unit cycles the feed and air blower on and off to maintain a small fire until the jacket temp falls calling for more heat.The AFS 900 is a newer model and has auto ignition. The pellets are ignited by an electric ignition module. When the furnace reaches operating temperature the feed stops and the fire is allowed to go out until a call for more heat and the unit re fires. There have been some issues with the feed systems especially the larger AFS 1100 . We are using large poly feed bins that were supplied with the furnaces. These larger bins require a long auger from the bin to the furnace. The bins were difficult to position in such a way as to insure the augers were straight and true. Because of this we have had breakdowns of the feed auger systems. We are working along with the manufacture to solve these issues.

We have found that Grass Bio-Fuel is a viable heat source and the problems we have experienced do not mean that this renewable energy source is too problematic to be successful. The project to date has shown that Grass Pellets can be used as a clean and efficient heat source.   It must be remembered that all of out appliances are now older technology. The biofuel industry in this country is still evolving and I think the manufacturers are beginning to address problems with these earlier products.

We have not experienced any corrosion issues to this point and have extended the project to determine how our appliances will hold up in real world setting. We also are interested in if the available units can be used successfully by the average homeowner. Some think the future of bio-energy is in larger scale  commercial installations but I for one am not ready to give up on the use of this heat source for residential use.

Catskill Grass Energy Project personnel will be at the HeatNE 2001 Conference and I hope to meet some of our readers there.

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