The purpose of the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative (VBI) was to foster the development of sustainable, distributed, small-scale biodiesel and grass/mixed fiber industries in Vermont in order to produce bioenergy for local transportation, agricultural, and thermal applications, as a replacement for fossil fuel based energy.
The VBI marked the first strategic effort to reduce Vermont’s dependency on petroleum through the development of homegrown alternatives. With billions of gallons of ethanol produced and blended with gasoline each year in the United States—and very little possibility of corn-based ethanol development in Vermont—we focused on a specific subset of bioenergy alternatives:
We worked with interested farmers to develop on-farm oilseed production, processing, and biodiesel production capacity for farm and local community use, and with researchers to develop the agronomics and economics of oilseed crop and biodiesel production in Vermont.
We worked with interested farmers, entrepreneurs, and researchers to augment Vermont’s woody biomass supply with grass and mixed fiber pellets for thermal applications.
We worked with interested researchers, entrepreneurs, and farmers to develop cold climate algae that could eventually be available for biodiesel production.
We developed many tools for understanding Vermont’s bioenergy alternatives,
► the Renewable Energy Atlas of Vermont (relaunched in 2016 as the Community
Energy Dashboard), a map-based website for visualizing existing and potential
renewable energy sites;
► an Oilseed and Biodiesel Production Calculator (downloaded more than 200
times from people in the U.S. and around the world);
► a nine-part video series, Bioenergy Now!— collectively viewed over 89,000
times—that highlights oilseed crop and biodiesel production, grass energy
production, and algae research;
► the VBI website, a repository for all materials developed by the Initiative; and
► content for biomass-to-bioenergy courses offered at the University of Vermont
and Vermont Technical College.
At the beginning of this project, Vermont had very limited experience with the research, feedstocks, production processes, industry networks, and many other factors necessary to develop biodiesel and grass/mixed fiber pellet industries. Our investments in feasibility analyses, research and development, technology and demonstration projects, and education and outreach resources for various bioenergy feedstocks have created a solid foundation for future efforts to build from.
In 2012, the Vermont Legislature unanimously passed Act 148, a universal recycling and composting law that offers Vermonters a new set of systems and tools for keeping organic matter out of the landfill. Repurposes waste not being converted into compost, fertilizer, or other value products are all resources that hold potential energy that can be developed in a sustainable way to power a local economy. The University of Vermont is offering two bioenergy courses for the Fall 2016 Semester: Biomass to Biofuels – Bioenergy & Byproducts and Universal Recycling Law – Vermont Act 148 Community Connections
Universal Recycling Law – Vermont Act 148 Community Connections will explore community development connections for the creation of energy and valued products from universal recycling of organic materials. It will provide a broad appreciation of the technical, economical, political and environmental challenges with universal recycling. Biomass to Biofuels – Bioenergy & Byproducts will explore the sustainable and responsible production for small to community scales of bioenergy. An online Bioenergy Professional Certificate course is also being offered during Summer 2016. The course will focus on clean, sustainable bioenergy such as, bioelectricity and biogas production from dairy manure and food waste streams. This eight-week course is comprised of seven sub courses, ranging from bioenergy technologies to bioenergy related economics, environmental and social issues
All of the courses will be taught by Anju Krivov, cofounder of General Systems Research, lead biofuels instructor at UVM’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and a Vermont Bioenergy Initiative algae for biofuel grant recipient. They will focus on the sustainable and diverse sources of energy that can be used to create a resilient bioenergy industry.
UVM Extension and the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative supported the installation of a multi-source biomass fuel boiler at the Vermont Farmers Food Center in Rutland, Vermont. The boiler uses several alternative fuels, such as wood pellets and grass biomass pucks, to displace propane and heat the 4,200 square foot space, home to the Rutland Winter Farmers’ Market and a variety of food system educational program and events. The biomass project demonstrates the economic advantages when compared to typical propane heaters, including a much smaller payback period (roughly 2-8 years) when using biomass fuel sources. Chris Callahan, a UVM Extension Agricultural Engineer, directed the project and worked closely with the Vermont Farmers Food Center to fit a biomass fuel boiler for the space specifications.
