Alleviating a Waste Problem

Panelists at the IBCE agree that the many different segments of the bioenergy sector have one important commonality—we are all helping alleviate a waste problem.
By Anna Simet | February 27, 2020

I’m writing this from the International Biomass Conference & Expo in Nashville, Tennessee, where I had the pleasure of moderating the annual association leadership roundtable discussion. It would be very difficult to boil the lengthy conversation down enough to summarize in this column, so I won’t attempt it. What I can say with confidence is that, out of anything our attendees gleaned from the conversation, perhaps the most notable takeaway was that while each sector is focused on making a different energy product, we’re all on the same page, with very similar goals. When asked what the collective “we,” the bioenergy industry, wants our message to be—something concise, uniform and easy to explain—all panelists agreed that the most significant commonality is that we are helping alleviate a waste problem, whether it be cow manure or human waste, hazardous forest material or thinnings, food waste or something else.

On that note, one of the subsequent track panels I moderated focused on opportunities regarding biochar, particularly for businesses that have a waste product, such as pulp and paper manufacturers. Coincidentally, we have included a feature focused on biochar to support this issue’s theme of byproducts, coproducts and secondary markets. In “Fighting Climate Change with Ancient Technology,” page 16, Senior Editor Ron Kotrba dives into all aspects of biochar, including how it’s is produced, the vast array of current and potential markets, how feedstock properties influence end product qualities and suitable uses, and, of course, challenges. Interestingly, one of biochar’s seemingly attractive characteristics—it’s versatility—can also be a detriment, according to Jonah Levine, vice president of development and cofounder of Biochar Solutions Inc. “The challenge for biochar is there are so many different stories to tell that it gets complicated,” he says. “People like a nice, neat story. Biochar has a lot of value, and it’s not a simple story to tell.”

    Also related to this month’s theme, we have included the contribution “Hemp as an Energy Crop: Drying Considerations,” on page 30, by Becky Long, dryer engineer at Thompson Dryers. While the CBD oil market is bustling, what can be done with the waste leftover—i.e., hemp straw? In this piece, Long discusses the many variables to consider when drying hemp for energy purposes, with a focus on pellets.

The last content piece I’ll mention is the photo review of the International Biomass Conference & Expo. It’s difficult to capture the value of an event through photos, but you’ll be able to get an idea of the kind of interaction, information and versatility that is offered to attendees. Next year, we’ll be in Jacksonville, Florida, March 15-17, and in the meantime, I look forward to watching and reporting on the industry’s momentum. 


Author: Anna Simet