Archive for the ‘Grass energy updates’ Category

Ever since it was determined by present-day scientists that native people incorporated charcoal into soils in the Amazonian Basin for thousands of years to increase soil fertility, biochar has fallen under the spotlight. There are many sites on the internet that are devoted to biochar and a search will get you a great deal of information. Nevertheless, the chief advantages of converting biomass into biochar can be summarized as follows  (for more click here).


1. is considered a stable form of carbon in soil that effectively sequesters atmospheric carbon for long periods. (Carbon-negative)

2. in the form of sequestered carbon has a potential value on carbon markets.

3. displaces fossil fuel use as a result of partial combustion of biomass feedstocks.

4. as a soil amendment, helps to improve crop yields and productivity, raise soil pH, and reduce the need for some chemical and fertilizer inputs.

5. helps retain nutrients, thereby inhibiting leaching.

6. is but one product; syngas, bio-oils and energy are other potential products.

7. can be produced in pyrolytic or gasification systems that are scalable in output.

The technology to covert solid carbonaceous feedstocks to gaseous and liquid higher heating value products is well developed. Even so, research continues into refinements that are feedstock-specific. Many corporations and companies are involved and there are numerous products on the market that serve a variety of applications. Systems that produce biochar also have the advantage of dealing well with high-ash fuels because the temperatures in the reaction chamber are low enough to prevent ash sintering or agglomeration. Also, the stream of syngas that is produced following gasification can be cleaned up as necessary before it is used in combustion or bio-oil production. In contrast, combustion in an “excess-air” environment releases pollutants that must be filtered out at the tail–end of the process in order to meet air quality standards.

With all of these points in its favor, what is there not to like? It really comes down to what one’s objectives are. When many of us first became interested in using grass for bioenergy, our overarching principle was that we should squeeze the most useable energy out of our renewable, but finite, energy crops. To do this, we should reduce losses from processing and transportation to a minimum. We should conserve as much of that good photosynthetic chemical energy as possible. I feel that this principle remains valid, but the urgent need to pull carbon out of the atmosphere has risen in importance. This means that it is not enough to merely offset the use of fossil carbon using bioenergy crops; we must also actively sequester carbon in a cost-effective and practical manner.

The future of biochar, it seems to me, hinges on determining its monetary value. How valuable is it as a soil amendment? How valuable will it be on carbon markets? One convenient thing is that there is no ambiguity about how much carbon has been sequestered (unlike other carbon offsets that rely on assumptions and verification schemes). A tonne of biochar is essentially comprised of carbon and ash. If you know the ash content, you know the carbon content. It is directly measurable. What you see is what you get.

When it comes to bio-energy, the value of biochar will determine whether we will try to oxidize all of the photosynthetic carbon for energy or only a fraction, saving the remainder as a hedge against climate change.

This is a big topic. I do not pretend to be an authority on it and welcome comments.


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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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The heating season is upon us. The project has had a lot of issues this summer and especially this fall. The flood that resulted from the hurricane was devastating. We lost the furnace at Brookside Hardware. It was totally submerged and all the electrical and electronic controls were ruined. We had been looking forward to resolving an issue with this furnace and getting a full season of data from the site.

I have been busy visiting the sites to make sure that all the units that remain are ready for the season.This points up a frustration with the equipment.As this equipment is developing I find that all parts are proprietary to each manufacture. The oil and gas heat industry standardized long ago. oil pumps, ignition transformers, blower belts, gas controls thermostats are all universal.This reminds me of the early days of the automobile. The only standard part in the early days of the internal combustion engine were spark plugs and that was because there were no US made spark plugs. They were all imported.That is why plugs had metric threads way before US auto makers embraced metric fasteners.

The adoption of biofuel heating devices will be hindered, especially in rural areas, by the manufactures dealer networks. I still find the dealers and the manufacturers more interested in sales than service. At this point I have not found any units that I could recommend as the sole heat source for a home or business.This is the Northeast people. Consumers can and will not be satisfied waiting days for repairs because the parts need to be ordered.
Will this situation improve? Sure, but the growing pains are holding adoption back. It is improving but fast enough for me.

More next month when this great weather inevitably ends.