Check out this video featuring the project on Across the Fence, the longest-running locally-produced program in the US:
21 Mar 2016
Bourne’s Energy began to incorporate blended Vermont biodiesel into their fuel business in 2013, due in part to a grant from the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative paying for a facility to produce blended biodiesel. Since then the company has been able to replace over 300,000 gallons of fossil fuel with biodiesel. Bourne’s flagship B15 Biodiesel blend, dubbed “Bioheat®” for customer home heating needs, is a benefit to all aspects of the business—both financially and environmentally, not to mention positive to their growing sustainability image. Additionally, the company has been able to run their fleet from April to November on biodiesel, as well as operate pumps in Morrisville, Hardwick, Lyndonville and Montpelier that offer customers on/off road diesel or biodiesel.
“It’s been a success in every way to this point, and we’ve always had the privilege of a good product,” Peter Bourne stated referring to the biofuel coming from White Mountain Biodiesel in New Hampshire. The oil that White Mountain Biodiesel produces is from recycled cooking oil, an important attribute for Bourne’s Energy. Sustainable biodiesel is valued by Vermonters and fits into the local production for local use model promoted by the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative while avoiding controversies that arise from the food versus fuel debate.
Customers and local residents alike provided vastly positive feedback when Bourne’s began incorporating biodiesel into the mix and better yet, customers found the Bioheat® fuel blend to be quiet with no disruption in performance. Biodiesel is just “part of business as usual now,” Bourne concludes.
A long-time Bourne’s Energy customer noted, “I heat my home with oil and never thought much about it until my granddaughter helped me pay my bill online and saw that I was being delivered Bioheat®. I thought, ‘What the heck am I getting?’ I read all about it and found it allowed me to reduce my carbon footprint without doing a thing! It’s got me on the right track for doing what I can for cleaner air, our environment and a whole long list of things.”
In addition to the biodiesel-blended fuel, Bourne’s is expanding their bioenergy product line by further developing the infrastructure for their four year old bulk pellets program. Bourne’s sources quality pellets locally in Vermont and when demand exceeds supply, they source from New Hampshire, but choose not to go further for both economic and environmental reasons.
“We are a company really trying to reduce people’s consumption by supplying the right product at the right time. We can show it, we mean it, we’re doing it, and we’re not just flash,” Bourne shared in a recent conversation. The success and integrity of Bourne’s Vermont biodiesel work backs this claim, and positions Bourne’s Energy as a meaningful contributor to the development of Vermont Climate Economy.
26 Feb 2016
A new report, On-Farm Biodiesel Production in Vermont: Legal and Regulatory Overview, conducted by the Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE) at Vermont Law School reviews all Vermont state and federal regulations related to on-farm biodiesel production. Commissioned by the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, the report aims to inform farmers about the potential laws and regulations surrounding on-farm biodiesel production.
“As statewide partners begin to find new ways to achieve the goals of Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan, which identified biodiesel as a fuel that will help Vermont meet the 10-percent renewable transportation goal for 2025, the On-Farm Biodiesel Production in Vermont report provides a timely review of the regulations that pertain to home-grown biodiesel production,” states Ellen Kahler, executive director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.
According to the report’s findings, “while several of the federal regulations are only triggered by high levels of production, there are a number of state laws and regulations that may be triggered by small-scale biodiesel production, such as state air emission provisions that establish lower thresholds when compared to the federal Clean Air Act (CAA). In addition, it is critical to understand the role biodiesel production plays in the definition of ‘farm’ and ‘farming activities’ for the purpose of states laws, such as Act 250 and the Current Use Program.”
IEE Global Energy Fellow Carla Santos coordinated the legal review with contributions from fellow IEE researchers Diana Chace, Christopher Cavaiola, Jeannie Oliver, and Jeremy Walker. The report is broken into five chapters that review tax legislation, site regulations, occupational safety and health, registration, and environmental legislation.
“Our institute’s research should help Vermont farmers understand the regulatory hurdles to producing biodiesel on the farm and help them convert a locally grown resource into economic and environmental benefits for Vermont,” said VLS Professor Kevin B. Jones, deputy director of the Institute for Energy and the Environment.
IEE researchers applied the legal review to three potential scenarios in the report, concluding with a convenient and accessible list of “do’s and don’ts” for farmers to use as a legal checklist as they move forward with producing biofuel in on-farm operations.
The complete On-Farm Biodiesel Production in Vermont: Legal and Regulatory Overview report is available on the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative website along with a variety of additional biofuel relevant reports and resources.
Since 2005, the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative has connected diversified agriculture and local renewable energy production for on-farm and community use by supporting research, technical assistance, and infrastructure development in emerging areas of bioenergy including biodiesel production and distribution for heating and transportation, oil crops for on-farm biodiesel and feed, grass for heating, and algae production for biofuels and wastewater management. The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative is a program of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, a non-profit organization created by the State of Vermont to help develop Vermont’s sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, and forest product businesses. For more information about the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative, visit www.VermontBioenergy.com.
The Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School provides accessible resources on contemporary energy law and policy and is modeled on the fundamentals of a successful public policy consulting firm. The IEE distributes scholarly, technical, and practical publications; provides forums and conferences for professional education and issue development; and serves as a center for graduate research on energy issues, with environmental awareness. IEE research associates are selected from students in the energy and environmental programs at Vermont Law School, top-ranked in the nation for environmental law. For more information about the Institute for Energy and the Environment, visit vermontlaw.edu/iee.
19 Feb 2016
The 8th annual Northeast Biomass Heating Expo will be held March 30 – April 1 at the Sheraton Hotel and Conference Center in Burlington, Vermont. The Expo has become one of the fastest growing biomass thermal energy conferences in the United States, with almost 2,000 attendees expected this year. There will also be over 400 businesses, agencies and organizations present to contribute to the event’s comprehensive knowledge base of biomass thermal heating.
Biomass heating is a widely available source of renewable energy, which can help meet the heating needs of homes and businesses while displacing fossil fuels. The types of biomass most commonly used for energy include waste wood form the timber and wood products industries, as well as agriculture residues. These fuels can either be directly combusted, or they can undergo a variety of refining processes such as chipping or pelletization for use in a variety of home and industry heating applications.
Speakers, panel discussions, presentations, educational sessions and additional opportunities for tours and workshops will be available at this year’s expo. It is an excellent opportunity for networking with organizations, government, and across the broader biomass industry.
The Northeast Biomass Heating Expo is currently seeking co-hosts to help promote and be promoted at the event. Non-profit organizations, trade associations, community groups, and government agencies are all invited to become an event co-host. Co-host organization’s name and logo will be prominently displayed on conference communication outlets, and receive a free display tabletop at the event to share information with attendees. They will also be recognized during the opening and closing events and receive a special extension of the ‘Early Bird’ rate by one month.
Learn more about the Northeast Biomass Heating Expo at www.nebiomassheat.com.
Following the Fall Semester UVM bioenergy course Bioenergy: Biomass to Biofuels, the University of Vermont will be offering a new bioenergy course this spring entitled Waste to Energy: Community Development Application. The course will again be taught by Anju Dahiya, cofounder of General Systems Research, LLC (GSR), lead biofuels instructor at the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, and a Vermont Bioenergy Initiative algae for biofuel grant recipient. This course is open to both degree and non-degree students from any background or department, as well as farmers, entrepreneurs, and teachers interested in developing curriculum, or projects at school or college levels. This course is also approved for graduate credit.
In a Vermont post Act 148, the universal recycling law for solid waste, food waste, dairy farm manure, municipal wastes, landfill waste, carbon exhaust, nutrient runoff and other materials not being converted into value products are all resources that hold potential energy that can be developed in a sustainable way to power a local economy. This class focusing on waste sourced bioenergy comes on the heels of a promising results and continued work by Dahiya’s company GSR on incorporating algae into Green Mountain Power’s anaerobic digester at Nordic Farms in Shelburne, Vermont. The product serves as a strong example in which excess nitrogen and phosphorus in cow manure would find its way off farmland and end affecting health of natural water bodies, but instead is harnessed to make electricity and biofuel. As listed in the course catalog “the mission of this program is to provide hands-on instruction in all possible Bioenergy areas, support generation of related skilled workforce and stimulate sustainable energy production.”
Lectures will be held every on campus every Friday during the UVM spring semester from 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm, with 5 additionally required off campus field trips. The course required textbook, Bioenergy: Biomass to Biofuels, was edited by Anju Dahiya less than a year ago and represents a compilation of work from an extensive list of well-respected university extension programs, such as The University of Vermont Research Extension, as well as numerous national organizations including the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratories.
At Borderview Farm in Alburgh, Roger Rainville’s dairy-turned-energy farm makes biodiesel from locally-grown sunflower seeds.
In 2008, when diesel prices rose from $4 to $5 per gallon, Rainville began experimenting with farm-scale biodiesel production. With guidance from UVM Extension and grant funding from the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative, Rainville began planting sunflowers on a portion of his 214 acres and installing biodiesel processing equipment. Oilseed sunflowers (as opposed to confectionary sunflowers that are grown for eating) are the most popular oilseed crop in Vermont, with hundreds of acres planted statewide. The crop is grown in rotation with grains and grasses and yields high quantities of oil.
