BioCycle Magazine

Renewables Make Progress on Many Fronts: Grass Roots Ethanoll from Field Waste

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Courtesy of Courtesy of BioCycle Magazine

Progress in community digesters will bring fresh jobs and local control back to farm country - plus offering answers for global warming.

FROM THE MIDWEST where native grasses, field waste and wood chips are fueling new biorefineries that are locally-owned to the Northwest where some 50 million gallons of raw manure are producing electricity and dried bedding, community digesters and on-farm systems are performing well. In Oregon, the Methane Energy and Agricultural Development (MEAD) project, 15 years in development, is going strong with its Port of Tillamook Bay's Hooley Digester.

“We've fired up a third cell, have built another baler and bagger plus a building to put them in,” says Jack Crider, manager of the community digester where manure from some of the county's 30,000 dairy cows is being processed.
Farmers like the dried fiber for use as bedding, and new partnerships are being formed. “We now have redundancy for all our systems, and have had our first payment for CO2 credits,” Crider adds.

The plug-flow digester takes manure from some 4,000 cows at both pasture-based and confined dairies. While not common in the United States, these community-based digesters are becoming increasingly accepted in Europe. Reports on community digesters will be published in coming issues of BioCycle.

Along with methane recovery, the vision of a decentralized ethanol industry is taking shape. In places like Idaho, Nebraska and elsewhere in the Midwest, progress is occurring where ethanol is created from native prairie grass, corn stalks, field waste and wood chips. Writes Timothy Egan in The New York Times: “Most of these plants are right in the middle of the Farm Belt, in counties that have been losing people since the Depression.” According to Egan, roughly 40 percent of the new biorefineries are locally owned, representing the sweat and capital of farmers, retired school teachers and small-town bankers.

“ … They see a biorefinery every 50 miles or so, turning out American fuel for American drivers from American crops. And once the technology moves from corn to cellulose (as field waste is called), they see the essential stuffing of this scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz providing a sustainable economy that also offers some answers for global warming.”
Several thousand people turned out last summer in Laddonia, Missouri for the opening of the state's fourth ethanol plant. A yard sign, fusing a picture of corn, a gas pump and the flag, carried the slogan that people are marching to: “Our Crop, Our Fuel, Our Country,” Egan observes. “It looks less like a taxpayer-financed Big Plan dominated by a single agribusiness corporation and more like something that might bring back fresh jobs and local control.”

Observes Chad Kruger, who works on climate-friendly farming at Washington State University: “There's an old saying among farmers that is - if you can see the barn from your field, you can afford what you put in there.”

Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, would like to use the coming farm bill to energize rural America. “My goal is to pass a bold new farm bill that will drive the transition toward enhanced energy security for the nation based on renewable energy from our farms and rural communities.”

Jim Bodensteiner and Allen Goldberg from the Iowa Department of Natural Resource's (DNR) Waste Management Bureau said recently that a $l80 million ag development project for Shelby County, Iowa would be on the right track if it included a community digester concept. The project involves feeding manure, food processing waste and other organic residuals into a community digester that would create methane gas to fuel such operations as an ethanol plant. The Iowa Legislature has given funds to the DNR to study the system, and officials have met with l4 communities.
As explained by the staff members, community digesters have been constructed and successfully utilized in countries such as Denmark and Germany for more than 25 years. Greenhouse gases are reduced and fossil fuels are not needed to power ethanol plants.

The plan for Shelby County calls for expansion of a local dairy operation from 6,000 head of livestock to more than 16,000 head. Manure from the cows would be fed into the community digester along with other organic residuals. The digester would then be used to power a 25 to 30 million gallon per year ethanol plant. Ethanol would be sold, and distillers grains left over from the process would then be marketed back to the farmers. If Shelby County proceeds with the community digester, Iowa DNR would be available to assist.

In Wisconsin, Dane County Board Supervisor Brett Hulsey heads the Lakes and Watershed Commission which is developing new guidelines for manure management and spreading. “Wisconsin leads the nation in the number of digesters, so it just makes sense to have a digester in Dane County where we produce the second-highest amount of milk in the state,” says Hulsey. Dane County cows produce 6,000 pounds of manure for every person who lives there. Recently, Strand Associates, Inc. was awarded a $93,100 contract from Dane County to evaluate manure management technologies in the region.


AS REPORTED in December, 2006 BioCycle, Novozymes - a biotechnology company in Franklinton, North Carolina - produces liquid and granulated enzymes for markets that include fuel ethanol, food processing and compost facilities. In addition to its enzyme production waste, their 50,000 tons/year compost site accepts clean wood wastes, yard trimmings, gypsum wallboard and food residuals. The residuals, a nitrogen source, are dewatered and activated. then transported to the compost facility where they are blended with high carbon feedstocks and windrowed. After treatment with such units as a Kuhn Knight mixer, Backhus turner, McCloskey trommel screen and Rotochopper, finished compost is marketed.

On February 22, 2007, under a headline, “Bush Makes A Pitch for Amber Waves of Homegrown Fuel,” newspapers described President Bush's visit in Franklinton, North Carolina to the Novozymes laboratory where alternative fuels are made “from switch grass, wood chips and other plant waste.”

The president has proposed significant increases in spending for alternative energy development, including about $50 million a year for bioenergy research, $15 million a year for grants on biomass projects and about $2.1 billion in loan guarantees for companies building cellulosic ethanol plants. But Democrats in Congress have criticized Mr. Bush for spending far more on coal-based technologies and nuclear power, writes The New York Times.

In his budget, Mr. Bush proposed spending $863 million on programs related to fossil fuels, a 33 percent increase over his request for 2007. That increase included more than $500 million for various forms of “clean-coal” technology. The president has proposed spending $875 million for nuclear energy R&D, an increase of 38 percent. The administration's budget calls for offering up to $9 billion in loan guarantees “for a new generation of nuclear power plants.”

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