April 30, 2007

April 2007 Digest

Woody Biomass - Energizing a new generation

America is witnessing the balkanization of its renewable energy portfolio. The sun belt is home to solar energy. The corn belt is home to ethanol. Landfill bioenergy is focused in urban areas. The nation's woodpiles are in the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast. Each region will have to come to grips with the economic, technical, environmental, and cultural changes that will be necessary build, market, and sustain development in their communities. NIMBY-ism will be a constant, frustrating impediment to many grand schemes.

We have seen the impact that ethanol has played in the cornbelt. Its communities have embraced the technologies - not without some consternation from its livestock industry. Individual farmers have banded together to form cooperatives to build ethanol plants. Agricultural giants like ADM and Cargill are re-evaluating how they can realign their business units to capitalize on their waste and biomass assets. Politicians are displaying uncharacteristic bipartisanship on ag/energy issues.

Following this model, we are now witnessing an emerging focus in the southeastern U.S. - home to communities that are committed now and in future generations to forestry and wood-related companies. 44% of the existing renewable energy generated in the U.S. comes from and is used by this industry - mostly generated from woody waste accumulating at paper and pulp mills. Landowners are eying biorefinery plans for the region to see if it makes sense to form cooperatives. Moribund mills and chemical factories that have lost business to foreign competition are now viewed as possible sites for new bioenergy ventures since they already have supply and distribution infrastructure in place.

The best resource of the region is the character of the indigenous citizens. Unfailingly patriotic but often regarded as the underappreciated step-children of America, many communities of the Southeast are eager to finally have an opportunity to contribute their regional ingenuity, brawn, and industrial capacity to the national effort to end American addiction to foreign oil. It is, after all, the young, proud southern recruit that continues to carry the bulk of the national security burden caused by this addiction.

As a political footnote, presidential aspirants interested in a Southern strategy should remember that in 2000 Gore lost ALL the states in the region - including his home state of Tennessee which would have put him in the White House. A commitment to woody bioenergy development of the region would be well received. It is not clear that the same can be said of the Pacific Northwest.

Here are links to stories that were posted in the BioEnergy BlogRing during April, 2007:

BIOstock Blog--------------
E3 Biofuels and Closed Loop Ethanol Plants
The need for Public Outreach: a case study in China
BIOstock 101: The BioTown Sourcebook
Woody Biomass Utilization and the USDA Forest Service
Development alliance builds between forest and energy giants
Hybrid poplars reduce carbon emissions best
Thinning trees to save ecology
In-Woods Expo 2007 Harvests Energy

BIOconversion Blog--------------
Industrial Symbiosis: Creating eco-industrial parks
Latin America's Blueprint for Green Energy
BIOconversion 101: The BioTown Sourcebook
EPA releases comprehensive Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program
Converting Biomass to Hydrogen
D.O.E. to fund ADM/Purdue cellulosic ethanol project
Friedman Multi-media on "The Power of Green"
Biomass Gasification at the "Chin-dia" price

BIOoutput Blog--------------
Good News from the DOE about Carbon Sequestration
BIOoutput 101: The BioTown Sourcebook

BIOwaste Blog--------------
BIOwaste 101: The BioTown Sourcebook
Hurdles to Waste Conversion Technologies
Smokestack emissions as feedstock for ethanol

Each month we provide a similar breakdown of article titles from our favorite "companion" site - Biopact Blog. This list is kept current and is accessible in the right hand column of each of the three blogs.

Please forward a link to this digest to anyone you know who would be interested in keeping track of change that will affect us all. They can add their name to the mailing list on the BioConversion Blog.

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April 29, 2007

In-Woods Expo 2007 Harvests Energy

If the In-Woods Expo at Hot Springs, Arkansas this past week is any indication, we are about to see North American forests take center stage leading to a re-emergence of forest industries as a major energizer for our economic future. It's a future that can retain and inspire new generations of Americans to pursue careers in our great forestlands servicing emerging bioenergy businesses. For this to happen, forest industries and forest owners will need new profit streams that will enable them to utilize more biomass, invest in new equipment, and maintain their vested assets.

