Archive for the ‘Grass energy projects’ Category

Greetings all,
At the conclusion of this year’s Agricultural Biomass Heating Seminar in Saratoga Springs, I had the pleasure of announcing the pending release of funds to support a “state-of-the-science” review of grass energy in Vermont and the Northeast. Here are the details:

The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (VSJF) is seeking proposals from individuals, consulting firms or organizations to conduct a state-of-the-science review of grass energy in Vermont and neighboring states and establish the next step(s) to accelerate the commercialization of grass energy in the region and specifically in Vermont.

Over the past few years, a number of projects in Vermont and the Northeast have led to a body of knowledge on growing, processing and using grass for energy. However, this opportunity has not fully developed into a marketable option for growers, landowners, fuel processors and dealers, equipment manufacturers and vendors, nor homeowners or communities. There are still some uncertainties around the viability of using grass for energy, and as a result some are hesitant to move forward with grass energy plantations or system installations that will support grass combustion.

At this time, VSJF would like to assess the current state of knowledge and identify the remaining critical questions that need to be answered in order to commercialize this opportunity. To review the complete Scope Of Work relating to this RFP, and the information needed to apply, please visit the VSJF website at: http://www.vsjf.org/news/72/request-for-proposals-grass-energy-in-vermont


After reviewing the RFP, if you have questions please email us at: vtbiofuels”at”vsjf.org


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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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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.

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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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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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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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