Colorado ACRE awards grants to biomass projects

By Ryan C. Christiansen
Web exclusive posted Jan. 8, 2009, at 10:58 a.m. CST

The Colorado Agricultural Value Added Development Board of the Colorado Department of Agriculture has awarded $250,000 in Advancing Colorado's Renewable Energy (ACRE) grants to organizations for biomass-related projects.

A $50,000 research grant was awarded to the Colorado State University Golden Plains Area Extension Service to evaluate how energy crops should be rotated on northeastern Colorado dryland farms.

"What we're trying to do is take the potential renewable energy crops-whether its biodiesel, ethanol, or cellulosic sources-and see how they fit into a cropping sequence," said Alan Helm, area extension agent for CSU. "Which crops follow which best? Which crops don't follow? If we start growing some of these alternative-type crops, whether it's canola or camelina, where do they fit into our cropping systems?"

Helm said canola, camelina, and sunflower will be rotated with dryland corn, grain sorghum, forage sorghums, winter wheat, and other crops at the Central Great Plains Research Station to determine how well the crops grow in sequence. "Every crop will be planted into every residue," he said.

The ACRE grant covers the first two years of the project, but Helm said additional grants will be sought to extend the project for an additional three to four years.

The Flux Farm Foundation of Carbondale, Colo., received a $50,000 research grant to study the effects of applying biochar, a byproduct of pyrolysis, to western Colorado pastureland. According to Morgan Williams, executive director for Flux Farm, to complete the study, the foundation has teamed up with Colorado State University; Best Energies Inc. of Madison, Wis., a slow pyrolysis technology provider; Dynamotive Energy Systems Corp. of Vancouver, British Columbia, a fast pyrolysis technology provider; and the Aspen Valley Land Trust, also of Carbondale, Colo.

Williams said the researchers will evaluate whether ranchers and farmers in western Colorado, who have large portions of land, might be able to use some of their pastureland for carbon sequestration to diversify their income. The research will also study the effects of applying various amounts of biochar from both fast and slow pyrolysis at different particle sizes at varying depths using multiple application methods, including trenching, injection, and a modified root feeding system. After the biochar has been applied to the pasturelands, forage yields will be studied, Williams said. At six-month intervals the soils will be tested for microbial content and chemical composition. He said the study will begin this spring using hayed and irrigated alfalfa- and volunteer grass-blend pastureland at 6,500 feet above sea level.

"We really think that western Colorado and the interior West can be this big platform for carbon sequestration," Williams said. Flux Farm's "back-of-the-envelope calculations" are that the carbon sequestration technique will be economically viable when carbon trades at $40 or more per ton, he added.

Another $50,000 research grant was awarded to the International Center for Appropriate and Sustainable Technology (iCast) in Lakewood, Colo., to work with students at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colo., in designing a biomass briquetting machine for producing briquettes from a mixture of cattle manure and woody biomass.

"What we want to find out is: what are the best conditions so that these briquettes have the highest amount of energy, so that they don't crumble very easily and so that they can be transported," said Francisco Flores, sustainability project manager for iCast. Flores said ultimately, the briquetting machine might be used to produce briquettes from manure at a 45,000-head cattle feedlot in Ordway, Colo. The research project is expected to be completed by the summer of 2009.

A $50,000 research grant has also been awarded to San Juan Bioenergy LLC of Durango, Colo., to study the chemical composition of syngas that's produced from gasifying sunflower hulls at the company's oilseed crushing plant in Dove Creek, Colo. According to Kathleen Parish, biofuels production manager for San Juan Bioenergy, the syngas produced by the gasifier will be used to fuel a generator that will produce electricity and to fuel a boiler that will be used to produce steam for the plant. Parish said the chemical composition of the syngas will be studied to determine its suitability for conversion to liquid fuels.

Another $50,000 research grant has been awarded to Stewart Environmental Consultants Inc. of Fort Collins, Colo., to catalog and quantify the feedstocks that might be available in northeastern Colorado for anaerobic digestion and biogas production.

According to Forbes Guthrie, a consultant for Stewart Environmental, a previous feasibility study identified six possible locations in northern Colorado where anaerobic digesters might be used to process dairy manure. "While cow manure is a viable feedstock, there are numerous other feedstocks from food processors, agricultural waste, and other industrial sources that have not been identified," Guthrie said. "Currently, there are large regional biogas projects in states such as Texas and California that are producing either natural gas or electrical power through anaerobic digestion, using a mixed feedstock consisting of food processing waste, industrial waste, and manure. While manure is a viable feedstock, these mixed feedstock systems are able to provide a more stable and higher energy output system."