Will America's youth return to the forests?
To a huge extent Americans have lost their connection to their forest heritage. Originally urbanites organized to express concern for the protection of forests as a hedge against overdevelopment of the suburbs. But as light has given way to the heat of their extrapolated arguments and overly aggressive preservation campaigns, the livelihood and lifestyles of rural families and communities who work on private forestlands and in forestry industries have been compromised. Those who are in a position to influence policymaking and certification often don't live or work in these communities.

In a recent article in Timber Harvesting magazine, Tom Thompson who represented Family Forest Landowners on the Sustainable Forest Resource Committee expressed it this way:

"A significant number of board members of any forest certification program should be true stakeholders of landowners and loggers - the true forest practitioners. If we fail to do this--and we have up to this point--forest certification will fail in the U.S.

According to a recent report from the Society of American Foresters, 25% of private U.S. forestland is now certified.

We forget that "huddled masses" migrated to this immense territory in large measure because of its bountiful natural resources - fertile land and the forests to build, energize, and sustain each family's future. A walk down the Washington Mall is a moving tribute to the American character that has been forged at the base of our forests - surveyor and scout George Washington, "Old Hickory" Andrew Jackson, Jefferson's explorers Lewis & Clark, and, of course, rail-splitter Abraham Lincoln.

Today students of all ages feel an emotional connection to the forests through camping, field trips, recreation, and ecological education. Urban beautification associations, tree farms, paper recycling programs, forest certification, and wildlife preservation organizations seek to re-ignite our interest and shape our focus on how we can contribute to the health of our forests. And they are working.

Unfortunately, student interest in the environment does not lead to seeking employment in the forest industries. Our forests are at greater risk because our forest industries are depressed. Over the past decades, overseas competition and low wages have led to a marked decline in paper and pulp mill employment. Domestic concerns about safety, carbon emissions, pollution, and worker incomes are not weighed factors in the decision to buy from foreign sources. Land values have stagnated as paper mills sell off their acreage. Landowners are losing the capital they need to institute and maintain proper stewardship leading to certification.

Well meaning anti-logging crusades have led to increased forest density (49% higher than in 1953 according to a new Society of American Foresters publication called "The State of America's Forests") which in turn leads to vulnerability to catastrophic fires and the rapid spread of insect infestations. Rising temperatures are drying up forest eco-systems causing pine beetles to proliferate and trees to die. In short, we are slowly converting our timberlands into wildfire tinderboxes - unhealthful to wildlife, certainly, but also risking enormous amounts of greenhouse gases and wasted energy to vent to the skies.

Emerging processes to a new forestry future
New practices need to be developed to mitigate forest fires and greenhouse gas emissions. We can no longer burn the tons of decaying slash (residual woody biomass) that are the unused byproducts of harvesting operations. We can't afford to leave it spread on the forest floor either because, as it decays, it emits carbon to the atmosphere. If it is collected and hauled out at great expense, what can we do with it? How can a depressed industry finance the rising expectations of stewardship certification?

There is growing optimism that demand for bioenergy from forestry residuals will provide us the key to solving these intertwined dilemmas. While forest slash is currently a burden for existing forestry industries, it and forest manufacturing waste could emerge as valuable feedstocks for bioenergy conversion to electricity and biofuels. Perhaps we have found a profit stream that can be developed for helping forest stakeholders secure their investments.

It's all about the kids
Thousands of middle and high school students attended the In-Woods Expo in Hot Springs last week. They saw an impressive array of advanced logging hardware operated by some of the most talented loggers in the nation. Acres were thinned of underbrush, trees were felled, stripped, and collected in a fluid choreography of highly trained operators and powerful machinery. In thirty minutes several trees were felled, stripped of branches and bark, cut to length, and hauled away.

Residual slash was alternately processed by being fed to powerful chippers or new devices called bundlers. One demonstrated bundler was manufactured by John Deere Corporation which has online videos of their products in action:

The 1490D Energy Wood Harvester, or “Bundler”, has a dual advantage – it produces biomass energy and clears the forest floor of slash.

