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Posts Tagged ‘biomass’

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

THE DEADLINE FOR PROPOSAL SUBMISSIONS IS Friday MAY 17, 2013, 5:00PM

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

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As many readers of this blog know, Governor Cuomo has restructured the way that New York State is going about the business of economic development. Some of you may have participated in the development of regional economic development plans through one of the ten Regional Economic Development Councils (REDCs). If this is new to you, learn more about the initiative at: http://nyworks.ny.gov/

Each REDC had to submit a five-year Strategic Plan to the State by November 14. A quick perusal of the different regions’ draft plans as of 11/10/2011 does not indicate much mention of the role of biomass (and grass biomass in particular) in the State’s economic development future. A notable exception is the draft plan for the North Country Region. I would encourage you to review your region’s plan to see how biomass has been treated.

The emphasis of the REDC initiative is, of course, job creation through the funding of priority projects – those that most closely conform to the goals and priorities of each Regional Council. Yet the regional plans are also supposed to look ahead and provide guidance on those projects and developments that promise to bear fruit in the near and long term. This is where renewable energy from grass biomass crops fits in. As I and others have pointed out in previous blogs, a well-conceived research and development plan for grass energy that leads to full-scale commercialization is essential.

Perhaps the best home for such a research and development plan will be the Biomass Heating Roadmap for which a Request for Proposals (NYSERDA RFP#2329) is currently on the street. When the Roadmap is completed, I would like to see it integrated with both the REDC plans and the New York State Climate Action Plan. I hope that the topics covered in this piece will be addressed at a special agricultural biomass session preceding the Northeast Biomass Heating Expo next March in Saratoga Springs, New York. This an exciting time for grass energy but we all must diligently participate in these opportunities to set agendas and influence policy if we expect to make significant progress.

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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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Building a grass-based bio-energy industry will require advances on three fronts: (1) creating demand through price competitiveness and heating appliance compatibility, (2) developing reliable, cost-effective densified fuel production and (3) making it worthwhile for grassland owners to produce sustainable bio-energy crops. These can be thought of as three legs of a stool, all of which must be present for the stool to stand. This brief essay focuses on the second item: developing reliable, cost-effective densified fuel production.

Although there are special systems such as those manufactured by Reka that can burn undensified fuel, densification into pellets and/or briquettes is going to be necessary for widespread adoption. Densification facilities, whether they be mobile or stationary, have to be designed for optimum production and minimum cost. People who know how to do this well can be found in the dairy and livestock feed mills that serve New York and the Northeast.

An opportunity may exist to work with one or more of these mills to test grass pellet production under real-world conditions and establish the economics. Such a research effort could be a model of public-private partnership. The ideal candidate for such a project would be a mill that has some amount of surplus pelletizing capacity. Depending on their configuration, some mills produce both pelletized feed and bulk mixtures. If the demand for bulk mixtures increases relative to pelletized feed, such a surplus capacity can occur.

The research may cause feed mills to add grass fuel pellets to their product lines or it may open the door for new entrepreneurs. In the future, densified grass fuel could be delivered in bulk to on-site storage at the points of use with the same delivery vehicles that are currently used for feed deliveries. Another approach could be the interchangeable container method, as described by Tony Nekut in the February 13 posting.

If no feed mill can be identified that would agree to participate in a funded research project as described above, another alternative would be to fund a dedicated test-bed facility. It would be economical, however, to use existing equipment located in a feed mill if possible.

I am hopeful that this is one of several issues that participants will discuss at the HeatNE Conference in Manchester, NH on April 14-15. Grass energy will have a higher visibility at this year’s conference than in the past. I encourage you to attend.

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I often feel like I am having trouble keeping up with the current status of grass energy research and development. Just when I think I have a grasp of the scene, I get surprised by some new revelation. This happened most recently when I downloaded the Technical Assessment of Grass Pellets as Boiler Fuel in Vermont. This 46-page report was produced by the Vermont Grass Energy Partnership, a collaborative effort among the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, University of Vermont Extension Service, and the Biomass Energy Resource Center in Montpelier (BERC). Various people have critiqued this report in this blog and elsewhere and I am not planning on using this space to give it a full review. Despite its flaws, real or perceived, I applaud Vermont for supporting grass energy research and development through the Sustainable Jobs Fund and wish that New York State had a similar commitment.

The Vermont study was by its own admission limited in scope and will therefore prompt further research. Citing the report’s “Next Steps” section:

The next steps in determining the feasibility of grass energy in Vermont should include a robust economic assessment of the costs of manufacturing grass pellets under different scenarios. For instance, what changes can be anticipated at a centralized (stationary) pellet mill compared to utilizing mobile equipment (at different scales) to process the grass “on location?” As part of this economic assessment, key variables such as the cost of energy (fuel, electricity, diesel, biodiesel, etc.), subsidies paid to farmers (e.g., USDA’s Biomass Crop Assistance Program), and economies of scale in production costs must all be considered. Once the grass pellet production costs are fully understood, target wholesale and retail price points can be projected and compared against other heating fuels, including liquid fossil fuels and wood fuels.

