Report: AD has potential in the Midwest

By Anna Austin | November 29, 2011

Residual biomass could be sustainably used to produce about 15 percent of the Midwest’s electricity, or around 17 percent of the region’s gasoline needs, according to a new study released by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

These biomass resources are concentrated in certain areas of the region, and these concentrations can guide development, the study finds. “Harnessing the Power of Biomass Residuals: Opportunities and Challenges for Midwestern Renewable Energy,” was authored by Chicago Council Senior Energy Fellow Steve Brick, and is partly premised on the hope that residual biomass resources can be less controversial bioenergy feedstocks than either food grains or dedicated energy crops.

The paper considers the residual biomass resources of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. It explores conversion technologies in mature and various stages of development, including anaerobic digestion, a leading contender for those having the most potential in the Midwest. According to the report, almost one-third of U.S. digesters are found in those six states, but the contribution to regional energy supply is small, with the total installed electric capacity of 33 megawatts, or 2 percent of the total installed electric generating capacity in the region.

Other key findings in the study include: landscape-based framework is needed to evaluate the agricultural, energy and environmental trade-offs inherent in bioenergy systems; nonenergy benefits may be as important as energy benefits in the economic evaluation of biomass residual resources; the technology exists now to manage animal manure and produce bioenergy; technology to produce ethanol from corn stover and other cellulosic feedstocks is evolving, but is not market ready; and most bioenergy systems using residuals are currently uncompetitive and will need subsidies and other public policies to move forward.

In order to make the most of the Midwest’s biomass residual potential, Brick concludes that the region must utilize its manure resource by increasing the amount of on-farm digesters, prepare the region’s corn farmers to participate in a market for cellulose, and embrace a landscape-based perspective for analyzing biofuel feedstock pathways.

Brick will be presenting his research to policymakers in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 30, and then will be conducting a regional road show. He will speak at events in Madison, Wis., Cleveland, Ohio, and West Lafayette, Ind., at Purdue University.

The paper can be accessed at