14 Sep 2015
The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative, a program of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, aims to foster the sustainable bioenergy through a local production for local use model, proven to work for Vermont. Since 2003 the program has allowed Vermont farms to ease their resilience on inconsistently priced, foreign fossil fuels and other agricultural inputs. This is accomplished by focusing on biodiesel production and distribution for heating and transportation, oil crops for on-farm biodiesel and feed, grass energy for heating, and algae production for biofuels and waste management.
Vermont Bioenergy Initiative grantees have shown just how much the addition of biomass feedstock can contribute to sustainable agriculture. As one of these grantees, John Williamson of Stateline Farm would put it, “100 years ago everyone produced their own fuel; we are just doing that now in a different way.” This is really a novel way to look of what he is doing on his North Bennington farm. John was featured in a recent story in Daily Yonder which outlined his work and how he has begun helping his Vermont neighbors find their path to this form of sustainable, renewable energy.
For more about John Williamson’s on-farm biodiesel production, watch this video of John in self-designed Biobarn. He and Chris Callahan of University of Vermont Extension show us how they can grow oil crops, make biodiesel, feed animals, and save money!
Also, explore the initiative’s extensive and accessible set of bioenergy resources for replication in rural communities across the United States and beyond.
17 Aug 2015
The Third Annual National Bioenergy Day (NBD), which will take place Wednesday, October 21st, is a day that is marked with events from across the country that celebrates energy independence, local jobs, and many other benefits of local bioenergy. Led by Biomass Power Association in partnership with U.S. Forest Service, National Bioenergy Day is an opportunity for Vermonters to showcase our research, progress, and impacts in producing local bioenergy for local use.
How To Get Involved:
- Organize an event on or near October 21ndthat showcases bioenergy as a clean, efficient, and resourceful way to produce energy. Emphasizes bioenergy’s role in improving environmental health; and facilitates collaboration along the supply chain.
- Partner with someone who works in the bioenergy supply chain to create an event. Use the Vermont Energy Atlas to find partners in your area.
- Piggyback on an existing event and call it a NBD event.
- Share and talk about NBD in your social media and press efforts while promoting impacts in your community.
The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative, for example, will spend the day re-capping and previewing events and research on our Twitter handle @VTBioenergy that took place throughout the summer and that are planned for the fall. We’ll be recapping and sharing exciting things like the exciting learning opportunities at the University of Vermont, Full Sun Company’s Biodiesel and Meal production, and much more!
For more information, you can visit also visit bioenergyday.com and follow @USAbiomass on twitter!
In early 2014 Full Sun Company, a small start-up business was co-founded by Netaka White and Davis McManus. Fueled by an interest to help family farms grow, Full Sun began processing sunflower and non-GMO canola oil crops into specialty food-grade oil and high-protein meal for the farmers. Sunflower and canola oil distribution picked up quickly through local CSAs, farm stores, specialty food shops, health and wellness centers, and direct sales to chefs in the Northeast.
Netaka White previously served as the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative’s (VBI) program director, which directly helped to develop the business model to nurture farm partnerships, both as growers and recipients of oilseed meal – the other product that’s generated from making the oil. At Full Sun oilseeds are pressed with large mechanical machinery, producing oil and a granular meal. The team at Full Sun Company learned a lot about seed storage and oil pressing from the early VBI grantees, such as John Williamson of State Line Farm, and Roger Rainville of Borderview Farm.
The first of the two products, the seed meal, has been used as fuel for pellet stoves, or as is the case with Full Sun, sold as fertilizer for crops, or nutritional meal for livestock. At full operation, Full Sun can pump out one ton of meal per day – necessary to meet the growing demand of such customers as The Intervale in Burlington, Vermont and several local pig, poultry, dairy, and beef producers.
The second product, the oil, is used as culinary oil for cooking. Staying true to their commitment to an extraordinary culinary product, Full Sun Company diverts any of the oil that does not meet their standards to Vermont Bioenergy Initiative biofuel producers to undergo further processing and become biofuel. Approximately 250-300 gallons of off-spec oil for biodiesel has been processed since February, 2014.
In October, 2014, Full Sun Company halted operation to make room for growth to meet the increased demand for their products and scale up to align with Vermont’s accelerating agricultural economy. White and McManus acquired the former Vermont Soap building in Middlebury, Vermont in order to build a full scale mill and achieve their anticipated greater capacity. Over the course of one of the coldest winters in recent history, the Full Sun team made the renovations and adjustments needed to repurpose the building into the first non-GMO verified oil mill in New England. By March of 2015 Full Sun Company had pressed sunflower and canola seeds to make their first batch of specialty oils. The new operation can yield 130 gallons of oil per day – about 2600 gallons per month!
