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The Sexy Fuel

Why isn’t biomass sexier in the U.S.? I’ve been told it’s the “sexy fuel” in Germany, and again I wonder: when will we catch up?
By Lisa Gibson | May 02, 2011

Why isn’t biomass sexier in the U.S.? I’ve been told it’s the “sexy fuel” in Germany, and again I wonder: when will we catch up?

Germany increased its number of pellet-fueled heating plants from 3,000 in the year 2000 to about 125,000 in 2009, mostly in residential and small-scale commercial applications. That’s an astonishing climb in nine short years and it’s not the only European country to exponentially increase its wood pellet use recently.

Andrea Stahl, commercial specialist with the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service in Germany, told me that the energy change encompasses much more than just feedstock, but also energy efficiency, changed mobility concepts and change of lifestyle. Her wording is so splendid that I won’t try to paraphrase: “Being resourceful no longer has the stigma of being uncool, funless, wearing self-knitted baggy clothes and munching dust-dry cereal.” Instead it’s quite the opposite. It’s a status symbol to own a smart car, buy eco-friendly foods and wear eco-friendly clothing. Fine. I get it. German hippies are cool.

So how do we make hippies cool in the U.S.? I realize that’s a gross stereotypical generalization, but all kidding aside, I think you see where I’m going with this. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again: we need incentives; reasons to produce and use pellets that come with meaningful benefits. And apparently, that needs to come hand in hand with an attitude adjustment. We have a ways to go, but it seems the wheels are beginning to turn, albeit painfully slowly.

For instance, Vermont is working on an incentive for residential pellet heat in lieu of oil to spur use of the local, clean alternative. In the face of biomass plant proposal cancellations, including one in Pownal, Vt., I have to admit I got a little giddy when I heard about this incentive and hope it catches on elsewhere in the country. And the USDA recently held an open solicitation for proposals to study the feasibility of providing crop insurance to producers of biomass feedstocks like corn stover, straw and woody biomass. Crop insurance for biomass? Yes please.

Alright, so wood pellets are slowly getting a little sexier in the U.S. and export opportunities up the quotient a bit more. Global pellet markets, specifically in Europe, are booming and expected to continue their climb to the top of the world’s renewables pedestal.

And you knew this was coming: Biomass Power & Thermal’s International Biomass Conference & Expo this week in St. Louis will of course touch on those global opportunities more than once. Most notable, though, is Wednesday’s plenary session “From Here to There and There to Here: Examining Global Project Development,” which features four speakers including the U.S. Industrial Pellet Association’s executive director, Seth Ginther. For more information on the conference, visit www.biomassconference.com. It’s important to note that the recent foul weather in the region will not affect the conference, and the airport is back to full operation following the beating it took from an enormous tornado.

So since we haven’t caught up to Germany in wood pellet use, I suppose the plus side is we have plenty of room to grow. And I’m über excited to see where that growth takes us.   

 

 

7 Responses

  1. James Watt of Greenock

    2011-05-03

    1

    Wood, Woody, and agricultural biomass processed into solid, liquid and gaseous fuels can help USA be fuel independent and not at the (Glen –LoL !) beck and call of the Gulf States. If you could look after and use your own resources you would never have heard of Osama B L. Fly the flag and don’t let small insignificant countries lead you around by the nose.

  2. Juergen Denker

    2011-05-03

    2

    I hope, my esteemed pre-commentator does not mean Germany when he speaks of small and insignificant countries (with only 80 Mil. inhabitants its GDP is the 4th largest in the world). German and European Power Companies are currently buying in a large scale into North American biomass resources as RWE does in Georgia and Vattenfall does in Canada. If the US is not getting smart soon, all the cheap biomass produced in the US will be sold to foreign parties leaving the US to look for more expensive solutions.

  3. Frank Cantatore

    2011-05-04

    3

    Europe and Europeans have had to live smarter and more efficiently than we have in the U.S. for a long time. Once again the U.S. is far behind Europe in its attitude, approach, and enforcement of a comprehensive energy policy. It won't change here until the pocket book is drained enough to hurt. Maybe $5 dollars a gallon will be the catalyst. As one of the owners of the Pownal, VT site I can tell you our "hippies" still don't think it's "cool" to be self sufficient. Burning wood is bad to generate electricity but good in a much less efficient fireplace.

  4. Josh

    2011-05-06

    4

    You know what's sexy? Standing forests and healthy people. Both of which are threatened by expanding biomass power schemes. But some folks might find clearcuts and wheezing to be sexy. I'm not here to judge...

  5. Jana Chicoine

    2011-05-06

    5

    Thanks for the lulz Lisa :)

  6. Mary S. Booth

    2011-05-07

    6

    Right, biomass only looks sexy when you're wearing beergoggles! Once the intoxicating effect of all those "clean green renewable" myths wears off, biomass looks like a real dog (w/ apologies to all four-footed doggies out there). For reality-based info on biomass, see www.pfpi.net

  7. Bertha Lee Chaires

    2011-05-07

    7

    Lisa, you said it yourself: "we need incentives; reasons to produce and use pellets that come with meaningful benefits. And apparently, that needs to come hand in hand with an attitude adjustment. We have a ways to go, but it seems the wheels are beginning to turn, albeit painfully slowly." Burning biomass is losing the public perception battle. People wisely and readily understand that if a business is not economically viable without huge incentives, they don't need it or want it; it's not good for us or our country, or the world. The wheels are beginning to turn: against burning biomass. You admitted it yourself when you admit the numbers of these bad biomass burning plans that have been and will continue to be defeated. It would be a lot sexier if you got off this bad burning train and learned to prefer clean air and clean communities.....and if you quit breathing toxic funes, you'd probably feel much sexier. tsk, tsk, such a beautiful young lady to be wasting your life on such a dead-end dirty deal.

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