Archive for the ‘Growing grass for energy’ 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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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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