The B380 bundler unit very tightly compresses, wraps and cuts a slash log, which can then be transported and used as biomass fuel. Each log provides about one megawatt hour of energy, equal to the electricity produced by 21 to 28 gallons of oil.

The American will to effect change
Exciting laboratory advances in biomass conversion technologies (including enzymatic hydrolysis, catalysis, gasification, and syngas fermentation) affirm that the technical hurdles are surmountable. New biorefineries that can utilize bundles and chips of residual slash are in the commercial-scale development stage right now. But, like technical advances for the bioconversion of urban waste into bioenergy, the biggest hurdles may be societal ones - the frustratingly slow passage of enabling regulatory reform, permitting procedures, and incentives legislation.

As important as these advances can be, American will and coalition building is on trial. At the heart of the issue is the question of what kind of world will the next generations inherit? Will the forestry regions of North America be given the autonomy to regulate their own culturally-based solutions for effecting the coming renewable energy paradigm shift? Will federal programs provide investment incentives leading to new technological R&D and deployments of bioenergy conversion technologies? What leeway or fast tracking will regulatory agencies grant to remove obstacles to deployment so that developers can begin to tackle the technological challenges that will lead to broader achievement of renewable energy objectives?

It's a national issue with global implications. As the world's strongest industrial power with the fourth largest renewable forestland assets and formidable communications leadership we should be at the forefront of developing and exporting global solutions for renewable energy - using, and sustaining, our assets in woody biomass.

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April 19, 2007

Thinning trees to save ecology

640,000 acres.

That's larger than the state of Rhode Island and is, unfortunately, the current extent of the pine beetle infestation in Colorado as of February, 2007. There is no way to halt it and it will only get worse. The impact on the state's wildlife (not to mention the effect on tourism and the state's economy) is hard to imagine. Similar outbreaks risk forest fires of horrendous proportions in the San Bernardino mountains in Southern California and the much larger infestations in British Columbia.

Growing replacement trees will have to await the removal of dead ones to save wildlife. Finding an economically practical solution may require swift governmental action to spur private development of new solutions.

This ecological emergency requires forestry triage on a massive scale. The Rocky Mountain News carried the original story that led to this entry in the online BCO newsletter of the Environmental and Energy Study Institute.

Colorado Seeks Market for Wood Waste from Forest Thinning

As ethanol-from-wood biomass plants open in Georgia, the state of Colorado questions the choice of location. Colorado has been suffering from a pine beetle outbreak for the past four years with 42 percent of Colorado's lodgepole pines infected. One of the largest factors for the outbreak, and one that if addressed could help mitigate the problem, is the accumulation of biomass in Colorado's forests and tree overcrowding. The lowest bid to thin one acre of forests in Summit Count, CO is $1600.

Gary Severson, executive director for the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, said "It's so expensive because there's no market for the wood. And at that price, there's simply not enough public money to thin the forests. The only way to do this is to find some way to add value to this material. With small-diameter lodgepole pine, there aren't a lot of options."

When Range Fuels was asked about its location choice of Georgia for its cellulosic ethanol plant, CEO Mitch Mandich explained that it was the difference between the trees as plantation crops and the already developed timber infrastructure Georgia has to offer. Georgia rain and soil conditions allow trees to grow to ten inch diameters within ten years, much different from Colorado's position. Lynn Young, a retired U.S. Forest Service public information director, explained, "It's too dry here, the soil's not deep and the trees are small - usually 6 inches to 8 inches in diameter."

Severson added - "What it's going to take is involvement of the private sector. What can we as government do? Cut red tape. Provide some incentives to make things possible, so people say 'Hey, I can make a buck at this.' Then the problem begins to solve itself. Until then, economic disconnect is the big problem."

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April 12, 2007

Hybrid poplars reduce carbon emissions best

Renewable Energy Access (REA) reported on a National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) study published in the April 2007 issue of Ecological Applications. It should put to rest any lingering doubts about the advantageous carbon emissions benefits of cellulosic ethanol production - particularly when hybrid poplar feedstock is used.

There is also mention by one of the scientists that "Greenhouse gas savings from biomass gasification for electricity generation are even greater."

