Monday, December 20, 2010

Yes To Biogas, No To Biomass (and Maybe To Biodiesel)

The Swedish city of Kristianstad runs almost entirely on biogas.
Instead, as befits a region that is an epicenter of farming and food processing, it generates energy from a motley assortment of ingredients like potato peels, manure, used cooking oil, stale cookies and pig intestines.
A hulking 10-year-old plant on the outskirts of Kristianstad uses a biological process to transform the detritus into biogas, a form of methane. That gas is burned to create heat and electricity, or is refined as a fuel for cars.
Once the city fathers got into the habit of harnessing power locally, they saw fuel everywhere: Kristianstad also burns gas emanating from an old landfill and sewage ponds, as well as wood waste from flooring factories and tree prunings.
While the United States has no fossil fuel-free cities yet, there are some promising developments for biofuels in the country, such as $30 million in grants going towards biofuel research and Chicago high school students learning how to produce biodiesel - and sharing the knowledge with others:
“These city kids are reaching out to rural schools,” said Brian Sievers, WYMHS math teacher and the biodiesel club sponsor. Sievers said his five-member club had enough materials donated to build two biodiesel processors and wanted to share one with a school that didn’t have access to as many resources. 
The WYMHS biodiesel club collected used cooking oil, built one biodiesel processor, and produced biodiesel. Club members tested the emissions of their biodiesel at an Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) vehicle testing facility in Chicago. 
Biomass, on the other hand, is quite unpopular with some communities across the United States.
The first organized opposition to biomass plants in southern Indiana rose up in the tiny town of Milltown on the Blue River, where Milltown's main business is an outfitter for canoers who want to float down the river on hot summer days. When a startup company called Liberty Green Renewables LLC quietly purchased land near the river for a new plant to be fueled by waste wood, the community's Paul Revere--a lively woman named Cara Beth Jones--roused friends and neighbors to speak out against what they believed would be a blow to their modest tourist economy and an industrial intrusion in their little town. They put out yard signs and showed up at state permit hearings to point out holes in the company's plan. They convinced their Crawford County commissioners to pass an ordinance requiring a local license for a new industrial facility.
With the economic uncertainty, who knows if and when private or public capital for widespread biowaste energy plants will come...or if they can even be pitched to communities across the country.

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