Winding Up With Waste to Energy

By Rona Johnson
It seems like the summer went so fast, but in North Dakota it always does. The days are getting shorter-instead of seeing daylight until 11 p.m. it's starting to get dark at 8:30 p.m. The finches I've been feeding all summer are also aware of the change of seasons and are eating me out of house and home. Every time I walk by the near-empty feeder I feel guilty because I'm out of food and reluctant to buy more because they are devouring it so quickly.

Although summer may be winding down in the Midwest, at Biomass Magazine we are just winding up. This month's theme, waste-to-energy, is a great energizer for us. I know I've said it before, but there is nothing better than turning garbage into something useful.

Associate editors Anna Austin and Lisa Gibson wrote features on two of the largest waste-to-energy companies in the U.S., Wheelabrator Technologies and Covanta Energy. We chose them because they've been around since renewable energy first became a buzzword in the 1970s. We wanted to see where they are today, and hear their thoughts about the industry's future. As you will learn in the "Witnessing a Waste-to-Energy Revival" feature on page 24, it's been a rollercoaster existence for those who managed to survive, but things are looking up. I hope this latest resurgence, which was no doubt prompted by high energy prices and government incentives, lasts longer than the last one. Covanta Energy is gearing up for the future by recently acquiring six waste-to-energy plants from Veolia Environmental Services, increasing the number of plants it operates to 44.

If you're not into biomass power, check out "A New Climate Change Mitigation Tool" feature on page 44. This is about biochar and how the International Biochar Initiative is trying to get the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change to accept it as a climate change mitigation option. If that should happen, it would create a market for biochar as a soil enhancement and a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

If biochar doesn't thrill you, you may want to check out the feature called "From Scientific Breakthrough to Business" on page 38 about an E. coli strain that can ferment glycerin. This discovery could have positive implications for the ethanol, biodiesel and biochemicals industries.

Lately, I've been receiving a lot of calls from people inquiring about engineering, construction and procurement firms. I have to assume this means that the biomass projects we've been reporting on the past several months are getting closer to starting construction. I have also seen scattered news stories online about construction costs going down, which would be excellent timing. Here's hoping for a perfect storm: a plethora of biomass projects, affordable construction costs and continued government support. I would like to include high energy prices, but that just doesn't seem right with winter right around the corner and me living in North Dakota.