Celebrating the Groundbreakers

Biomass Magazine Executive Editor Tim Portz discusses the challenges of building a biomass energy project, and the dedication and drive required to bring a project to success.
By Tim Portz | March 14, 2014

On March 25, I’ll have the unique privilege of bestowing the third annual International Biomass Conference & Expo Groundbreaker of the Year Award. From a professional standpoint, this is one of the best moments of my year. Building a biomass-to-energy project is hard.  Even small projects require significant amounts of capital, face arduous permitting processes, often involve the first time deployment of new technologies, and, once complete, will have to compete in a commodity energy market awash with well-entrenched incumbents. Despite those hurdles, groundbreakings and project announcements still find their way into the inboxes of our team.

These types of projects and the teams that drive them deserve to be celebrated. Doing just so, this month’s project development and plant construction issue is an annual tradition at Biomass Magazine, and has been strategically printed in time to be included with proceedings at the International Biomass Conference & Expo. While working on this issue, it was important to our team to highlight construction in each of the five segments we cover each month. We were able to do precisely that, and each story conveys the massive efforts it took to get its featured project where it is today.

Interestingly, it became difficult to keep each story inside of its respective segment box. For example, Chris Hanson’s comprehensive update on the final construction stages of three different cellulosic ethanol facilities, “The Year is Here,” (page 40) dips both into power production and anaerobic digestion. Anna Simet’s “Dually Renewable” (page 14) looks closely at the power generation component of Abengoa Biomass Energy of Kansas’s cellulosic ethanol facility. In the piece, Abengoa’s Chris Standlee highlights the value of electricity as a coproduct. “It [power] also spreads risk—it’s another product to sell, and you’re able to get long-term contracts in the power market,” he says.
The cross pollination doesn’t stop there, and I’m excited by the increasing number of biomass projects that are turning to other biomass technologies to either contribute needed heat and power or manage production waste streams. In short, our industry continues to look inward and leverage proven technologies to de-risk the less proven ones.

While I don’t yet know who the winner of the 2014 Groundbreaker of the Year Award is—but wouldn’t reveal it if I did—I am continually learning more about the long road they have traveled. That kind of dogged commitment to biomass energy projects deserves celebration, and we’re humbled to be able to do it.