With no shortage of innovation or ambition, White notes, “David and I are in this with the interest of having a transformative effect on local agriculture and food systems.” Well on their way, the operation is certified GMO free, and the next steps are being taken towards becoming certified organic.
As they grow, Full Sun would like to buy from local grower-suppliers and work with local businesses to package and label feed to be distributed to farmers of varying sizes, from backyard chicken growers to larger operations. Collaborating with Vermont breweries and distilleries is also in queue. Full Sun is working with one local distillery to put together “a package” for farmers so they have markets for profitable grain crops throughout four years of rotation (rye, wheat, sunflowers, etc.) and can offer farmers the indexed prices for these locally grown grains and oilseeds.
13 Jul 2015
Making biofuel, it sounds like a complicated process taking place in a laboratory somewhere, but in reality it’s quite simple and happening in small, rural Vermont farms. Vermont farmers like John Williamson of State Line Farm and others are electing to create their own fuel and meal. These farmers are enjoying the benefits of the distance to source resiliency and cost reliability that comes with the local production for local use biofuel model they have adopted.
As John Williamson, a Vermont Bioenergy grant recipient says, “100 years ago everyone produced their own fuel; we are just doing that now in a different way.” This is a novel way to look at what he is doing on his North Bennington farm. Vermont farmers in the past would plan to allocate their acreage to feed their livestock, some of which aided in energy-intensive farm activities like plowing, planting, and the eventual harvesting of their field. With the local production for local use model, John is now thinking about how to feed his tractor so he can do the same activities. So what is the feed of choice for John’s John Deer tractor? Sunflowers!
John loads dry and clean sunflower seeds into hoppers on a TabyPressen Oilpress, where screw augers push the seed through a narrow dye. 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 first of the two byproducts, the seed meal, can fuel pellet stoves, serve as fertilizer for crops, or find its way to local Vermont farms to supplement animal nutrition as livestock feed. The second byproduct, the fuel, could at this point be used as culinary oil for cooking, but instead will experience further refinement and become biofuel.
The processing of the oil takes place in Johns self-designed Biobarn. In the below video, John Williamson and Chris Callahan of University of Vermont Extension show us how they can grow oil crops, make biodiesel, feed animals, and save money!
29 Jun 2015
Mark Mordasky, owner of Rainbow Valley Farm in Orwell, Vermont has been growing soybeans as a cash crop and for on-farm biodiesel and animal feed since 2008. When fuel prices began to climb, Mark took initiative and started searching for an innovative and more cost efficient way to meet his farm’s energy demands. The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund was able to help Mark take his first steps towards sustainable biofuel production. Mark is able to press these soybeans after harvesting and make two distinct products, oil and meal. The meal is an instantly marketable product and can be sold as feedstock or organic fertilizer; the oil will be further processed into biodiesel.
Soybeans crops are well suited for biodiesel production in Vermont and perform best in heavy soil like those found in Addison County, as University of Vermont Extension Agronomist, Heather Darby explains. Soybeans don’t always do well in in light, well drained soils, and as with any crop the best way to understand the demands of any crops is to contact your University Extension and have your soil tested. Additionally, because soybeans are a legume, they produce nitrogen in association with bacteria, meaning that these crops don’t require the application of additional nitrogen to produce a high yield. These low input, high yield crops are fairly easy to grow, are well suited to the Vermont climate, and afford farmers flexible planting dates. Heather and the rest of the UVM Extension team have seen yields ranging from 35 bushels per acre to up to 85 bushels per acre with varying practices.
In the below video, Mike Mordasky shares his experience and knowledge of soybean production from planting through harvesting harvest and beyond to storage and the creation of the final products. In addition, Heather Darby shares here insights into maturity groupings, variety selection, and best growing practices.
01 Jun 2015
Nationally, corn-based ethanol and palm oil based biodiesel are gaining negative attention for their impacts on the environment and food security. But here in Vermont, farms are producing on-farm biodiesel to power equipment and operations on the farm and the local farm community. This is a profoundly different model from national and international biofuel production. Agricultural Engineering and Agronomy Researchers at University of Vermont Extension in partnership with farmers and the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative have developed a model of local minded, on-farm production of biofuels that can help rural communities transition away from unsustainable models of food, feed and fuel production.