Here are some excerpts from the REA story...

Biofuels, Fossil Fuels & the Greenhouse Gas Factor

Researchers at Colorado State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service have completed an analysis of greenhouse gas emissions from biofuel production. Study results revealed that when compared with the life cycle of gasoline and diesel, ethanol and biodiesel from corn and soybean rotations reduced greenhouse gas emission by nearly 40 percent, reed canarygrass by 85 percent, and switchgrass and hybrid poplar by 115 percent.

Hybrid poplar and switchgrass were found to offset the largest amounts of fossil fuels and therefore reduced emissions the most out of the studied crops.

"Although fossil fuel inputs are required to produce and process biofuels, hybrid poplar and switchgrass converted to ethanol compensate for these emissions and actually remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere when the benefits of co-products are included. Greenhouse gas savings from biomass gasification for electricity generation are even greater."
-- Stephen Del Grosso, USDA scientist and NREL researcher

Ethanol and biodiesel from corn and soybean are currently the main biofuel crops in the U.S., but the perennial crops alfalfa, hybrid poplar, reed canarygrass and switchgrass have been proposed as future dedicated energy crops.

Bioenergy crops are able to offset carbon dioxide emissions by converting atmospheric carbon dioxide into organic carbon in biomass and soil, but the production of biofuels requires fossil fuels and impacts greenhouse gas fluxes.

The primary sources of greenhouse gas emissions associated with crop production are soil nitrous oxide emissions and the CO2 emissions from farm machinery, farm inputs and agricultural processes. Colorado State and USDA scientists quantified all of these factors to determine the net effect of several bioenergy crops on greenhouse gas emissions.

Researchers found that, once the DAYCENT results were combined with estimates of the amounts of fossil fuels used to provide farm inputs and operate agricultural machinery and the amount of fossil fuel offsets from biomass yields, they were able to calculate the net greenhouse gas fluxes for each cropping system.

This study was a unique and complete analysis of bioenergy cropping for several reasons. Different crops vary with respect to length of plant life cycle, yields, biomass conversion efficiencies, required nutrients, net soil carbon balance, nitrogen losses and other characteristics which in turn impact management operations. Additionally, crops have different requirements for farm machinery inputs from planting, growing, soil tillage, applying fertilizer and pesticide and finally harvesting.

The researchers were able to use life cycle analyses and the DAYCENT model to account for all of these factors as well as integrate climate, soil properties and land use to accurately evaluate the impact of bioenergy cropping systems on crop production, soil organic carbon and greenhouse gas fluxes.

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Development alliance builds between forest and energy giants

Here's a match that demonstrates the mutually beneficial synergy possible between collateral sides of the energy paradigm shift.

On the one hand we have Weyerhaeuser - epitome of the evolving forestry management and paper industry - looking for new ways to enhance the value of their raw assets (forestry resources and wood waste) while reducing their liabilities (high overhead as their paper products operations face an uncertain future). On the other, Chevron - fossil fuel giant with unseemly profits in direct proportion to their public relations liabilities.

It was Chevron and their California oil production which would have been taxed the most had Prop 87 passed. While it may be hard for them to admit, Prop 87 probably accounts for many of their recent investments in biofuel development. In short, it was a wake-up call. That and the fact that they are now buying ethanol at increasingly high prices to blend as an oxygenate in most of their biggest markets (5.67% of gasoline in California). Expect the trend of states to adopt legislation requiring higher blending percentages to increase.

Whatever the reasons, this is a good sign that wood, forestry sustainability, environmental impacts, and forest industry carbon emissions will begin to receive increased attention and development funding because of their value as a source of perennial, non-food biomass.

Here is the full text of their joint press release:

Chevron and Weyerhaeuser Create Biofuels Alliance
Letter of Intent Aimed at Development of Renewable Transportation Fuels Derived From Cellulose

SAN RAMON, Calif. and FEDERAL WAY, Wash., April 12 /PRNewswire/ -- Chevron Corporation (NYSE: CVX) and Weyerhaeuser Company (NYSE: WY) today announced a letter of intent (LOI) to jointly assess the feasibility of commercializing the production of biofuels from cellulose-based sources.

