Small-Scale Biomass Delivers Big Benefits

By Tim Portz | July 01, 2013

Two of biomass’s most valuable characteristics are its ubiquity and its adaptability to scale. These attributes have been explored, each in turn, in this and last month’s installments of Biomass Magazine. In June, we explored biomass inputs as a less carbon-dense supplement or replacement for coal. The enormity of the energy needed by the massive, grid-connected facilities we profiled are generating billions of dollars of investment worldwide to produce and move biomass, quite literally by the shipload.

This month, we turn our attention to the other end of the spectrum and look closely at biomass energy systems that, in some cases, require little more than a handful of biomass to generate vital heat and power. Interestingly, the societal, economic and local benefits for biomass energy systems at these small and micro scales rival—and arguably eclipse—the benefits of the enormous conversions covered in last month’s issue.

Consider this from this month’s Q&A with BioLite co-founder Jonathan Cedar and co-inventor of that company’s HomeStove product: Each day, 3 billion people cook over open fires, breathing raw wood smoke loaded with particulate matter. The resulting respiratory ailments and diseases kill more people each year than HIV and malaria combined.

Our other features this month outline different but equally compelling benefits. Fuel cost savings, forest restoration, increased local economic activity and dispatchable power for storm-ravaged communities are all deliverables afforded by biomass energy systems that are highly portable, easy to use and incredibly clean. In Anna Simet’s “Why We Did it” department, Millinocket (Maine) Regional Hospital CEO Marie Vienneau notes that the forecast $2 million savings delivered to the hospital over the next 10 years can be redirected to expenditures that will result in greater patient benefits. Director of Plant Operations Dale McLaughlin takes the benefit conversation even further saying, “We also like the fact that the money is being spent on wood pellets. It’s still in the U.S. and even better yet, here in our area,”

This month’s stories are reminders that while the Btus delivered by small-scale biomass energy systems may lack the eye-popping enormity of those at massive power facilities, the benefits they deliver for their users are no less profound.