Archive for the ‘Group Introductions’ Category

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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     By way of introduction, my name is Tony Nekut , I live and work in Ithaca, NY, and my vocation is engineering. I became interested in biomass energy a few years ago when I bought some forest property and started heating my home with wood. I serve on the steering committees of two local groups that promote local biomass energy development: Danby Land Bank Cooperative and Community Biomass Energy .  These websites describe the groups’ missions and list the expected benefits of pursuing local biomass energy development.
      As an engineer, I tend to think about the problem of creating local biomass energy infrastructure from a systems point of view. The supply chain involves a number of links which need to be forged and connected for the whole system to work. To some extent, the links representing raw biomass supplies, biomass processing, and processed biomass fuel markets already exist, but they need to be strengthened and expanded. Currently, firewood is the only commonly available biomass fuel that is locally produced and consumed.
     Technology has an important role to play in modernizing what has been a relative backwater. There are opportunities for innovation along the entire local biomass energy supply chain. Technology can improve biomass crop productivity, increase harvest, processing, transport and combustion efficiencies, and make biomass energy more convenient for end users. Expect more discussion of this topic in my future contributions.
     Low fossil fuel prices have been the main obstacle impeding market driven innovation. It seems clear to me that anyone who is concerned about the negative consequences of continued massive consumption of fossil fuels should voice their support for strong policies, such as a carbon tax, that place penalties on atmospheric carbon emissions.

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The Hudson Valley, like many regions in the Northeast, is faced with loss of local producers and a lack of local energy. In a world economy currently based on the consumption of non-renewable hydrocarbons and faced with imminent Peak Oil, access to locally derived food and energy will be fundamental to our survival. We are fortunate to have so much arable land in the Northeast, now we just need a way to better sustain it. In the valley we are losing an alarming number of farming operations every year. For example, there were 250 dairy farms in Orange County in 1980- now there are 45. It’s entirely possible that there will be none in a matter of years. The reason we are losing so many producers is because it’s often not economical to farm on a smaller scale.

A growing demand and need for local, renewable energy presents an opportunity for producers to create a new revenue source: farm-based power. There is a range of technologies available, from soybean oil presses for biodiesel to anaerobic digesters for biogas energy. Many of these technologies are feasible on a smaller scale. My company’s work focuses on heating fuel pellets made from grasses.

Grass pellets are highly efficient and comparable in energy content to those made of wood. The technology for producing, transporting and combusting grass pellets is already in place thanks to the existing haying and wood pellet industries. The most significant advantage of grass pellets is that they can be made from left-over resources, instead of diverting something that is already in use. One of the biggest issues for grass pellets is that like all biomass, they are very dense and costly to transport. However, we can turn this into an advantage by using a mobile pelleting mill and keeping the resource local.

Hudson Valley Grass Energy (HVGE) is a non-profit operation committed to local, renewable energy and keeping farmers in the Hudson Valley. HVGE operates a fully mobile grass pellet mill, the first of its class to be in operation in the US. By keeping our operations fully mobile we remove the need for a middle man- the stationary mill, and put all profits into our producer’s hands. Our mill takes poor-quality hay and other agricultural byproducts that previously presented little or no value to the farmer, and converts it into high-quality heating fuel pellets. This represents a huge profit margin that can create significant income for producers. At the very least, a farmer can process a couple of tons of left over materials in order to heat their home all winter.

Utilizing grass and other farm-based energies will be a significant way of keeping our energy and economy local in farming regions throughout the Northeast. As with all emerging technologies, however, it is vital to open communication and collaboration between all parties involved in the development of this growing market. I look forward to continuing this conversation with all of you through this blog.

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My name is Gerry Ruestow

I am a consultant working with CCE of Delaware County in our Grass Bio-Energy Project. This project began in 2008 as a collaboration with The Catskill Watershed Corporation to explore and foster the use of Grass Bio-mass as a heat source suitable for homes and small commercial installation.

We began with an outside hydronic   furnace and a pellet stove installed in the Town of Franklin Highway Building which also houses the town meeting hall.

As we learned about the challenges of burning grass pellets we added four outside furnaces and five inside pellet stoves. The last two installations recently came on line. Our next step might be a commercial pellet furnace to gauge the feasibility of using Grass in a higher btu situation.