Harvesting, Cleaning, and Pressing
Following harvest with a combine, a seed cleaner and grain dryer are used to prepare the seeds for storage in a 200-ton grain bin prior to processing. A flex auger system moves the seeds from the storage bin into hoppers on each press, and screw augers push the seed through a narrow dye at the front of the press. Extracted oil oozes from the side of the barrel and is collected in settling tanks while pelletized meal is pushed through the dye at the front and is stored in one-ton agricultural sacks. The oil can then be used as culinary oil for cooking or further refined into biodiesel. The leftover seed meal is used for livestock feed, fuel for pellet stoves, or fertilizer for crops.
The small-scale biodiesel production facility at Borderview Farm is an 800 square foot insulated and heated building (the space does not need to be heated, but the oil should be stored where it will not freeze) that houses an oil press, a BioPro 190 automated biodiesel processor, a methanol recovery system, and a set of dry-wash columns for cleaning the fuel. The clean oil at the top of each settling tank is added to the BioPro 190 processor along with lye, methanol, and sulfuric acid. The automated processor runs through several stages of processing in about 48 hours (esterification, transesterification, settling, washing, and drying), with one break after 24 hours to remove the glycerin byproduct.
Safety equipment in the processing facility includes personal protective equipment like aprons, gloves, eye protection, a ventilation system, gas detectors, and spill containment materials. At Borderview Farm a set of standard operating procedures hangs on the wall and blank check-sheets are in a binder to make the process easy to repeat. The finished biodiesel is stored in 250 gallon pallet tanks making distribution to different farms easier. The installed capacity of the facility can process 100 tons of seeds from 138 acres of sunflowers per year, yielding 10,500 gallons of biodiesel and 64 tons of sunflower meal (assuming the state average yield of 1,500 pounds sunflower seeds per acre and operation of 24 hours per day for 260 days per year).
Rainville switched from purchasing diesel for five tractors and one truck to making his own biodiesel. He wanted to be independent of imported fuel, and liked creating a new way for farmers to diversify. “Using land for making biodiesel is not the most economical option compared to some other crops, but it’s about creating opportunities to try something different,” says Rainville.
Rainville’s annual biodiesel use has ranged from 500 to 3,000 gallons per year. At current prices (over $4 per gallon for diesel and $2.29 per produced gallon of biodiesel) biodiesel has saved him from $500 to $4,000 per year in fuel costs. He also emphasizes energy independence as an added benefit. Plus, any growers that also raise livestock can use the meal, which is leftover after the oil is extracted, as part of their feed rations. Rainville recommends talking with an animal nutritionist to blend this into feed at the right ratio, since sunflower meal has a high fat content.
This story was originally released in a series of energy case studies showcasing farms, businesses, vendors, installers, and technical assistance providers who have made a difference with energy efficiency savings and renewable energy production—all of which are components for helping Vermont reach the renewable energy and environmental impact goals of the Farm to Plate Strategic Plan. Learn more at www.vtfarmtoplate.com.
02 Nov 2015
By: Ellen Kahler
Vermont can produce more of its own biofuel energy and the environmental and potential economic benefits of local bioenergy have been proven by the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative – a program of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. Since 2005, the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative has invested more than $2.5 million in innovative bioenergy research, projects, and people so Vermont can locally produce more of the state’s energy needs – from a variety of agricultural and algal feedstocks.
US Senator Patrick Leahy made the investment at this scale possible through Congressionally Directed Awards from the US Department of Energy (US DOE). The funding concludes in early 2016, at which point a complete impact report will be released by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, who has served as the intermediary between the US DOE and 52 individual Vermont bioenergy projects over the past ten years.
Research, development, and early stage demonstration projects have included:
- Investing in 2 on-farm methane digesters;
- Building farm-scale infrastructure to turn oilseed crops such as sunflowers into biodiesel to run farm tractors;
- Growing switchgrass and densifying it into “pucks” that are burned in a high efficiency commercial boiler instead of propane;
- Identifying the most lipid producing strains of native Vermont algae which can feed off the excess nutrients from methane digesters and can eventually be harvested to make biodiesel or jet fuel;
- Developing two “Biomass to Biofuels” college level courses which run repeatedly at UVM and VT Tech to inspire and train the next generation of bioenergy experts and technicians;
- Exploring the logistics of bulk wood pellet delivery systems to Vermonters’ homes;
- Organizing a number of learning opportunities and conferences for oilseed, grass and algae researchers, farmers and entrepreneurs to attend;
- Providing agronomic and engineering support to oilseed and grass farmers;
- Educating the general public about why the local production for local use of energy crops from Vermont farms and forests makes good economic and ecological sense.
