North Dakota a leader in biomass production potential

By Anna Austin
Posted September 24, 2009, at 11:15 a.m. CST

Describing North Dakota as the "Saudi Arabia of biomass," Shane Goettle, commissioner of the North Dakota Department of Commerce and chair of the state's EmPower ND commission, told attendees of the 2009 Northern Plains Bioeconomy Conference on Sept. 22 in Fargo, N.D., that the state leads the nation in biomass production potential and is the top producer of 16 different commodities.

Goettle emphasized that North Dakota has tremendous energy assets, even beyond being home to the largest deposit of lignite coal in the world, the fifth largest oil production state in the nation, and the leader in the nation of wind energy potential. "You would be heavy pressed to find a state that is more readily poised to engage in the country's energy future," he said. "The fact that we have such tremendous biomass potential is getting the attention of significant investors, companies and players in the world."

The state legislature has also implemented EmPower ND, a multiresource energy strategy first initiated by Gov. John Hoeven in 2001, and enhanced in 2007 with a statewide energy policy commission to build on a comprehensive energy policy for North Dakota.

The goal of of EmPower ND is to grow all energy industries in the state-renewable and traditional. Goettle said the program is unique in nature. "We've got all of the energy industry leaders together to hammer out a policy they we can initially agree on, and go to the legislature and our government leaders to move all of North Dakota's energy interests forward. It's not easy work, but I'm very proud of this 14-member commission."

In 2009, North Dakota legislature passed nine pieces of energy legislation supported by EmPower which includes tax breaks for renewable energy devices, income tax credits for soybean and canola crushing costs, a combined renewable energy and biomass incentive programs with $3 million in funding, and a biofuels blender pump incentive program with up to $2 million in funding, Goettle said.

North Dakota has funded several renewable projects this year, including a feasibility study to evaluate the prospects of cofiring Great River Energy's coal-burning Spiritwood Station near Jamestown, N.D., with 10 percent to 20 percent biomass; a front-end engineering design study to determine the technical and economic requirements for commercializing technology to produce biobased cellulosic nanowhiskers; testing in the areas of Fischer-Tropsch liquid production, catalyst development/testing, product upgrade and process simulation using biomass-derived syngases; and a project to evaluate the best practices of producing biomass, including the most productive grass species, optimal harvest methods and best practices to maintain productive perennial biomass stands in the state, Goettle said.

"North Dakota has the tools, the aptitude and attitude to embrace biomass and all of our energy development," Goettle said. "It's very exciting to see agriculture and energy come together."