EERC Update

Biomass '07: Power, Fuels and Chemicals Workshop Surpasses All Expectations
By Chris J. Zygarlicke
Interest, especially in the Plains states, is at an all-time high in utilizing biomass as a feedstock to supplant a portion of current U.S. energy needs. Farmlands throughout the Dakotas can grow soybeans, canola, switchgrass or varieties of prairie grasses. Large biodiesel and ethanol plants are being erected, rural economies are close to booming in some areas, and communities are eager to learn how to better utilize these renewable domestic biomass feedstocks.

These topics and many more were discussed during the Biomass '07: Power, Fuels and Chemicals Workshop, held in Grand Forks, N.D, May 15 and 16. The Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) first hosted the workshop in 2002, with 80 participants and a focus on deriving heat and electricity from biomass. This year's event surpassed all expectations by attracting more than 400 registrants and 30 exhibitors. Attendees represented more than 230 organizations, three foreign countries and 28 states. It was a wonderful team effort with sponsorships from the North Dakota Department of Commerce's Division of Community Services, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and signature sponsor BBI International.

As one of the conference attendees said, "The Biomass '07 Workshop is a great compilation of the current status and future challenges of the renewable fuel and biomass utilization industry. It is a great assembly of information helping our industry stay focused on the tasks at hand to meet the world's expectations on an accelerated timetable."

U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who addressed the crowd by video from Washington, D.C., emphasized the essential importance of utilizing biomass in the U.S. energy portfolio, including the transportation and electricity sectors. In 1999, Dorgan was instrumental in helping to establish initial seed funding that was leveraged through joint ventures with industry within what are now the Centers for Renewable Energy and Biomass Utilization at the EERC. Following Dorgan, EERC Director Gerald Groenewold focused on the future of biofuels, specifically integrating them into the existing energy mix.

The Biomass '07 technical session featured outstanding presenters from around the nation. Many are covered extensively in this issue of Biomass Magazine, but I want to highlight a few of the presentations for your interest.

Betsy Engelking, manager of resource planning at Xcel Energy, provided an excellent industry perspective on the electricity side of biomass utilization. Xcel Energy has a goal of 25 percent renewable energy generation within 20 years. The company has 25 megawatts of wood residue biomass heat and power at the District Energy St. Paul plant in St. Paul, Minn., plus another 55 megawatts of poultry litter-derived biomass electricity from the Fibrominn LLC plant near Benson, Minn.

From the agricultural perspective, Kevin Kephart, vice president for research and dean of the graduate school at South Dakota State University, focused on energy crops such as switchgrass. Kephart provided a thorough explanation of how native prairie grasses, such as big blue stem, are actually hardier in a broader array of climatic conditions and are less prone to disease than monocultures such as switchgrass.

Finally, Gerson Santos-Leon, director of research and development at Abengoa Bioenergy in Chesterfield, Mo., described Abengoa's $80 million award from the DOE, which was matched with about $200 million in private investment, to build and demonstrate a small commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Kansas.

The workshop provided an excellent opportunity for networking and an even greater vision of biomass technologies that are no longer a dream, but a reality. Thank you again to all of the Biomass '07 presenters, exhibitors and attendees who share this goal of biomass utilization.

We excitedly look forward to the Biomass '08 Technical Workshop to be held in July 2008 in Grand Forks, and we are truly excited to work with BBI in the premiere of our International Biomass Conference and Trade Show to be held in Minneapolis in April 2008. The future of biomass is now. I hope to see you there.

Chris J. Zygarlicke is deputy associate director for research at the EERC in Grand Forks, N.D. He can be reached at or (701) 777-5123.