What About Biomass Power and Thermal?

It would be nice if President Obama would put a little more emphasis on biomass power and thermal opportunities when he addresses the nation about clean energy and energy independence.
By Rona Johnson | April 01, 2011

I’m getting a little annoyed that President Obama tends to leave out or just briefly mention biomass power, and as far as I know, has yet to mention biomass thermal opportunities when he addresses the nation about clean energy and energy independence.

In the speech he made on March 30 regarding America’s energy security he talked about his new goal of reducing the 11 million barrels of oil the U.S. imports in a day by one-third in less than a decade. In his Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future he outlined his plan to reach that goal by using more natural gas (mining it from shale deposits), producing more biofuels, building vehicles that get 50 to 60 miles to the gallon and driving electric vehicles. But he failed to mention that another way to do that is to switch from heating oil to biomass heat, especially in the Northeast where the majority of heating oil is used.

All of these are great ideas, but would it hurt him to just mention biomass power and thermal. Heck he even gave a shout out to nuclear, which is understandably under the microscope at the moment. I’m not saying nuclear is bad, I’m just saying that we need to be mindful of the situation in Japan to make sure it can’t happen here.

To top it off, the U.S. DOE on March 31, in response to Obama’s speech, announced that $12 million is available for laboratory or small pilot-scale projects that support development of advanced fuels.

I think it’s great for the biofuels industry and don’t begrudge them their opportunity, but imagine what the biomass power and heat industry could do with that money (sigh).

The good news is that biomass power is mentioned in the administration’s fact sheet that accompanied the president’s speech under the heading Creating Markets for Clean Energy. According to that document, “To move capital off of the sidelines and into the clean energy economy—creating jobs in the process—we need to give businesses and entrepreneurs a clear signal that there will be a market for clean energy innovation. That's why the Administration is committed to pursuing a Clean Energy Standard (CES), an ambitious but achievable goal of generating 80 percent of the Nation's electricity from clean energy sources by 2035—including renewable energy sources like wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower; nuclear power; efficient natural gas; and clean coal.”

When Obama first mentioned his Clean Energy Standard in his last State of the Union address many of us were wondering if biomass was in the mix, now it seems much clearer.

Also, Obama said he wants to see 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2020. All that clean energy used to power those cars has to come from somewhere, preferably biomass.

Biomass conference tour

I think it’s time President Obama toured a biomass power plant or an anaerobic digester or got a closer look at a district energy system. It seems like whenever he tours something or goes somewhere he uses it in his speeches, like the time he “visited gleaming new solar arrays” and “tested an electric vehicle fresh off the assembly line.”  

I guess my challenge to all of you is to get the president to come to your facility so you can explain how biomass power and thermal works and why it’s so right for this country. And don’t forget to invite us along.

Can you imagine his excitement when he realizes that electricity can be produced from cow manure or garbage?

 Or maybe he could go to the U.K. where incentives have pushed that country’s renewable energy industry far ahead of the U.S. The U.K. government has established feed-in tariffs for renewable power production and recently passed a Renewable Heat Incentive. The RHI is expected to help the country meet its target to produce 15 percent of its energy from renewables by 2020 and will eventually include everything from residential heating to schools and businesses to commercial industrial facilities.

It would be great if President Obama would attend our 2011 International Biomass Conference & Expo, which is being held May 2-5 in St. Louis. I know wishful thinking on my part. Between the panel discussions and the tours, I believe he would be able to get a grasp of the biomass industry and what we are trying to achieve.

Speaking of the biomass tours, this year’s event is featuring three locations: the Anheuser-Busch Bio-Energy Recovery System, Innovative Energy Inc. and the IESI MO Champ Landfill. The BEER system at Anheuser-Busch uses wastewater to produce power for the facility and reduce its organic waste. Innovative Energy has a gasification system that converts any carbon-based fuel into a syngas that can be used to produce electricity. And, the IESI MO Champ Landfill recovers landfill gas and provides renewable power to several facilities, including a commercial greenhouse and local high school.

If you haven’t done so already, I would urge you go to to register for the event and make sure you sign up for the tours.