Archive for the ‘Conferences’ Category

I am excited about the one-day Agricultural Biomass Heating Seminar that is coming up on March 21 in Saratoga Springs! The seminar is being held in conjunction with the Northeast Biomass Heating Expo 2012. For full details and registration information, go to: http://www.heatne.com/program.html . This seminar will provide a major opportunity to advance the development of grass energy by bringing together leading players in the agricultural biomass arena. It is our big chance to bring many good but independent efforts together into a coherent whole.

Here is a sketch of the day’s agenda. The seminar will open with a keynote address from Christopher T. Wright, Ph.D., Manager, Idaho National Laboratory, Biofuels & Renewable Energy Technologies. The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has been a leader in bioenergy research and development. Chris will describe INL’s expertise, capabilities and desire to work with and enable industry to make bioenergy a reality, with a focus on the Northeast.

Following the keynote address will be a succession of four panel presentations.
The first is on Agri-Biomass Performance Characteristics, moderated by Sid Bosworth. His panel will draw from regional knowledge of the variety of agricultural biomass crops being converted to fuel. The focus will be on viable biomass crops for the Northeast and which ones are the most promising. The panelists will speak to a range of performance characteristics i.e. ash, chlorine, production costs, land use, time of harvest, fertility mgmt, etc.

The second panel, starting after lunch, deals with Processing Agri-Biomass, moderated by Matt McCardle. Case studies will give examples of different methods being used in the region to process grass as a commercial biomass fuel including mobile units and stationary systems. Quality standards, storage & handling, and improving efficiency will be covered.
The third panel will examine Combustion & Emissions, moderated by Jon Montan. Case studies will give examples of successful ag biomass or multi-fuel heating systems. The session will conclude with the results from current NYSERDA-funded grass combustion research. The suitability of grass fuels for different scale systems, how fuel variety affects combustion, emission profiles and additional research needs will also be featured.
Then, after a break, the fourth and last panel will look at the Cost of Production, moderated by Dan Conable. What does it cost to produce ag biomass fuel? Participants will hear two examples of different cost & breakeven scenarios, based on current enterprise models. What costs and which variables have the biggest opportunity for savings?

The culminating session at the end of the day will bring together the points of information, challenges and consensus from each of the earlier panel sessions under the goal of developing the market. The product will be a Research and Development Action Plan.

We need your input, experience and ideas, so don’t miss it !


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The Vermont Grass Energy Partnership, founded in 2008, is an R&D and market development collaboration of the University of Vermont, Biomass Energy Resource Center (BERC), Vermont Technical College, the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund and Vermont’s bioenergy stakeholders.

A happy and auspicious New Year to you all. It’s 2012 and there’s drama in the air. I don’t know that it’s the End Of Days, but the global financial train is still going in circles, crude oil is above $100 a barrel again, everything is in the process of being occupied, and it’s an election year after all. So, hang on. Think local.

I’d like to begin this update of the Vermont Grass Energy Partnership by taking you out in the field, where surprisingly there was enough sunshine to generate some decent grass yields in 2011. There certainly was enough rain.

Dr. Sid Bosworth, from the University of Vermont Extension, and the state’s forage agronomist-cum-grass energy researcher has been planting, observing and tabulating data on a variety of warm and cool season perennial grass trials (grown for their biomass value) since 2008. “This was our third year of a species/cultivar study at two locations in the Champlain Valley”, Sid wrote in. “We’re looking at four varieties of switchgrass, two varieties of big bluestem, one ecotype of Indiangrass, Miscanthus giganteous, and a polyculture of ‘Cave N Rock’ switchgrass and ‘Prairieview’ big bluestem.”

For starters, Dr. Bosworth harvested our first Miscanthus “crop” this year, which were planted from rhizomes in June of 2010.  Okay, these were test plots, but after just 16 months the plants reached more than 12 feet high at two of his locations. He has yet to calculate the yields, but Sid says the early results bode well for the future.

Most of the 2011 data from Sid’s research is still being summarized, and so far, based on the last two year’s performance, he has been especially impressed with the ‘Prairieview’ big bluestem and reports that big bluestem outperformed all other grasses, even in our wettest soil (which is unusual). “We’re seeing a dry matter yield of 5.2 tons per acre for the big bluestem. The next highest yielding cultivar was ‘Cave N Rock’ switchgrass, at 3.9 tons per acre.  Regarding yields”, Sid commented, “which are really the determining factor of economic feasibility, I’m a lot more optimistic now than I was when I started on all this (4-5 years ago)”.

Sid, he’s cautious, so believe me when I tell you this is saying something.