The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative is a unique effort and one that is gaining resonance in other parts of rural America. The initiative’s resource website, www.VermontBioenergy.com is utilized by biofuel producers, educators, and technical service providers from across the country.
The work conducted over the past ten years by the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative to conduct research, provide technical assistance, and develop infrastructure in emerging areas of bioenergy will continue with the initiative’s partners at UVM Extension and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets. As Vermont moves forward – being innovative and increasingly focused on generating renewable energy from the land and forests – the research and infrastructure the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative has invested in over the past ten years will endure and spawn the next wave of bioenergy development in the state.
Ellen Kahler is executive director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (VSJF), a non-profit organization created by the State of Vermont to help develop Vermont’s sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, and forest product businesses. Since 2005, the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative has been a VSJF program that connects diversified agriculture and local renewable energy production for on-farm and community use by supporting research, technical assistance, and infrastructure development in emerging areas of bioenergy including biodiesel production and distribution for heating and transportation, oil crops for on-farm biodiesel and feed, grass for heating, and algae production for biofuels and wastewater management. Learn more at www.VermontBioenergy.com.
Algae for biofuel has been a long time component of the local biofuel production for local use model pioneered by the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative. At the forefront of these efforts has been Anju Dahyia, a VBI grantee, lead biofuels instructor at the University of Vermont, and president of General Systems Research (GSR) Solutions. When the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association received a USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant to utilize waste materials from Vermont farms to produce sustainable distillate fuel, Anju and GRS Solutions were already in a prime positon to conduct the necessary research.
GSR is developing a method of producing algae biofuel to replace traditional fossil fuels in motor vehicles, heavy farm equipment, and even airplanes at Charlotte’s Nordic Dairy Farm as a second tier to the already operational anaerobic digesters contributing to Vermont’s distributed energy generation grid. The process to produce algal biofuel has the potential to prevent nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen from making their way into local lakes and waterways. Nordic Dairy Farm’s owner, Clark Hinsdale, explained at a recent press event on his farm: “the best way to capture excess nutrients on farms is to never let them get beyond the boundaries of the farmstead.”
The current anaerobic digestion system “Cow Power,” utilized by Green Mountain Power, functions by using the methane byproduct harvested from constantly produced cow manure to make electricity that then is sold to Green Mountain Power customers. The research done by GSR focuses on another byproduct of digestion – the nutrient dense liquid waste, previously left unused for power purposes.
The oleaginous algae strains that Anju Dahyia has been working with since 2008 thrive on this dense waste and after the algae has consumed the available nutrients, the creation of the distillate fuel can begin. The result makes the process a closed loop system, and means that dairy farmers like Nordic Dairy (whose cows produce up to a ton of manure a day) would be able to sell algae derived biofuel to local fuel dealers and create granular organic fertilizer. According to Dahyia, Hinsdale’s 300 cows alone have the potential to produce anywhere between 20,000 to 30,000 gallons of biofuel each year.
The cost of production is estimated at $20 dollars per gallon, but Dahyia thinks that with increased scale will come a decreased price. At the recent press conference at the Nordic Dairy Farm site early in September, Mary Powell of Green Mountain Power outlined how the company is working with GSR Solutions to help increase scale and add more small refineries that mimic this operation. She went on to note the resiliency a community-sized digester refinery can add to a microgrid.
Speaking to ABC local 22 News, Matt Cota, Director of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association added, “We know that bio-heat, renewable blended fuel, combined with heating oil works in customers tanks and burners, so if we can source that locally, it would be a great thing for Vermont’s economy, for Vermont famers, Vermont fuel dealers and consumers all across Vermont.”
Richard Altman of the non-profit Commercial Aviation Fuels Initiative was also in attendance and trumpeted that “community-scale digester-refineries in the region might be feasible by 2020,” noting that this project is just a start.
Also on the horizon, GRS Solutions is already working to go further with this technology by incorporating food waste into this digester system. While this system may be in its early stages, one thing is for sure, Vermont energy stakeholders are lining up to show their support and contribute to this more than viable option for local energy production.
For more watch the local WCAX coverage of the September 3rd press conference and to learn more about Algae Bioenergy in Vermont see our other post Algae Biofuel – Vermont’s Search for Viable and Cost-Effective Methods