The companies will focus on researching and developing technology that can transform wood fiber and other nonfood sources of cellulose into economical, clean-burning biofuels for cars and trucks. Feedstock options include a wide range of materials from Weyerhaeuser's existing forest and mill system and cellulosic crops planted on Weyerhaeuser's managed forest plantations.

The two companies said the partnership reflects their shared view that cellulosic biofuels will fill an important role in diversifying the nation's energy sources by providing a source of low-carbon transportation fuel. The venture leverages the strengths of both companies, combining Chevron's technology capabilities in molecular conversion, product engineering, advanced fuel manufacturing and fuels distribution with Weyerhaeuser's expertise in collection and transformation of cellulosics into engineered materials, innovative land stewardship, crop management, biomass conversion and capacity to deliver sustainable cellulose-based fiber at scale.

"Chevron is investing in cellulosic biofuels because we believe they will play a role in meeting future energy growth," said Dave O'Reilly, chairman and CEO of Chevron. "This collaboration aligns with our long-term business strategy to accelerate the commercial development of nonfood based biofuels. While there are several research and technology hurdles that will need to be addressed before large-scale commercialization of cellulosic feedstocks occurs, we believe this partnership will accelerate the achievement of that reality. Both partners share the objective of sustainable commercialization of these fuels at industrial scale."

"Weyerhaeuser takes ideas from the laboratory to the forest and mill to create innovative uses and value from our forest and land resources -- in this case, a sustainable source of renewable energy for transportation," said Steven R. Rogel, chairman, president and chief executive officer for Weyerhaeuser. "Crops created for and dedicated to fuel feedstocks offer the opportunity to augment value creation from our managed forest lands. We are pleased to partner with Chevron to combine the power of our forestlands, knowledge of cellulose technology and legacy of environmental stewardship with Chevron's expertise in energy technology. Working together we can create new, sustainable sources of biofuel."

Both Chevron and Weyerhaeuser already have separate research partnerships under way to accelerate the development of cellulosic biofuels. Chevron has forged alliances with the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of California at Davis, the Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels, and the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Weyerhaeuser is collaborating with several research universities, national laboratories and technology-based companies in research on conversion of forest products into ethanol and other biofuels.

Many states nationwide are seeking opportunities to diversify fuel sources with secure, renewable, low-carbon and environmentally sustainable alternatives. Ethanol produced from biomass such as forest and agricultural waste does not present a conflict with food supply sources such as corn and is considered greenhouse-gas neutral when derived from sustainable management practices.

About Chevron
Chevron is one of the world's leading energy companies. With more than 56,000 employees, Chevron subsidiaries conduct business in approximately 180 countries around the world, producing and transporting crude oil and natural gas, and refining, marketing, and distributing fuels and other energy products. Chevron is based in San Ramon, Calif. More information about Chevron is available at http://www.chevron.com.

About Weyerhaeuser
Weyerhaeuser Company, one of the world's largest forest products companies, was incorporated in 1900. In 2006, sales were $21.9 billion. It has offices or operations in 18 countries, with customers worldwide. Weyerhaeuser is principally engaged in the growing and harvesting of timber; the manufacture, distribution and sale of forest products; and real estate construction, development and related activities. Additional information about Weyerhaeuser's businesses, products and practices is available at http://www.weyerhaeuser.com.

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April 10, 2007

Woody Biomass Utilization and the USDA Forest Service

Proper stewardship of forest lands and communication between stakeholders have been challenges addressed by the U.S. federal government for over a hundred years. Adequate funding has always been an issue. A new dimension to the challenges is now emerging - how should we modify our stewardship of the forests to mitigate the effects of global warming?

Proper stewardship includes (but is not limited to): the removal of dead, dying, and diseased trees; thinning forests to reduce the threat of forest fires; the removal of underbrush and overgrowth; and the proper disposal of the removed woody biomass.

