Biomass for energy independence

Charles Komanoff, keynote presenter at the Third Annual Illinois Renewable Energy Fair, considers farm energy a means to rescue us from a fossil fuel economy that is undermining everything we hold dear—a benign climate, a foreign policy unbeholden to oil despots, and stable, good-paying jobs. He sees large changes in how we value and use energy essential to protecting our American way of life.

Biomass provides one of many opportunities to use farm products to increase our energy independence. It provides a cost-effective, carbon neutral energy source. According to a recent report released by the World Wildlife Fund and the European Biomass Association, biomass could be used to power 400 large electrical generating stations by 2020.

A key advantage of biomass over solar and wind power is that the fuel can be stored and used as needed. It can supply a steady, non-fluctuating electrical supply. Biomass use would enhance our energy independence while decreasing the release of climate-changing carbon dioxide.

A number of biomass presentations will highlight this year’s Fair. Dr. William Parton of Colorado State University will speak on “The Good News About Ethanol Production.” He will highlight the potential of expanding ethanol production to increase our energy independence and consider the environmental implications of its expanded use. Many vehicles are now built to use multiple fuels containing 85 percent ethanol.

Judd Hulting of the Illinois Soybean Growers Association returns to make the case for biodiesel. It provides local jobs and lessens our dependence on imported oil. Switching to biodiesel requires no engine modifications or changes in our fueling infrastructure.

Our changing energy supply situation offers economic opportunities for farm owners and operators. Dave Dornbush of Blackhawk Hills RC&D will help farmers sort though the many new energy production opportunities including wind farms, biomass conversions, anaerobic digesters, and PV systems. Costs and technical assistance will be addressed.

Fred Kuzel’s presentation on biomass energy in the Great Lakes Region will cover a full range of biomass including future developments. This includes biomass-derived hydrogen for fuel cells and future biorefineries producing both fuels and bio-products.

Wood from forest growth and urban wood waste also provides biomass. Richard Bergman from the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis., will present some successful wood combustion operations for thermal energy, power generation and co-generation for residential, commercial and institutional operations.

Another perspective on biomass energy comes from Permaculture advocates. They are interested in reclaiming damaged lands and using them to produce high yields of food and fuel based on a sustainable biological approach in contrast to the dominant fossil fuel-based industrial agricultural model. Bill Wilson of the Center for Sustainable Community will make the presentation.

These biomass presentations typify the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s concerns for keeping energy dollars local. Deputy Director Hans Detweiler will discuss the role of renewable energy in creating jobs, protecting the environment and moving the economy forward. His presentation will address wind energy, solar thermal and biogas, in addition to biofuels.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!