Dr. Bosworth’s optimism is also good news to the owners of Vermont’s first commercial grass energy business, Renewable Energy Resources (RER), who will be relying more on dedicated warm season grasses in the coming years. John Bootle and Adam Dantzscher started RER in 2009, and for the 2010/2011 heating season they had a mobile briquetter set up at the Benton (Pennsylvania) Area School District. By early 2011, RER completed production on several hundred tons of switchgrass briquettes (approximately 1-1/2” diameter x 1/2” thick) for the school’s biomass heat system. The switchgrass was grown within 30 miles of the school, which fits the “Heat Local” strategy many of us are aligned with.

RER has also gained the interest of several institutional customers in Vermont who have committed to testing the grass briquettes in their wood chip boilers. This led Bootle and Dantzscher to return to Bennington with their equipment to begin work on a new 2-ton per hour mobile briquetter (double the output of their first model). “We learned an enormous amount during the Benton project”, John shared during a recent conversation, “It wasn’t the densification that proved so challenging, rather it was the material handling side of things. We’ve now got the bridging and clogging under control that posed such a problem in the beginning.”

On the policy front, in a flurry of last minute negotiations as the 2011 legislative session was wrapping up, Vermont’s newly elected Governor Shumlin insisted on getting an incentive package through to help offset the cost of biomass heating systems. Nice job. Really.

Trouble was the language in the bill made it clear that only wood burning systems would be eligible for the biomass incentives. Now if you use new high-efficiency appliances to heat with No. 2 oil, kerosene, propane or wood pellets you can get a little help from the state, but burning grass? Fuggedaboudit.

This has prompted RER’s new partner, Chris Flinn, to spend more time at the Vermont Statehouse where it’s warm (wood chip warm!) and the Legislature has rejoined for the 2012 session. “Chris will be helping to raise awareness among the legislators about the viability of grass biomass”, says Bootle. To what end? “There’s a good deal of State policy being formulated around renewable energy generally, and biomass in particular. We just want to be sure that “biomass” policy includes wood and grass on equal footing”.

The fabrication of RER’s new mobile unit and some of the initial R&D that will help line up growers for their customers is supported in part by a $100,000 grant from the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative (VBI); a program of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (full disclosure: I’m the VBI program director). VSJF, and one of our other Grass Energy Partners, Biomass Energy Resource Center (BERC) have drawn funds from the US Dept. of Energy to help move this initiative forward, thanks to Senator Patrick Leahy who set up several congressionally directed awards to fund the VBI, beginning in 2005.

The VT Bioenergy Initiative is focused on providing grants and technical assistance to farms and start-up entrepreneurs who are principally producing bioenergy for local use. Feedstocks and fuels include on-farm biodiesel and feed from oilseeds, oil from microalgae, bulk wood pellet distribution, grass thermal energy and more. These funds provide critical early-stage financing and technical support (you need both!) to help develop Vermont’s nascent bioenergy sector.

Switching gears, how about what’s happening in your neighborhood? How did it go last year and what will you be focusing on, growing, pelletizing or burning in 2012? Have you discovered (or invented) a breakthrough grass combustion appliance or recently purchased processing equipment that rocks your world? What’s working out there but also, what do you need help with? Let’s talk about it.

I know that a good deal of what motivates all of us is the notion that we’re building something that will make a difference in the way we heat our homes, farms and businesses, while keeping land open and productive and more energy dollars close to home. But it will take time, perseverance, capital, creativity, and as Jon Montan has often pointed out in his posts; coordination and collaboration can really help.

Which reminds me, there’s a great program coming together for the Northeast Agricultural Biomass Heating Seminar on March 21; which takes place on the first day of the 2012 Northeast Biomass Heating Expo (March 21-23). Make your plans now to come to the seminar in Saratoga Springs and stay for the trade show and Biomass Heating Expo. You can register for both events on line at http://www.heatne.com.   See you then.

Netaka White is the Bioenergy Program Director at VSJF (www.vsjf.org). He can be reached at 802.828.0040 or netaka@vsjf.org

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The following two posts are comments on the first July 20th Grass Energy in NY meeting at Tompkins Cortland Community College in Dryden (which has now become the Agricultural Biomass Interest Group Meeting  – ABIG – do we want that acronym?).   I’ve been on vacation so I do apologize – they are a little late.

The meeting’s participants have since been enumerating action item lists – as mentioned in the posts  – via email and now will have to prioritize them.    Alice Brumbach from the NY State Biomass Energy Alliance (NYBEA), who will be presenting the action items to the NYBEA Board of Directors meeting on August 15,  is requesting that,  in addition to selecting the top priority general action items,  they are broken down into smaller action steps detailing how to accomplish them.

