Biomass energy could restart California economy, advocates say

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Job creation engine that could pull the state out of its economic doldrums.

(Source: The Sacramento Bee)trackingSACRAMENTO, Calif. _ California could tap the energy stored in wood, garbage, plants and animal waste to fuel a job creation engine that could pull the state out of its economic doldrums, biomass energy advocates said Tuesday.

So far, though, the engine has barely crept out of the station, said James D. Boyd, vice chairman of the California Energy Commission.

“(Biomass) is a treasure sort of waiting to be discovered,” he said.

Boyd on Tuesday addressed attendees of the Pacific West Biomass Conference & Expo, which wraps up its three-day run today at the Hyatt Regency Sacramento.

Conference organizers _ including Grand Forks, N.D.-based Biomass Magazine and Lakewood, Colo.-based BBI International _ said the general goal of the gathering is to connect current and future producers of biomass-derived energy with various industries in a five-state Western region consisting of California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

California, Boyd said, is fertile ground for biomass industry growth, including ventures that produce electric power, biofuels and industrial heat and power. The state’s forests, its 2 million cows and its farm crops are just some potential sources.

“Frankly, in this state, we have biomass galore,” Boyd noted.

However, Boyd said relatively little has been done to tap the potential of biomass statewide.

Among his examples, Boyd pointed to the lack of municipal solid waste power plant construction in the state since 1990. He said air-quality concerns helped stall that movement, but air-quality control technology has advanced rapidly since 1990.

Boyd also acknowledged that solid waste power plants affect operations of recyclers and composters.

But he added that there’s “room for everybody in this arena.” Boyd characterized solid waste power plants as an “untapped resource” in California.

He pointed to isolated biomass success stories, such as the Altamont Landfill in Livermore, Calif. There, garbage from San Francisco and Oakland is transformed into liquefied natural gas. About 500 Waste Management Inc. garbage and recycling trucks are fueled by it.

“That’s a win-win for everyone,” Boyd said.

Yet it’s just a fraction of what the state could do to exploit its potential fuel sources. Boyd characterized California as a potential gold mine for methane processing, non-food-crop-based ethanol production, biomass-derived electrical power and other biomass technologies.

Boyd said obstacles include: the cost of building biomass facilities, meeting California’s tough air-quality standards and the state’s “financial uncertainty.”

Still, biomass “might be part of the answer to the new California economy,” Boyd said.

He said the California Energy Commission welcomes proposed biomass projects and has grant money available to help promising biomass enterprises.

Conference attendees run the gamut, including the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and Rancho Cordova-based TSS Consultants, a provider of services to the bioenergy industry. U.S. firms on-site specialize in industrial services, biofuel engineering, biomass-derived electricity, advanced biofuel development, waste disposal, aggregating, equipment manufacturing and agriculture.

The conference includes a trade show, more than 90 speakers, general session panels and specialized seminars.

Biomass includes a wide range of biological materials, including wood, liquids, waste materials and plant matter. Plant and animal matter can produce electricity, heat and solid materials. Biomass-involved industries include forestry, power production, agriculture, waste management and food processing.


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