Bioconversion of woody biomass represents an opportunity in three ways. First, the removed waste can be reduced in volume without combustion (which would add to global warming carbon emissions). Second, the output of bioconversion (green chemicals, biofuels, electricity, wood products) can be used to replace output that would otherwise derive from the carbon-positive use of fossil fuels. Third, income from the sale of this otherwise wasted biomass can be used to help fund forest stewardship projects.

There is a wealth of information online about a collaboration begun in 2003 between the U.S. Departments of Energy, Interior, and Agriculture dedicated "to advancing a comprehensive, science-based approach to the harvesting and utilization of woody biomass from hazardous fuels reduction projects in and around at-risk communities, adjacent National Forest System (NFS) lands, Tribal lands, private lands, and other ownerships."

Information about this collaboration is available online at a specifically designated USDA website.

USDA Forest Service: Woody Biomass Utilization website

On June 18, 2003, The Departments of Energy, Interior, and Agriculture announced an initiative to encourage the use of woody biomass from forest and rangeland restoration and hazardous fuels treatment projects. The three Departments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Policy Principles for Woody Biomass Utilization for Restoration and Fuel Treatment on Forests, Woodlands, and Rangelands, supporting woody biomass utilization as a recommended option to use to reduce hazardous fuels rather than burning or employing other on-site disposal methods.

Woody Biomass Utilization Team (WBUT)

The Woody Biomass Utilization Team (WBUT) promotes and facilitates the planning and delivery of an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to the recovery and utilization of woody biomass from ecological restoration and hazardous fuels reduction work as a result of the National Fire Plan’s 10-year Comprehensive Strategy* (PDF), the Healthy Forests Initiative, and the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (PDF).
*NOTE: The Western Governor's Association released an update to this 2001 implementation plan on Dec. 7, 2006.


The Team is a cooperative, interdisciplinary team dedicated to advancing a comprehensive, science-based approach to the harvesting and utilization of woody biomass from hazardous fuels reduction projects in and around at-risk communities, adjacent National Forest System (NFS) lands, Tribal lands, private lands, and other ownerships. The Team will provide necessary strategic and tactical guidance to integrate this approach into the implementation of the Healthy Forests Initiative and Healthy Forest Restoration Act and will use the MOU to guide team efforts.

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April 7, 2007

BIOstock 101: The BioTown Sourcebook

For anyone who desires a simple introduction to what BIOmass Feedstocks are I suggest a careful reading of a brief technical overview document called The BioTown, USA Sourcebook of Biomass Energy (released in April, 2006). It was written for the Indiana State Department of Agriculture by scientist and fellow blogger, Mark Jenner, PhD. who has his own website called Biomass Rules.

Below you can see an overview graphic that charts where biomass feedstocks (highlighted in blue) fall in proper context for addressing BIOconversion, BIOoutput, and BIOwaste issues. For this reason, I offer a similar 101 abstract treatment in each of my BlogRing blogs.

This BioTown sourcebook is the official inventory on local energy use, available biomass fuels and emerging technologies for Reynolds, Indiana. As such, it can serve as an inventory template for any similarly focused study of a medium-sized rural community. It greater importance is its microcosmic view of rural communities as decentralized, sustainable entities that possess more than enough biomass to service their own energy needs.

The third section deals with Biomass Feedstocks and includes not only an inventory of the BTUs available by feedstock (see chart below), but also a description of the specific characteristics of the feedstock that make it suitable for various conversion technologies.

This report is not a utopian call to return to rural, communal living. It is, instead, an affirmation that there are many biomass resources available and technologies in development to provide environmentally clean bioenergy alternatives to the existing fossil fuel energy paradigm. Rural communities can develop expertise and marketable output best suited to their own resources and industries. Urban communities can develop some technologies that are relevant to the diversion of trash from landfills.

The BioTown, USA Sourcebook of Biomass Energy

BioTown, USA is Indiana Governor, Mitch Daniel’s, bold approach to develop local renewable energy production, create a cleaner environment, find new solutions to municipal/animal waste issues, and develop new markets for Indiana products – all at the same time. BioTown, USA is quite simply the conversion of Reynolds, Indiana from a reliance on fossil fuels to biomass-based fuels. With the implementation of BioTown, USA, a template will be set that simultaneously promotes Indiana energy security, rural development, profitable agriculture and a green, thriving natural resource environment.