For example, the action item of  “Define a grass pellet standard that fits grass and differentiates it from wood pellet standards” might need to be re-phrased to “Advise us on who determines a grass pellet standard, and the steps needed to accomplish this.”  Or, if we know this already, then the steps should be listed.

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First off….Thank you to everyone who attended the meeting on July 20th at TC3. It was great to get everyone around a table for a face to face discussion about the barriers and future of grass energy within NY. To those of you that could not attend, we will be putting together a synopsis of the days discussions and you are welcome to contribute to the rolling list of 3 action items that you would like to see for the future. The deadline for those contributions is August 12th.

We have several projects coming up that we are just starting to develop. One of them has been in the works and should get restarted sometime in September. Lois Kang from the SET program in Tioga County will be issuing some updates on the program schedule very soon. I have hopes that many of you will still be available to contribute to the program!

I am looking forward to see what In Shik Lee from TC3 will be able to develop through her hard work and dedication to assisting with the promotion of biomass too. I am sure she will have more updates for us as time goes on.

As for Broome Biomass, we are headed to the Biofeedstock field day on August 3rd and then headed to Kentucky to visit with the folks at LEI products (the manufacturer of the Bio-Burner). We will be bringing a unit back with us and will be completing some test burns over the course of the winter. We are looking forward to a long working relationship as representatives in this area for them.

We will be taking lots of pictures and possibly even some videos that we will be sharing over the next month or so. There will be much more news from us within our next post!

Til then…Doreen

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The greater grass energy community of New York State met on July 20th to touch base on our current projects and research. As the summer intern for the St. Lawrence County Grass Energy Working Group, I am new to this conversation and gained a lot of insight on the current projects at hand. The major problems we addressed were how to establish specifically a grass energy market and how to further emissions testing to meet EPA and DEC standards. We need to grasp the public and media’s attention about the potential of a grass energy market in New York State. In St. Lawrence County, this has been done on a small scale by distributing a survey and informational cards to the community to gain their opinion on our current project. This has proved beneficial and provided feedback that many residents are interested in a biomass market but do not know how efficient and useful it would be in their homes. The driving force fueling this opinion is the installation cost and maintenance associated with using a pellet stove.
This leads to one of our next agenda points, promote small-scale commercial biomass operations instead of residential as these outlets will provide better use for agricultural based biomass. In order to promote this type of market, we proposed using conferences or home-shows. The Heat the North East Conference is scheduled to be in Saratoga Springs March of 2012 and our hope is that grass energy will be a focus. In addition, there is a proposal to host our own biomass conference within the next year where all spectrums of the grass energy lifestyle will be present from producers to end-users. Finally, the participants of the meeting signed a petition dedicated ourselves to the state’s grass energy project. It is our hope, with more lobby and support from the public, that a list of supporters will prompt agencies like NYSERDA and USDA to fund our projects.
In the world of emission testing, the cellulose and chlorine content of grass is the cause of higher ash content and greater fluctuations in emissions. Further research needs to be dedicated to emission testing before a proper market can be implemented. There are a few hang ups in the process of testing emissions including utilizing the proper furnaces, testing high vs. low ash pellets and lowering the chlorine content of the actual pellet to avoid spikes in harmful emissions. Researchers like Jerry Cherney, are playing a bit of a waiting game on emission testing waiting for pellets with different ash contents to arrive.
The final agenda point of the meeting was for everyone to compile his or her three most important action steps to have The New York Biomass Energy Alliance present to NYSERDA in favor of grass energy. The Energy Alliance board will vote in mid-August about our proposal. I think, that by banning together as a state-wide working group, we will be able to grasp the attention of missing resources and make New York State the front runner in grass pellet energy.

Emily Grilli
St. Lawrence County Grass Energy Working Group
St. Lawrence University 2013

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A few of our contributors have recently summarized their experiences at the 3rd Annual HeatNE Conference that was held in Manchester, NH April 14-15 and, in doing so, have nicely captured most of the “take home “ messages from the event. I was very pleased to see that grass energy had a real presence and was encouraged by the participation of so many people in the special post-conference grass energy development meeting. I strongly support folks working through statewide and regional organizations and communicating through this blog and in other ways in order to raise issues and track progress. At the national level, it is important that we participate through membership in the Biomass Thermal Energy Council (BTEC). I have suggested to our County’s Industrial Development Agency (IDA) that they join BTEC inasmuch as biomass energy development is important to our County, whether it be woody or agricultural. This would provide a conduit for informal, non-incorporated, (cash poor!) groups such as the St. Lawrence County Grass Energy Working Group to convey their thoughts to BTEC. By extension, I would encourage other county IDAs with similar interests to do the same.

