Report addresses Midwest biomass thermal potential

By Erin Voegele | May 06, 2013

FutureMetrics Inc. recently prepared a working report for the Heating the Midwest with Renewable Biomass steering committee. The report outlines a vision to achieve 15 percent renewable thermal energy in the Midwest by 2025, with 10 percent derived from sustainably produced biomass.

According to the report, approximately 3.5 percent of all U.S. thermal energy needs are currently satisfied by the use of solid biomass fuel. In the Midwest, approximately 97 percent of thermal energy consumed in the residential sector is from non-renewable sources.

The analysis said that although thermal energy represents approximately 38 percent of the energy consumed in the U.S., no Midwestern states have adopted formal targets to reduce the reliance on fossil energy in heating markets. While other renewable thermal energy options exist in the U.S., the report stresses that biomass is the region’s most abundant renewable resource for thermal applications.

There is a long way to go to reach the 10 percent biomass-derived thermal energy goal described in the report. Data included in the analysis demonstrates that Michigan is currently leads the Midwestern states with regard to biomass utilization for thermal energy. The state generates 4.44 percent of its thermal energy from biomass sources. Minnesota, Ohio and Indiana generate a relative 2.66 percent, 2.51 percent and 2.32 percent of thermal energy from biomass. Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin all generate less than 2 percent of their thermal energy from renewable biomass sources.

While little biomass is currently being utilized for thermal energy production, the report estimates a great deal of the renewable feedstock is available in the Midwest. According to FutureMetrics’ analysis, 104.82 million green tons of biomass is available in the region, including 86.73 million tons of agricultural biomass and 18.09 tons of forest biomass for pellet production. By 2025, the quantity of biomass is expected to increase to 147.02 million tons, including 114.5 million tons of agricultural biomass and 29.83 tons of forest biomass.

In the report FutureMetrics states that the tactics for to achieve the vision are expected to provide long-term employment for tens of thousands of new workers in forest and farm production of feedstocks, as well as sales, installation, service positions and a range of others. The organization also stresses that while achieving the vision will have profound implications for the Midwest economy, employment levels and quality of life, it will only be possible through the coordinated efforts of advocacy groups, research institutions, members of industry and government. It will also require hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment as well as education and outreach activities.

A full copy of the working report can be downloaded from the Heating the Midwest website.