08 Jun 2015
In 2008, the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative began to explore the potential for grasses energy grown in Vermont to meet a portion of the state’s heating demand and reduce the consumption of non-renewable fossil fuels. The Grass Energy in Vermont and the Northeast report was initiated by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, and carried out by its program the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative, to aid in strategic planning for future grass energy program directives.
Grass Energy in Vermont and the Northeast summarizes current research on the agronomy and usage potential of grass as a biofuel, and points to next steps for the region to fully commercialize this opportunity. The keys to commercializing grass for energy are improving fuel supply with high-yielding crops, establishing best practices for production and use, developing appropriate, high-efficiency combustion technology, and building markets for grass fuel.
Perennial grasses, while serving as a biomass feedstock for heating fuel, also have numerous other benefits to farmers. The grass energy benefits reviewed in the report include retaining energy dollars in the local community, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from heating systems, improving energy security, providing a use for marginal farmland, and reducing pollution in soil and run-off from farms.
Regional and closed loop processing were two models recommended by the report, both involving farmers growing and harvesting grass, but differing in where the grass is processed into fuel and where it is used. The regional processing model calls for aggregating grass from a 50-mile radius at a central processing facility, where the grass is made into and used as fuel, or sold to local users. The closed loop model suggests farmers growing and processing grass on-site for on-farm or community use. Other models, like mobile on-farm processing and processing fuel for the consumer pellet market have significant hurdles to overcome if they are to be successful in Vermont.
In the below video a Vermont agronomist explains switchgrass production followed by entrepreneurs turning bales of grass into briquette fuel. This grass biofuel feedstock can be grown alongside food production on marginal agricultural lands and abandoned pastures, and in conserved open spaces. The harvested grass can be baled and used as-is in straw bale combustion systems, or it can be compressed into several useable forms for pellet fuel combustion systems.
For more information on grass biofuel feedstocks and to read the full Grass Energy in Vermont and the Northeast report visit the grass energy section of the Vermont Bioenergy website.
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.
02 Feb 2015
The Advanced Bioeconomy Leadership Conference, to be held on March 11th through the 13th in Washington D.C. serves as a great opportunity to for companies and individuals in the field of biofuels and bioenergy to educate themselves on the most recent advances in the field as well as network with some of its top experts and leaders. This event will open up with a welcome introduction from Jim Lane, Director and Editor of Biofuels Digest and the event’s momentum only promises to build from there. Among other big industry names in appearance, leaders from organizations such as the National Biodesiel Board, American Council on Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Algae Biomass Organization, and even the U.S. Navy will be speaking and presenting on a variety of policies, advances, and outlooks pertaining to their respective niches.
This conference offers the rare opportunity to receive first hand updates and future outlooks of U.S. bioenergy policies from those who can report best; both Jonathan Male, Director of the U.S. DOE Bioenergy Technologies Office and Harry Baumes, Director of USDA Energy Policy will be speaking on the subjects during the Thursday session of the conference. In addition, conference goers can expect the most up to date reports on current best practices and trends in the field during the ABLC Finance Summit from big investors such as Citiroup and the sessions such as “Due Diligence” in which experts David Dodds of Dodds & Associates and Ron Cascone of NEXANT look at new and emerging companies and technologies.
In addition to conventional biofuel operations and programs, the conference will feature some more advanced military and aviation biofuel related sessions with an appearance by the U.S. Navy’s operational energy director, Chris Tindal. These sessions are organized in partnership with the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI). Altogether, this conference is a great opportunity that can’t be missed for those working with bioenergy of all feedstocks and uses. A complete list of conference sponsors, speakers and events as well as information for registration and lodging can be found on the ABLC website.
07 Aug 2014
Save the Date! October 22, 2014, is the second annual NBD Participant Flyer 2014. Spearheaded by the Biomass Power Association, the day is marked with events from across the country that celebrate the many benefits of local bioenergy.
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 22nd that 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 on our Twitter handle that took place throughout the summer and that are planned for the fall. We’ll be recapping and sharing exciting things like the Biofuels Course at University of Vermont, Digester Operations Master Certificate at Vermont Technical College, annual University of Vermont Extension Crops and Soils Field Day at Borderview Research Farm, educational webinars, and several on-farm meetings and workshops.
If you are interested in planning a National Bioenergy Day to promote your work in Vermont, please contact Sarah Galbraith, program manager of the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative.
19 May 2014
US Department of Energy Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz visited Vermont last week to learn about our leadership in clean energy. While here, he met with the Vermont Congressional delegation and had several opportunities to meet with Vermont’s energy leaders.
On the evening of Thursday May 15, Ellen Kahler, Executive Director of Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (VSJF), joined 40 other invitees for a briefing with Dr. Moniz at Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC) in Burlington. The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative is a program of VSJF. The event was organized by Senator Bernie Sanders, who meets regularly with many of the invitees to discuss shifts in US energy policy, based on what has worked here in Vermont. During this briefing, Dr. Moniz heard about the many innovative initiatives underway to reduce non-renewable energy use and increase energy efficiency throughout the state. Examples of these initiatives include Green Mountain Power‘s investments in renewable energy projects, Washington Electric Cooperative’s 100% renewable portfolio, SunCommon‘s impressive residential solar energy installation program, Energy Action Network‘s efforts on making Montpelier the first net-zero state capital in the US, and the state’s commitment to achieve 90% renewable energy by 2050, to name just a few.
On Friday May 16, Dr. Moniz was one of eight panelists to speak at the Sustainable Energy Summit at Middlebury College. Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, Congressman Peter Welch, and Governor Peter Shumlin represented the Vermont delegation and comprised half of the panel. The second half were four Vermont energy leaders: Dr. Jack Byrne from Middlebury College, Mary Powell from Green Mountain Power, Scott Johnstone from VEIC, and Jamison Ervin from Waterbury LEAP, the Waterbury-Duxbury energy committee.
The Summit was open to the public and was attended by citizens, energy program leaders such as Vermont Bioenergy Initiative, and students. All panelists were invited to speak to the importance of clean energy to Vermont, and there was time for questions from the audience.