National and global models of corn-ethanol and soy oil-biodiesel production are resulting in large-scale land conversions in some parts of the world, in particular to a loss of native grass and forestland. This type of biofuel production is not happening in Vermont, where bioenergy production incorporates rotational oilseed crops like sunflowers and soybeans on Vermont farms.
Locally produced biodiesel supports resiliency in Vermont, a cold climate state which is particularly dependent on oil. Over $1 billion leaves the state for heating and transportation fuel costs. Heating and fuel independence by producing on-farm biodiesel provides farmers fuel security which is comparable to that which is sought by Vermont’s local food movement.
The local production for local use model results in two products from one crop: oil and meal (animal feed or fertilizer). By growing oilseed and pressing the seed to extract the oil, farms are creating a valuable livestock feed at home, rather than importing it. The oil can be sold as a food product, used directly in a converted engine or converted to biodiesel for use in a standard diesel engine. In this way, oilseed crops offer flexibility in the end-use of the products. US corn-based ethanol mandates are raising grain costs nationally, making feed expensive for Vermont farmers. Local bioenergy production means farmers produce their own feed, fuel, and fertilizer for on-farm use, at a fraction of the cost and more stable prices. Reduced and stable prices for feed, fuel, and fertilizer can mean improved economic viability for Vermont farms and more stable food prices for Vermont consumers in the future.
Overall viability can be seen in the local production for local use model by considering economics, energy and carbon emissions. Biodiesel production costs of between $0.60 and $2.52 per gallon have been estimated for farm-scale production models, which are generally below market price for diesel fuel. The net energy return in Vermont on-farm biodiesel operations has been estimated at between 2.6 and 5.9 times the invested energy (i.e. more energy out than was required to produce the fuel), demonstrating strong returns and potential for improvement with increased scale. Furthermore, oilseed-based production of biodiesel has been estimated to result in a net reduction of carbon dioxide emissions of up to 1420 lbs. per acre, the equivalent of about 1500 miles of car travel per year.
Categorizing the Vermont biofuel model with national models and trends is inaccurate, considering the innovative and efficient systems benefiting Vermont farmers. While national and international analysis weighs the benefits of food versus fuel, the model is quite unique in Vermont and the food versus fuel challenge is well met. The model developed in Vermont does however have wider-reaching implications in that this can be replicated in rural farm communities across the US.
As John Williamson of Stateline Farm, a Vermont Bioenergy grant recipient says, “100 years ago everyone produced their own fuel; we are just doing that now in a different way.”
Coming this fall the University of Vermont will be offering a bioenergy course taught by Anju Dahiya, cofounder of General Systems Research, LLC, lead biofuels instructor at the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, and Vermont Bioenergy 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.
Potential participants are offered the option of variable credits, ranging from 0 to 6 credit hours. This allows prospective students to only attend lectures and have access to online course materials for 2 credits; further their experience with the addition of hands-on labs and field trips for 3 credits; or participate in all aspects of the class while additionally applying lessons to a service learning project with a community partner, earning 4 credits. Participants have the ability to add up to 2 more credits, totaling no more than 6, for additional work with the community partner pending special permission from the course instructor.
Lectures will be held twice a week between September 18th and December 9th of 2015. Friday lectures will be on campus from 4:05 pm to 7:05 pm, followed by Saturday morning field trips between 10:00 am and 1:00 pm for those students who elected for 3 credits or more. 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.
The Biomass Energy Resource Center (BERC), a program of the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC), has launched a re-tooled web-based database for tracking the advancement of modern wood heating throughout North America. The newly revised searchable database houses key information on existing community-scale modern wood heating and combined heat and power systems across the U.S. and Canada, as well as an archive of links to case studies. Examples of community-scale facilities include schools, campuses, hospitals, prisons, multi-family or senior housing, government buildings, commercial buildings, and farms and greenhouses.
The database was originally created with funding from the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities and further improvements were made with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy through the support of Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. The re-tooled database is a user-friendly, interactive tool that will help collect and track information on a continuing basis. “This resource will provide stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds with a better understanding of the current demand for wood fuels as an energy source and the success of modern wood heating projects throughout North America,” said Adam Sherman, Manager of BERC at VEIC.
