Necessity Is Not the Only Mother of Invention

By Tim Portz | August 29, 2012

Regardless of what opponents or skeptics of biomass-derived energy might say about our industry, they certainly cannot argue with our opportunistic nature. I suppose this is the result of building an entire industry within the margins or shadows of “conventional” power, heat, fuel and chemical markets.

As biomass professionals we have to be opportunistic. Our feedstocks are typically the coproducts and castoffs of other agricultural or industrial processes, our conversion technologies are often initially optimized for other inputs, and our energy products face massive and deeply entrenched competitors, yet we continue to force the issue while pursuing and winning real market share. 

Every time a biomass input is converted into an energy product, it occurs because someone saw an opportunity for biomass and engineered their way over the hurdles that continued to fall into their path.

With a focus on cofiring, co-location and repowering, this month’s issue of Biomass Magazine is an examination of the kind of opportunism I find so exciting about our industry. In Anna Simet’s piece “Paper to Power,” she examines how a shuttered paper mill in New Hampshire is being recast as a stand-alone biomass power facility, consequently putting local residents back to work and adding value to the area’s abundant biomass supply. Luke Geiver examines the opportunity created for a small Minnesota trucking company that paid attention to local industrial sites that began to fold cofiring into their operational strategy. Their knowledge of available biomass and ability to guarantee on-time delivery has their business growing. Finally, in a Q&A with BioProcess Algae Senior Scientist Toby Ahrens, we learn about the opportunity he and his organization see in carbon dioxide exiting the stack of a host facility, and their plan to capture and convert it into a valuable biomass stream.

An argument could be made that the projects outlined in this month’s issue aren’t necessary. The paper mill in Berlin, N.H., could remain shuttered, the steel operation in Minnesota could operate exclusively on coal and the Green Plains ethanol facility in Shenandoah, Iowa, could continue venting CO2 into the atmosphere without wondering about the lost opportunity.  But, you are reading about them today because our industry is populated by folks listening for even the faintest rap of opportunity at their door.