The Delaware County Grass Bio-Energy is a cooperative effort between Delaware County Cooperative extension and Catskill Watershed Corporation to explore the use of grass bio-mass as a  reliable and renewable heat source.The anticipated advantages of Grass as fuel are:

¨      Local energy loop

¨      Very efficient energy conversion

¨      Existing infrastructure on farms to harvest haycrop

¨      Compatible with livestock and crop operations

¨      Maintains open space

¨      Annually renewable crop

We have been working with EnviroEnergy LLC of Wells Bridge NY who have been making Grass Pellets for three years and have improved the the quality of their product to be very competitive in quality and btu content with premium wood pellets. The ongoing issue is of course the higher ash content of grass pellets as compared with wood pellets. Some appliances work better than others in handling the ash load.

The other issue we are seeing is the fly ash deposits in heat exchangers. This has to be manually cleaned on a regular interval on the units we are demonstrating. We have seen some new units in the last year that offer self cleaning modes. This will help the adoption of grass pellet units for home owners.

This industry is still in it’s infancy even if it seems we have been working on it for quite a while. As it grows we need to be ahead of the learning curve for adopters and especially regulators.

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St. Lawrence County Grass Energy Working Group

The St. Lawrence County Grass Energy Working Group is an informal, non-incorporated association of persons, businesses, agencies and institutions that was formed in the wake of some public meetings that were held on the preparation of the “Renewable Fuels Roadmap”. We are collaborating with other like-minded groups around the State, but most directly with the Drum Country Bio-Energy Group in Jefferson and Lewis Counties.

Our point of view on grass and other biomass fuel sources is that they are best used to meet space heating and hot water applications close to the point of their production instead of converting them to liquid fuels. This is because, while sustainable biomass energy crops are renewable, they are finite, and it is essential that the maximum amount of useable energy be squeezed out of them. They are too precious a resource to squander through energy inefficient processes, such as by trucking feed stocks long distances or incurring energy losses through excessive processing.

The reason we are concentrating on grass fuels is that they are currently an undeveloped resource that has great potential. The woody biomass fuel industry, on the other hand, is already developed with a proven track record and significant infrastructure. We believe that, with a proper approach, grass biomass crops could provide an important contribution to the total biomass resource base and provide benefits to the agricultural sector.

If you are curious about this emerging field, please visit our website at www.slcgrassenergy.org/ We have tried to bring together a lot of relevant and useful information but recognize that new developments are constantly happening and, like many web sites, it is always a “work in progress”.

The St. Lawrence County Grass Energy Working Group includes representatives from the County Planning Office, SUNY Canton, St. Lawrence University, Clarkson University, the Black River-St. Lawrence RC&D Council, Cornell Cooperative Extension and interested individuals. Our stated goal is:

To develop a viable local grass energy economy in the North Country that will displace fossil fuel use for space heating and hot water, increasing local economic benefits and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

We feel that grass energy offers the promise that:

• Farmers will have a new market for grass, even low-quality hay and weed mixtures.
• Densification will add value to previously low-value material.
• Money from pellet/briquette sales and hay purchases will stay local.
• Grass combustion does not contribute fossil carbon and thereby helps reduce atmospheric greenhouse gasses.
• The fuel source can be renewable and sustainable.

We are very supportive of the direction advocated in the plan: “Heating the Northeast with Renewable Biomass – A Vision for 2025”, issued April 28, 2010 by the Biomass Thermal Energy Council, Washington DC, Alliance for Green Heat, Takoma Park MD, Maine Pellet Fuels Association, Portland ME, New York Biomass Energy Alliance, Syracuse, NY and the Pellet Fuels Institute, Arlington, VA.

We believe that the “greater biomass community of interest” is largely in agreement with the overall fuel use philosophy described in this blog posting.
Second, we hope that this posting will stimulate comments and information that will accelerate the pace of grass biomass energy development. Last, we hope that grass energy will be taken a bit more seriously by funding agencies and viewed as a significant part of a portfolio of biomass and non-biomass resources that our society is going to have to wisely use in order to meet our total energy needs in the future.

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