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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

Since there seems to be an increase in interest for alternative and renewable energy with the higher fuel prices, I figured that I would take the time to discuss ways that we have the potential to market grass energy.

We, as the grass energy people, have a daunting task ahead of us. As stated in previous articles within this blog, people within the biomass industry are surprised to learn that grass provides nearly the same heating values as wood. Since individuals within our own industry don’t know this, how can we expect our potential customers and consumers to know. This lack of information is a hurdle that we MUST overcome. I think that there are several avenues that need to be pursued to change this. As we all know, communication is the key to success in everything we do. So how can we communicate better?

Communications of grass energy benefits can be accomplished through email marketing, holding discussion forums, open houses, blogs such as this one and even newsletters. The list goes on and on. In my case, I have started writing articles as the Alternative Energy portion in the Green Living section of the Syracuse Examiner. As a group of individuals, by pulling our knowledge base together, we should be promoting grass energy daily. Speaking of pulling our efforts together, it has recently been brought up in conversation that those of us directly involved with grass energy should create our own group or alliance to network our efforts for one common goal. After several phone calls and many emails, I have discovered that we can form a sub-group under the NY Biomass Energy Alliance. In the meantime, I have worked with a couple of other individuals to secure a room for a gathering of grass energy people. TC3 in Dryden, NY has offered a room to us on July 20th from 1-4 p.m. This will be a great opportunity for all of us to pool together our efforts and consider what we need to progress toward in the future. For more information, please see the invitation. I am doing some research into possibly setting up booths at some local functions that could also be valuable to spreading the word about grass energy.

I would also like to express that we had a wonderful time at EnviroEnergy’s open house. The demonstration of the Bio-Burner was well received by several of the people I had the pleasure of speaking with. This unit is one step in the right direction when it comes to fuel diversity and I think they deserve a big round of applause for what they are working at accomplishing.

We, at Broome Biomass, are still working at progressing forward but not without several hurdles to overcome ourselves. We do have several upcoming meetings that I will keep everyone posted on after the fact. I will also be writing additional articles for the Syracuse Examiner, focusing on some of these hurdles that each of us have and are facing. If anyone has a topic that they wish to be discussed, please free to contact me and I will do my best to promote or bring the issue into public focus.

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A very successful open house at EnviroEnergy one week in May solidified my thoughts for this post. We had good traffic all day and it was good to meet people in person who are friends in cyberspace.

This activity along with all the developments since my last post continue to convince me that bio-mass in all it’s forms will continue to increase it’s viability as a heat source. People I have been in communication with of late really seem to get the concept of a local renewable energy loop. Consumers seem to be willing to put up with the little inconveniences of handling bio-fuel to gain fossil fuel independence .I have been pleasantly surprised that I have been contacted by manufacturers who are interested in building appliances that can more efficiently handle bio mass. When our project began, we contacted many manufacturers who would not talk about bio mass fuel. Thus we were well aware that it would be an uphill climb to be successful with grass as a fuel.To date, the project has proved the concept and we are looking forward to the next generation of equipment.

I am aware of several start ups that are trying to get started. As we involved in the industry are well aware, the hurdles are not few. The two biggest obstacles are emissions regulations and capital. The emissions are a very important issue and does need addressing; however,  the expense of testing for compliance can be a major issue. This brings me to the major point of this post.
This industry needs to be seen as an important,valuable and necessary component in this country’s  energy strategy. We are well aware of the European stand on renewable energy, and need our governmental bodies to support this initiative. Where is the support going to begin? Sure, the industry has to push the issue; however, that in my vision is not the ultimate solution. The consumer will be the success of this change in policy. As we are seeing in the heating industry, the demands of the people actually buying the fuel force the changes. Why are appliance manufacturers embracing renewable fuels? The consumers are demanding it. Our organizations, including the sponsor of this blog, will be an important part of the change. But the biggest force to push government, industry and the banking world will be the demands of people who enjoy being warm and comfortable at a manageable expense. We need to continue  to reach out to the populace and explain bio mass. They get it, but it constantly amazes me that there are so many people who are shocked to learn that grass is a viable energy source. “Come on what else is in it?” I have heard this over and over so the preaching is more important than ever.

Enjoy the spring!!

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