Field Notes
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The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative (VBI) is working to replace a portion of the fossil fuel energy consumed in-state with homegrown alternatives from oilseed crops, perennial grasses and algae. Our grant making and technical assistance are aimed at addressing the most critical issues of our time — peak oil, energy price volatility, and climate change – using an innovative ‘local production for local use’ market development model.

The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative supports the expansion of the supply of and demand for locally produced and commodity-level biofuels in Vermont in order to reduce the state’s dependency on petroleum. By providing grant funding and technical assistance to new businesses, VBI promotes entrepreneurial activity in the emerging biofuels sector that will eventually create livable wage jobs. Further, stimulating farm-based biofuels and bioenergy production enhances farm viability and thereby local food security. In addition to grant-making and technical assistance, VBI helps to educate the public about the benefits of sustainably- and locally-produced bioenergy feedstocks and fuels.

Click here to read more about what defines bioenergy.

The term “Bioenergy” refers to renewable energy fuels and feedstocks derived from biological sources; these can be agricultural biomass, liquid biofuels, and biogas used for heat, electricity, combined heat and power, or vehicle fuel. The term is often used synonymously with “biofuels.”

Some examples of bioenergy feedstocks and fuels being developed in Vermont include switchgrass, hay and other agricultural biomass for heat and power; oilseeds (like canola, sunflower and soybean) and algae for biodiesel; animal waste and food scraps for anaerobic digesters and captured landfill gas to create electricity and biomethane.

While there are a variety of bioenergy feedstocks and fuels, there are three primary focus areas for VBI: Algae, Grass, and Oilseeds.

Algae: Microalgae such as green algae and diatoms can be grown and pressed for oil, fuel, feed, food and fertilizer.

Grass: Perennial grasses like switchgrass, big bluestem, reed canarygrass, and Miscanthus can be grown and compressed into pellets or briquettes for use as heating fuel.

Oilseeds: Oilseeds such as sunflower, soybean, and canola can be grown and pressed for oil that can be made into food-grade cooking oil or biodiesel. The leftover meal is a co-product that can be used for livestock feed and organic fertilizer.

Click here to read more about the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative. 

algae conference sponsor logos Vermont

“Algae and Energy in the Northeast was co-hosted by the University of Vermont, Vermont Epscor, and Vermont Bioenergy Initiative.

A conference on Algae & Energy in the Northeast, co-hosted by the University of Vermont and the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, was held at the University of Vermont in Burlington on March 17 & 18, 2010.

Topics covered include:

  • Overcoming challenges to algae feedstock production in the Northeast
  • Algal harvesting, lipid (oil) extraction, and biofuel conversion
  • Uses and markets for algal oil and by-products
  • Concurrent poster session featuring algae R&D projects.
algae and energy northeast conference sponsors

The conference “Algae and Energy in the Northeast” was sponsored by Vermont Technical College, Renewable Energy Vermont, Carbon Harvest, Algae Power, General Systems Research, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, and Algae Biomass Organization.


Some of the foremost algae researchers and entrepreneurs presented the current state and projected future of algae as a biofuel feedstock, including:

November 12, 2008 — Shelburne Farms, Vermont

This event was funded, in part, by the US Department of Energy, courtesy of U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, and was generously hosted by Shelburne Farms.  

Event Organizers:  VSJF, Biomass Energy Resource Center, University of Vermont Extension.

Click on the names of the panelists below to download their presentations.

Additionally, for ongoing discussion about the current state and future of grass energy (growing, harvesting, processing, pelletizing, and combustion) as a renewable biomass fuel, you can join an online discussion group here: Grass Energy Google Group.

grass sympKeynote Address: Building a Viable Grass-Energy Economy

Roger Samson, Executive Director of R.E.A.P.-Canada.

Mr. Samson is an internationally recognized leader in grass energy, working with perennial grasses, agri-fibers, agro-forestry, biomass combustion systems, and fuel pelletization. There is a tremendous need for low cost energy around the world, and since 1986 R.E.A.P. Canada has been working to efficiently capture solar energy and convert it as efficiently as possible into usable energy forms.

R.E.A.P. Canada has focused on pelletizing switchgrass, big bluestem, and other grass crops for thermal combustion. Switchgrass and big bluestem are native, perennial, warm season grasses that have high moisture and nutrient use efficiency. Cave in Rock is the standard switchgrass variety in New England.

Samson identified four main drivers for creating a grass biofuel industry:  

  • technology development (e.g., improvements in densification and boiler technology);
  • policy (e.g., renewable energy incentives applied to grasses and/or carbon regulations);
  • capacity development and consumer education (training and awareness); and
  • market analysis / development and government regulation (e.g., new fuel quality and boiler emissions standards).

grass symp2Panel 1: Growing and Harvesting

Dr. Cherney’s current research features 3,000 switchgrass and reed canarygrass plants in plots in New York. Cherney used a pilot / flight attendant analogy to describe the grass energy situation in the United States compared to Europe. He argued that Europe has institutional drivers (pilots) in the form of energy policy, an emphasis on energy returned on energy invested, grass energy legislation, and standards that have assisted in the development of the European grass energy industry. The U.S., on the other hand, has informational drivers (flight attendants) in the form of researchers and educational activities. In other words, the U.S. has flight attendants but no pilots.

Under these conditions, Cherney argued that we’re going to have a grass pellet industry because Europe wants it (i.e., U.S. feedstocks will be exported to Europe). Alternatively, he believes that a small to medium scale grass energy industry that emphasized local production for local use is possible in New England.

Read Dr. Cherney’s presentation here.

Pam Porter’s presentation focused on Midwest biomass trends.

Samson’s presentation focused on problems with high potassium and chlorine content in grasses, which causes agglomerations and corrosion in boilers. A solution that R.E.A.P. Canada has identified is using warm season grasses under delayed harvest management (i.e., ‘overwintering’) to leach the potassium out.

Lunch Keynote: A Systems Approach to Sustainable Agriculture and Energy

grass symp5

1.5 inch grass rounds come tumbling down BHS Energy’s mobile pelletizer at the Grass Energy Symposium.

Will Stevens, Golden Russet Farm

Panel 2: Processing and Pelletizing

Dan Arnett describes the benefits of densification for transportation, storage, and standardization during his presentation. Ernst Conservation Seeds is the largest grower of switchgrass east of the Mississippi.

grass symp4

Bryan Reggie enumerates the benefits of local biomass during his presentation, including offsetting heating costs.


Mr. Reggie and partners have developed a mobile grass briquetter that makes 1.5 inch grass rounds (see below). BHS Energy anticipates a market for medium-scale densification from farmers with 100+ acres or coops; greenhouses with 50+ acres of farmland; municipalities; and ag related businesses.

John Arsenault, Vice President of Quebec Operations, Energex Pellet Fuel, Inc.

Energex Pellet Fuel has been making wood pellets since 1982. 95% of the pellets are exported to the U.S.

 Panel 3: The State of Combustion Technology

Read Dr. Cherney’s presentation here.

Mr. Boutin’s talk highlighted technology gap areas, including the standardization of the fuel, fuel handling and storage, combustion techniques, ash control, heat exchanger surfaces, and air pollutants.

Photos: Jock Gill

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