Energy from Biomass and Waste premieres in Pittsburgh

By Ron Kotrba
Pittsburgh, a town once plagued by coal smoke, hosted the Energy from Biomass and Waste (EBW) conference and expo Sept. 25-27, where nearly 700 people and 85 exhibitors gathered to learn new developments in alternative energies and to network with likeminded experts from across the globe.

In the opening keynote speech, Dan Griffiths of Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection said his state, a major coal producer, needs to "get serious" about investing in renewable energy production. "The big question is: Are we going to be able to act or just talk?" he told the crowd. "We can't afford to fail. What inheritance would we be leaving?"

Sandy Feldman, attorney with K&L Gates, spoke about the need to extend the renewable production tax credits under Section 45 of the Internal Revenue Code, which credits the producer with 2 cents per kilowatt-hour for closed-loop production and 1 cent per kilowatt-hour for open-loop biomass power generation. A plant must be producing by the end of 2008 to be eligible for the incentive, which would exist for 10 years after start-up.

Penn State University Professor David Blogan presented information on advancements made in direct electrical generation from microbial fuel cells. Two issues will need to be overcome in scaling up this technology: reducing the high surface area requirements for the electrodes to stick to, and reducing the interface area for cathodes where air and water meet.

Randy Wolf of Balcones Fuel Technology warned of the supply and pricing dangers with a business model built solely on crop wastes. "You let the farmer know there's value there, and the price shoots up," he said, adding that a "mob mentality" exists among farmers today. He talked of the advantages in partnering with commercial-scale facilities to garner their industrial waste streams as energy feedstocks. For example, Wolf said pelleted diapers pack 12,000 British thermal units per pound, as determined by University of Arkansas Professor James Gaddy. He has been conducting ethanol production trials using diaper pellets in the Bioengineering Resources Inc. gasification-fermentation process for two years.

Following the event's debut success in Pittsburgh, conference organizer Freesen & Partner GmbH is holding next year's EBW in the Iron City again. For more information on the 2007 or 2008 conferences, visit