As part of these next steps, the report also states that research will be needed to:

• Examine new and existing heating appliances (furnaces and boilers) that claim the ability to reliably burn high-ash fuels such as grass pellets.
• Determine the production costs of pellets made with grass and wood blends and to gauge the interest of the pellet consuming market for this type of product.
• Assess the production costs of farm-scale grass pelletization and the potential fuel savings of grass pellets over other heating fuels. Other market development scenarios using 100% grass pellets could emerge that will need further in-depth analysis as well.

That’s a decent grass pellet research agenda. Recently, the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund issued a request seeking proposals that will: “…. lead to the design, fabrication, demonstration and use of a mobile or stationary pelletizing system capable of converting at least 1-ton of grass biomass per hour into densified fuel. Projects must be able to identify at least one in-state source of grass biomass that will be pelletized and at least one in-state end-user of the pelletized fuel.”

Others, notably Renewable Energy Resources LLC and Broome Biomass LLC are researching briquetting (or cubing) densification as well as feedstock harvesting and handling methods to produce grass fuels for larger boiler/CHP applications. Still others, such as Jerry Cherney at Cornell, Michael Newtown at SUNY Canton and Paul Cerosaletti of Delaware County Cornell Cooperative Extension are examining the combustion characteristics of grass fuels in commercial and residential-sized units. Also, we should not fail to mention the mobile pelleting work of the Hudson Valley Grass Energy Group and the Pocono-Northeast RC&D Council in Pennsylvania. Last, the work of the Resource Efficient Agricultural Program (REAP) in Ontario, Canada is well known.

My intention here is not to try and provide an exhaustive listing of all the research that may be ongoing, but rather to ask the question: “Are we, the grass energy community, covering all the research and development bases in a coordinated and comprehensive way?” Yes, different people are looking at different pieces of the puzzle, but are we really working together in a truly collaborative manner? Perhaps it is time to convene a special-purpose conference for the relatively small cadre of researchers and business interests to review progress, compare notes and chart out a research and development course that will get us to the goal of a viable grass energy industry.

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Second post from St Lawrence County:   Small to Large Institutions as Biomass Fuel Consumers

People have been using grass as a fuel for centuries, but today its promise as a fuel that can successfully compete with fossil fuels remains unfulfilled. Yes, there are systems that can very efficiently combust baled grass, such as, for example, REKA Boilers that are marketed by Skanden Energy, but these systems are not yet widely in use in the United States. There are also other multi-fuel biomass boiler manufacturers that can accept densified grass fuels, such as Hurst Boilers and Advanced Recycling. These are aimed at institutional-sized applications. There are a few choices for residential-sized biomass heating equipment, but the ability to reliably burn grass pellets or briquettes has not been emphasized when marketing and certifying these units.

Until manufacturers of residential biomass heating systems promote the use of grass fuel, the market for producing pellets or briquettes will remain stunted. Of course, manufacturers don’t want to sell true multi-fuel heating units unless they are certain that people really want to burn something in them other than wood pellets or corn. Likewise, growers and producers are not going to make the necessary investments in grass production and densification until people start using and demanding the fuels. Chicken and egg.

At this point in time it would seem that in order to develop the supply side of the grass energy equation we need some major consumers. The most realistic consumers would be the larger institutional users such as school districts, hospitals, combined heat and power installations, etc. If enough of these consumers installed multi-fuel boilers, it is likely that grass could be competitive with, say wood chips. Farmers would have a reasonable assurance of a saleable crop and producers would make the investment in densification equipment. Once the production side is up and running, hopefully the residential market could then be more easily developed.

So far we have one school district in St. Lawrence County – Edwards-Knox Central School – who has installed a Hurst Boiler and is currently using wood chips. They have the capability to receive, store and feed pellets less than 2 inches by 2 inches. They could also burn corn. The St. Lawrence County Grass Energy Working Group and the Drum Country Bio Energy Group have been encouraging other school districts, hospitals and businesses to make use of feasibility studies that were available on a completive basis and 100% funded though the U.S. Forest Service. The Forest Service is interested in promoting wood fuels, but we have also been advocating that any entity considering biomass heat specify a system that has multi-fuel capability. Recently, some 11 school districts, hospitals and businesses in St. Lawrence, Jefferson, Franklin and Lewis Counties were awarded feasibility studies, performed by Yellow Wood Associates, Inc.:

Brasher Falls Central School District
Burrows Paper
FiberMark
Potsdam Central School
Salmon River Central School
Colton-Pierrepont Central School
Lewis County Social Services and Public Safety Buildings
Watertown Industrial Center Local Development Corporation
Clifton-Fine Hospital
Clifton-Fine Central School
UH Cedars Complex

Most of these studies are nearing completion as of this date and follow-up site visits are planned for early 2011. We are hopeful that many of these projects will move beyond the feasibility study phase. Stay tuned.

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