Now for the topic-de-jour. I would like to focus on a conversation I had with a vendor at the Conference who, while demonstrating the features of the boiler his company had developed, made a very simple but profound statement: “You decide what fuel you want to burn and we will design a unit to burn it efficiently and cleanly”.  It became clear to me that, in order to advance grass as a fuel, the “research and development community” needs to first decide which grass species and cultivars to use, either singly or in mixtures, how to grow and harvest them in ways that will minimize ash and chlorine, how to best densify them (or not) and to document their combustion characteristics. In short, recipes for grass fuel are needed. Then, boiler manufacturers will have a fuel with predictable characteristics for which they can design their equipment. Currently, research on grass combustion is often based on the reverse sequence – different grass mixtures are tested in off-the-shelf boilers to see if they will work. Maybe you get lucky doing it this way, but it is a hit-or-miss proposition.

Having definite recipes for grass fuels would also give growers comfort. They would know how to establish stands and properly harvest them, and the value of the bio-energy crops could be more reliably predicted. Much of the speculative nature of these crops could be eliminated.

The main priority of grass energy research at this time should therefore be in developing grass fuel recipes that are: (1) adapted to regional growing conditions, (2) harvested using a standardized protocol and (3) tested for their combustion characteristics. This is a proper role for government-assisted research. Once the recipes are known, the innovation of the private sector can then be unleashed to create the desired combustion technologies.

I suspect that several manufacturers are already close to being able to claim reliable, clean, efficient grass fuel combustion performance. Some are probably already there, particularly for larger boiler systems. It is the residential market for grass-fueled heating systems that stands to gain the most from the approach described in this article. Regardless of the market sector, everyone should benefit from zeroing in on the best recipes for renewable grass fuel.

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By Doreen Barker

After reading through the comments and optimism brought back from the HeatNE conference, I have decided that I would like to share some information on some movement within the state (specifically the Southern Tier and Central NY regions). There are at least two programs that are developing that will be of interest.

As some of you know, Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3) has been working on a program called Agriculture Consortia on Renewable Energy & Sustainability(ACRES). Doreen Barker (myself), Rich Barrows, Tony Nekut and Elizabeth Keokosky had the privilege of sitting down with several folks from within not only the TC3 academia but some other schools and organizations as well. The staff at TC3 has put together a grant that would allow for a collaborative 2 day forum to discuss the state of BIOENERGY in upstate NY. The aim is to update and educate key stakeholders about the opportunities and challenges concerning the vital interdependencies between Education-Agriculture-Business and our region’s economic/energy sustainability outlook.  To address these issues they will bring together educators from Bio-Energy programs at post secondary schools, high school teachers, not-for-profit organizations, local farmers, government entities, financial institutions and related bio energy businesses.  The focus of the event will be to gather and brainstorm information from conferring groups and to draft a plan for a Bio-Energy curriculum to be developed for the community college level. The collaboration of stake holders in Education, Agriculture, and Business is key to the development of a successful BIO-ENERGY economy in New York State.

The second program, put together by the Tioga County REAP, is the Stronger Economies Together (SET) will be holding their first meeting this coming Thursday, April 28th. SET was developed by USDA Rural Development and the nation’s Regional Rural Development Centers (RRDC) to help communities and regions work together to pursue regional economic development initiatives. This program will take an in-depth look at regional economic development opportunities and the potential of Bioenergy and renewable land-based resources. I have already been informed that there will be some upcoming changes to the scheduling of these meetings in the future. I will keep everyone up to date with the outcome of those changes after Thursday of this week.

We have also been doing some research into some additional options for units that are being worked on that will have the capabilities of burning multiple fuels. As all of us within the grass energy sector already know, this is going to become a key to our future as time progress on the residential level. As these companies work to clear the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certifications and are able to be sold within NY, I will also be updating those results.

Coming from my perspective, I am excited about bringing grass energy into NY state  within our region. There is an overwhelming need for more extension work. In this area, we are losing farm after farm. Which from the renewable energy stand point is both good and bad. But, we need to keep agriculture within this region alive and thriving. I look forward to this region being able to contribute into the sustainable energy sector much like the examples shown to us by a couple of our “sister” organizations.  We have many hurdles to overcome but with the dedication and teamwork of everyone involved, I am looking forward to an eventful future! We are all working hard to develop a new market within NY and that isn’t an easy accomplishment but with coordination and dedication we CAN create a more sustainable future together.

Until the next time……Keep up the good work!

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