On the Biomass Path

By Rona Johnson
If you aren't convinced that biomass is poised to play a big role in U.S. energy policy, you would have become a believer had you attended the Energy & Environmental Research Center's Biomass '09: Power, Fuels, and Chemicals Workshop. The conference was held July 14-15 at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, N.D.

One message that carried through the workshop is that there are many paths to achieving energy independence, and biomass is one of those paths, along with solar, wind, geothermal and hydrogen. The workshop provided attendees with the latest information on trends and opportunities in biomass utilization, biofuels, feedstocks and biomass for the production of heat and electricity.

For more information about the event read the "Biomass' Role in the Energy Future" feature that starts on page 42. Chris Zygarlicke, the EERC's deputy associate director, also wrote about the workshop in the EERC Update on page 57.
Funding, of course, could put biomass over the top in terms of its success. Biomass Magazine associate editors Anna Austin and Lisa Gibson wrote a feature about biomass funding opportunities. As you might imagine, they found because of the uncertainties in today's economy, not many people were willing to talk about investing in any ventures, biomass or otherwise. Banks, although they've received a healthy dose of our tax dollars, don't seem to be in a hurry to give any of that money back to us. And, while venture capitalists are starting to delve into the biomass-based projects, it's difficult to see any trends there at the moment. That leaves us with government funding, of which there are several offerings, but anything that comes out of Washington takes time to administer.

The funding picture might not be so clear now, but as the economy improves, project developers will get government funding and people will start looking for good, sound investments, and the biomass industry will take off. Some of these investors, as we've already seen in the ethanol industry, might be oil companies. I say this because of the recent announcement that General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet Volt could get up to 230 miles per gallon (mpg). I can't even imagine what my life would be like if I had a vehicle that got 230 mpg. We probably won't see many of those vehicles in North Dakota because of our cold temperatures, but I'm sure it will be a hit in other areas of the country. At about $40,000 the price tag on these cars may seem out of reach, but the price will probably decrease in time just as it has for all of the other high-tech gadgets we've seen over the years.

Now we need to make sure there will be enough biomass-based power to run those vehicles.

Be sure to check out the new column that is debuting in this month's magazine. On page 55 you'll find the BPA Update, a column by Bob Cleaves, president and CEO of the Biomass Power Association. The BPA lobbies Congress to make sure that biomass is an integral part of America's energy future. Cleaves will be keeping us apprised of the BPA's activities on a monthly basis.

Rona Johnson
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