BIOMASS draws more than 1,000 to Portland

By Craig Johnson and Anna Austin
Web news posted April 30, 2009, at 3:39 p.m. CDT

The 2009 International BIOMASS Conference & Expo in Portland, Ore., April 28-30 drew a record crowd of more than 1,000 attendees representing 25 nations. With six unique tracks and over 100 speakers, the event served as a timely and informative opportunity for networking across the biomass utilization and optimization industries.

"Biomass will change the world's energy future," said Mike Bryan, CEO of BBI International, who gave the opening remarks. "[Biomass-derived power] will do this in a way that does not create global conflict ... as an ambassador for peace."

The importance of biomass as a solution to ever-increasing energy demands was emphasized by each opening speaker at the first general session. America's dependence on foreign energy sources was a particular concern highlighted by the speakers, all of whom acknowledged the importance of passing legislation that supports the aims and initiatives of the biomass industries as a major component of any forward-looking agenda.

In his keynote address, Biomass Power Association (BPA) President Robert Cleaves spoke directly to the substance of continued energy and environmental policy reform. "In order to lead and have value, we need to be successful in the next era of environmental policy in this country," he said. "This industry needs to fight for every scrap it is given and the BPA is doing just that."

Oregon DOE Director Michael Grainey reminded the general session crowd of exhibitors, project developers, technology providers, academia and other attendees of the great energy challenges the U.S. faces. "In Oregon, we spend over $12 billion a year on energy; half of that is for oil-most of it goes out of state, and much of it goes out of the country. Your state may be similar."

Grainey pointed out that the U.S. imports over two-thirds of the oil consumed in the U.S., twice the amount imported when the oil embargo drove fuel prices high over 30 years ago. "While the recent drop in oil prices provides relief, we are all still paying over five times the price we paid for oil just a few years ago," he said. "Oil is the largest cause of our trade deficit, our balance payments deficit, and the single largest cause of inflation."

Major renewable energy initiatives have been taken in Oregon that are especially important to biomass, Grainey said, including an energy loan program which provides loans up to $20 million to cover capital costs of constructing renewable energy facilities. "We have over 30 biomass projects-totaling more than $100 million in landfill gas, cogeneration, and biofuel facilities. We also have two tax credits-a capital investment tax credit called a business energy tax credit, and a production tax credit to encourage biomass use." Oregon also has a renewable fuels standard (RFS) for ethanol which has been in effect for more than a year, and has legislation pending to activate a biodiesel RFS this fall.

Grainey said the new U.S. administration has shown good signs of support for biomass, particularly President Obama. "Even before his campaign, from his remarks you could tell that his forwarded belief in renewable energy is deeply felt," he said. "It is encouraging to know that we now have a strong ally at the very top of the White House-we have some fundamental choices to make about our energy future, and obligations to weigh the impacts of our energy choices. Your efforts will decide whether biomass and other renewable energy will play an increasing role in our future, or whether we will continue on a path of increased fossil fuels, increased pollution and increase imports," he concluded.