The only conclusion that can be made is that BioTown, USA is profoundly thermodynamically and technologically viable. Reynolds, Indiana used 227,710 million BTUs (MMBTU) in 2005. White County annually produces over 16,881,613 MMBTU in undeveloped biomass energy resources. That is 74 times more energy than Reynolds consumed in 2005.

BioTown, USA is a concept whose time has come. This Sourcebook and subsequent BioTown reports will serve as vital stepping stones to the implementation of BioTown, USA and subsequent bioeconomic rural development opportunities across Indiana and the nation.

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April 5, 2007

The need for Public Outreach: a case study in China

One year ago I wrote an article about the Environmental Impacts of Conversion Technologies using MSW Feedstocks. Biopact recently published a lengthy article on the impact of energy farming on primarily the "Global South" (southern hemisphere countries) - their environments and their societies.

The article includes a case study of the Chinese community of Guanxi with impacts potentially affecting over 650,000 people. The study was commissioned by Stora Enso, a major Finnish forestry company that has entered the biomass industry, and that wants to establish a large (120,000 ha) Eucalyptus plantation project. Working with Stora Enso, the United Nations Development Program conducted the study from their China office.

Biopact's focus is on the Social Impact Assessment aspect (SIA) of the report which is much more subjective than the Environmental one (EIA). Here are some representative excerpts from their article:

A closer look at Social Impact Assessments of large biofuel projects

Our bioenergy future will rely on large-scale energy farming. Many of the projects will be located in the Global South where they are set to have both positive, negative and ambiguous impacts on the environment as well as on the socio-economic fabric of the communities that host them.

Whenever large infrastructure and development interventions are carried out - from the construction of dams and pipelines to mining projects or indeed the establishment of biofuel plantations - it is absolutely critical to assess these potential impacts thoroughly before the project is implemented. Failure to do so may result in unwanted and irreversible consequences that threaten the viability of the project over the long-term.

The SIA team identified as top priority for communications work that:

• The company should strengthen its communication practices with local communities and seek expert advice on means through which more effective and transparent flow of information to all levels of affected communities can be achieved.
• The company should address, as a matter of urgency, issues surrounding clarity and transparency of rental agreements, fuelwood collection, and community perceptions of slowness.
• Maintaining a greater presence of national and foreign staff in the field to help explain the project directly to people.
• Development of peer support groups within villages.
• Establishment and support for forest plantation associations, which include land users and managers, contractors, and other stakeholders.
• Expansion of the functions of the company’s Hotline.
• A strengthened schools' program and additions to the curricula.
• Development of tele-centres (web-based information systems) as a part of the school computer program or general village out-reach.
• Regular excursions organized for local communities to plantation sites. In the longer term, an annual opportunity to visit the pulp mill.
• Introduction of communications approaches with sensitivity for gender, ethnicity, and poverty

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April 4, 2007

E3 Biofuels and Closed Loop Ethanol Plants

While attending the 25x'25 Summit in Washington, D.C. last month I learned about the opening of an innovative facility this month in Mead, Nebraska. Its development highlights one of the reasons why I shake my head whenever I hear skepticism voiced about ethanol and net energy. People forget that technologies improve with deployment.

A company called E3 BioFuels-Mead, LLC has patented technology that brings together three proven components into a single, closed-loop system:

1. A large cattle feedlot or dairy that produces large quantities of cow manure needing treatment.
2. An anaerobic digester that transforms the cow manure into biogas.
3. An ethanol plant that runs on the biogas instead of natural gas or coal, and whose leftover wet grain is fed back to the cattle.

The result is an energy-efficient, low-cost solution to America's energy needs. Not only that, but the process of creating this ethanol doesn't contribute to global warming and actually reduces air and water pollution.

Genesis became fully operational in April 2007. It's the first-ever commercial plant to make ethanol with virtually no fossil fuels for heat, instead using manure and corn cellulose to make biogas.

E3 BioFuels plans to build 15 more such plants within five years.

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