Thompson, Roeslein biogas project awarded at biomass conference

By Katie Fletcher | April 12, 2016

Recipients of the annual industry awards—Excellence in Bioenergy and Groundbreaker of the Year—were announced at the 2016 International Biomass Conference & Expo, currently underway at the Charlotte Convention Center April 11-14.

The 2016 Excellence in Bioenergy award is distributed to one individual for their achievement in the bioenergy industry. This year’s award was presented to Dorothy Thompson, CEO of Drax. Thompson has led the team at Drax through the technical, logistical and political challenges associated with converting England’s largest cofiring power station to biomass. Thompson could not attend this year’s conference, but sent an acceptance video that was streamed during the awards ceremony.

“Our efforts have truly been a team effort,” Thompson stated in the video. “Last year, Drax became a predominately biomass fuel power station. We now generate more electricity from compressed wood pellets than coal. We could not have successfully transitioned from the fossil fuels of the past to the renewables of the future without the support of our partners.”

In her comments, Thompson also stressed the importance of the Sustainable Biomass Partnership to ensure the sustainability of biomass, and that the SBP is busy at work due to the enormous interest in the framework.

Roeslein Alternative Energy received the Groundbreaker of the Year Award for its large swine waste-utilizing biogas project on the Ruckman complex of Smithfield Foods Hog Division just northwest of Albany, Missouri. The site features nearly 70 individual barns, and at any given time, holds nearly 60,000 hogs. Accepting the award on behalf of the company was Chris Roach, director at RAE. “Rudi Roeslein introduced to me his vision of renewable energy, which was the most unique and novel approach I ever heard,” Roach said to the audience of conference attendees. “His idea was not only that we could take waste and convert it to energy, but also include biomass harvested from native landscapes to produce additional energy.”

Roach described the native landscapes in his acceptance comments. “These native landscapes would not be huge fields of single-species energy crops, like switchgrass, these would harken back to prairies of a century ago, with dozens of different native species, what many would call weeds today,” he said. “I knew that would be challenging. I looked at the vision and knew that you’d have low yields and high costs of cultivation and harvesting, but we would not be deterred.”

They were not deterred. RAE has been developing this project for about three years, and they are now on the cusp of launching one of the biggest biogas projects ever. The project will convert 200,000 acres of marginal land back to native landscape for the production of biomass, as well as utilize waste from nine operations which feed 2 million hogs per year. “From grass and from waste we’ll produce up to 50 million ethanol gallon equivalents of renewable natural gas per year,” Roach said. “We’ll additionally reduce millions of tons of carbon from the atmosphere; prevent soil erosion; improve water quality in streams, rivers and lakes; and create significant landscape for wildlife.”