Prepping Biomass for World Dominance or at Least Healthy Growth

By Rona Johnson | April 29, 2011

I hope you are in St. Louis and reading this issue between panel sessions at the 2011 International Biomass Conference & Expo. As I prepare to leave for my trip to St. Louis, I can’t help thinking about all of the events that have happened in the past couple of years that should and have been prompting the world to take a closer look at biomass-based power, heat, fuel and chemicals. In my biomass-riddled mind, we should be preparing to take over the world, but I realize that will take time and we should be satisfied that the industry is growing at a healthy pace.

The two biggest events were, of course, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and problems with the nuclear reactors in Japan, which according to recent news articles has nearly reached the threshold of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Those events coupled with the ridiculously high spikes in oil prices and unrest in the Middle East that could involve even more of our brave men and women in uniform, make me proud to be in an industry that is determined to make us more energy independent.

But in our haste to cofire power plants with biomass and replace heating oil with biomass-based thermal energy and gasoline with cellulosic ethanol among many other things, we need to make sure that we operate in a safe and sustainable environment because the world is watching.

Many biomass project developers have felt the sting of public resistance, which is usually based on misinformation and often fueled by irrational fears, and have had their plans delayed or even derailed. Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem, it would behoove us all to make sure we are sending out the right messages about our industry and showing people that biomass is truly a clean and renewable resource.

We in the media also have a responsibility to make sure that the general public is as informed as possible. Although we won’t “green wash” companies in our stories, we will make an effort, where it’s applicable, to point out the environmental, economic and social benefits of using biomass over fossil fuels.

It used to be difficult for trade journals to impact the opinions of those outside the industry, because we were preaching to the choir, so to speak. But now with social media, our news articles, columns and blogs are captured by a more diverse audience, making our jobs even more important.
Enjoy the conference and if you happen to see me stop and say hello.