The database already contains more than 500 entries, but to ensure that this publicly available resource is accurate and up to date, BERC is asking for user participation. “We are committed to maintaining and building this database over time to ensure it remains a useful and reliable too, but this is a rapidly growing sector, so we need users to help,” said Sherman. “We need people to engage with the database; add new entries for facilities that have been missed and as new facilities come online, and edit existing entries that are incomplete.” With regular contributions, the database will continue to improve and grow.
With tens of thousands of annual visits and top Google search ranking, the BERC website is a high-visibility home for this important tool. The BERC database is designed to provide vital information on a specific subset of biomass energy facilities; community-scale biomass heating projects. The BERC database complements the Wood2Energy.org database that covers a broader spectrum of biomass energy facilities including power plants, sawmills, and pellet mills. Not only will the BERC database provide wood heating systems vendors the exposure and recognition for their projects, it also helps demonstrate that modern wood heating is becoming mainstream throughout North America. To learn more about using and contributing to the database visit www.biomasscenter.org/database.
The Biomass Energy Resource Center (BERC) is a program of Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC). BERC works to advance the use of community-scale biomass energy throughout North America and beyond by providing technical consulting services, biomass energy program design and delivery, and education and outreach on benefits and best practices. BERC works with communities, federal, state and local governments, colleges and universities, businesses, utilities, and others to use local biomass resources, invest in local energy systems, and reduce the use of fossil heating fuels.
We all know food gives us energy. But we might sometimes lose sight of the amount of energy involved in producing, processing and delivering that food to our plates. Everything requires energy: from tractors plowing and planting to producing fertilizer or compost; from milking cows and keeping that milk cold to storing and transporting vegetables. This energy costs farms real money and it is sometimes a major category of expense. Energy costs are typically one of the highest for farms, rivaling feed costs on dairy farms and labor costs on vegetable farms.
As Vermont experiences growth in food-related businesses and jobs, decisions about energy become more and more important. This has been part of Vermont’s Farm to Plate Strategic Plan and the associated network of people working on implementing that plan. The plan includes goals related to energy, including; reducing farm production expenses, reducing adverse environmental impacts from farm and food system activities, reducing energy use, and increasing renewable energy use in the food system.
One example of how this is actually working is a group called the Farm to Plate Energy Cross Cutting Team: a group of energy specialists from Efficiency Vermont, the Agency of Agriculture, UVM’s Rubenstein School and UVM Extension, The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative, USDA NRCS and private companies. The team meets regularly to learn from each other and take on specific projects such as the recent set of seven “Energy Success Stories” which were released at the 2014 Farm Show, showcasing farms, businesses, vendors, installers, and technical assistance providers who have made a difference with energy efficiency savings and renewable energy production.
Chaired by Efficiency Vermont planning manager, JJ Vandette, the energy team will continue to address the Farm to Plate Efficiency and Renewable Energy Goal to decrease overall food system energy consumption and increase food system renewable energy production and the Farm to Plate Environmental Impacts Goal to decrease adverse environmental impacts from farming and food system activities—while helping to decrease production expenses—also a goal of the Farm to Plate Strategic Plan.
The team is always interested in having new members. If you have an interest in energy, especially energy on farms and in the food system, we’d love to hear from you. JJ Vandette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802.540.7915.
Data sources and analysis at www.vtfarmtoplate.com/getting-to-2020.
16 Feb 2015
It’s not too late to register for the upcoming Farm Energy IQ Training for New England Agricultural Service Providers. This training will take place starting Monday, February 23rd at 8:00 a.m. and will end Wednesday February 25 in Fairlee, Vermont. Organized by individuals from the University of Vermont Extension Service, Penn State, and Rutgers University, this three day training is a great opportunity for those interested in on farm energy to learn and apply their skills as well as network with other attendees. The Farm IQ Energy Training is funded generously by Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program as part of a regional professional development program to bring the latest developments in the field to individuals who can best apply them.
This conference will provide a range of opportunities to learn or improve energy purchasing, calculating, conservation, production, and analysis.Attendees will even have the opportunity to apply skills via hands-on activities and by visiting local operations. Over the three days these lessons will be compared for application on farms in different settings. In addition, attendees will receive a comprehensive binder with all the material covered in the workshops as well as supplemental materials to refresh and share material as well as continue learning.
This conference is a great opportunity to solidify one’s knowledge by learning from on hand specialist and being immersed with in the material. If you happen to miss this particular training, the same workshop will be offered in Pennsylvania, March 10th to the 12th and again in New Jersey from April 8th to the 10th.