Winter propane crisis frames Midwest biomass heating opportunity

By Chris Hanson | April 30, 2014

The opportunities of Midwest biomass heating in a post-propane crises market was the topic of discussion during the opening session of the 2014 Heating the Midwest with Renewable Biomass Conference and Expo in Green Bay, Wis.

The propane crisis, which was caused by multiple factors, caused Wisconsin propane prices to spike at the end of January, said Kevin Vesperman, administrator at the Wisconsin Division of Energy Services. The event was caused by several factors, which included record-setting cold temperatures for the region, the Cochin pipeline shutdown during the preceding fall and a bumper corn crop, which required extra propane to dry it, he explained. “The pipeline crises has a chance to happen again next year.”

Scott Nichols, president of Tarm USA Inc., highlighted opportunities and challenges of biomass thermal heating in the Midwest as part of his keynote address.

The biggest challenge and opportunity for biomass heating in the Midwest was a limited market, or a small pool of customers, explained Nichols. Roughly 48 million people live in the region, but the majority do not quite understand biomass heating technology, he said. “There are not enough that know what we do.”

During the past season, the biomass industry has made good headway in the heating market with regard to customers and policy makers, and the industry should focus its efforts to continue to grow the pool, Nichols said. He suggested the need for a nonprofit organization to launch a website to educate the general public, greater marketing research efforts and mass market television and internet advertising campaigns. The effort should also be fuel agnostic and allow for customization for other various markets, he added.