THERMAL DYNAMICS: Bridging the Knowledge Gap
One doesn’t need to conduct extensive surveys to know that many in the United States have little knowledge about biomass and its use as a renewable source of energy. Everyone has seen and can describe windmills and solar panels, but how many in the public have even heard of a biomass boiler?
Sustainable, homegrown biomass energy should be in the public lexicon along with the other renewables. If you’re reading this article, you probably already know that biomass energy can create domestic jobs, replace fossil fuels and help put the U.S. on the path to a renewable-powered future. You also know that just like every other energy source, biomass has its advantages and disadvantages. The problem we face today is that much of the public—and many policymakers—remain unaware, confused or misinformed about the benefits of using biomass for energy. Put simply, the biomass brand needs a boost.
The potential of biomass energy in the U.S. is extraordinary. In our trade association, we have members installing wood boilers to replace oil heat systems in the Northeast; members growing miscanthus or selling agricultural byproducts in the Midwest; and members developing biomass combined-heat-and-power projects across the country. The economic and environmental benefits of these projects are real. The fuel supply is otherwise low-value residues or purpose-grown energy crops. On a number of levels, heating or CHP with biomass makes sense. For BTEC, our challenge lies in making the public and policymakers understand this message.
Bridging the knowledge gap on biomass energy is a hurdle that we all must overcome, no matter the feedstock or end-use. Whether woody or nonwoody, power or transportation fuels or heating, we can all agree that a considerable increase in awareness and support for biomass energy technologies is needed. The conversation needs to shift away from the instances where biomass energy isn’t a suitable solution towards the wealth of real-world, cutting-edge biomass projects that are in operation or under development today.
BTEC is taking action to change the discussion. We were recently awarded a grant by the U.S. Forest Service to develop educational resources on the potential and benefits of biomass thermal energy. We will be producing fact sheets, webinars, audio interviews and Web resources on the issues most relevant for our sector. You can find out more information on this project on our website, www.biomassthermal.org.
The education and outreach challenge goes beyond biomass thermal, however. This common problem requires a common solution. Granted, each sector of the biomass energy industry has its own advantages and disadavantages, its own goals and objectives, but the media and the public are often not as discerning. To many, biomass is biomass, plain and simple.
Despite our potential differences, stakeholders in the biomass industry should consider whether there are universal principles and messages that can help us rise above the fragmented front we have put forth to this point. I invite any comments or discussion on this idea. In the long run, presenting a unified voice may be our best shot in getting biomass energy the recognition it so rightly deserves. If we’re all going to be in the same boat, we should work together to decide the destination.
Author: Kyle Gibeault
Deputy Director, Biomass Thermal Energy Council
(202) 596-3974, ext. 327