> Grass Energy in the Northeast
February 21, 2012
> The Promise of Biochar
January 2, 2012
> Hudson Valley Grass Energy Update
December 17, 2011
> Warwick to go on grass energy?
May 20, 2011
> Bio-Burner Demo Photos
April 28, 2011
> First Production of 2011!
February 22, 2011
If you live in the Hudson Valley and are in the market for heating pellets, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hudson Valley Grass Energy Update April, 2012
Hudson Valley Grass Energy (HVGE) is a project of the Lower Hudson-Long Island Resource Conservation and Development Council. Its purpose is to research and demonstrate the feasibility of producing biomass pellets for heating using a mobile pelleting equipment line. Pelleting at the farm eliminates the costs associated with transporting low-density, low-value biomass materials to a stationary pelleting facility – a potentially crucial factor in the economic feasibility of biomass heating.
The pace of the HVGE project slowed in the second half of 2011 due to the resignation of Project Manager Elizabeth Murphy – who moved on to a graduate program, and due to the extreme storms of August and September, 2011 which diverted staff resources of HVGE Project Counties (Orange, Dutchess, Ulster) and made it difficult if not impossible for farmers to produce hay for the project as they attempted to cope with the storm aftermath.
Despite these challenges, progress has been made. Near-continual modifications to our pelleting system have resulted in our ability to produce at the rate of 1 ton/hour fairly consistently, once in operation. We showed our system to the public at two events in 2011– a Biomass Field Day at the Town of Warwick (Orange County) and a Biomass Heating Field Day at Tantillo’s Farm (Ulster County). Two of our team members have been burning biomass pellets made through the Project in their home multi-fuel pellet stoves for the last two winters. Although grass/hay pellets require more stove maintenance (primarily more frequent cleaning), these experiences have been very encouraging for the use of agricultural biomass pellets in the home heating setting.
On March 21, 2012, HVGE team members John Brown and Kevin Sumner attended and presented on behalf of HVGE at the Heat Northeast Ag Biomass conference in Saratoga Springs, NY. Our net from this conference was that grass/ ag biomass continues to have great potential in the northeast, but has several key issues to address. One of these, which we have found to be a key one for the advancement of our project, is the availability of suitable multi-fuel heating appliances. As noted above, we have considerable experience with burning grass/ag biomass pellets in residential multi-fuel stoves, the main issue being more frequent ash removal and general stove maintenance. To create markets substantial enough to compel farmers to invest time and expense in pelleting grass/ag biomass, though, we feel we need to open up the small commercial heating market. And this will require the identification of central heating appliances that reliably burn grass/ag biomass pellets. As has been stated before, all indications are that Europe has cracked this barrier successfully. But transferring this technology seems to be more problematic then one might expect in this day of world travel and internet. Take, for example, Professor Jerry Cherney’s (Cornell) lament at the HeatNE conference that he has had a grass pellet furnace from the Czech Republic sitting in its crate on his lab floor for several years due, largely, to the lack of a readily available Czech-speaking HVAC contractor. Jerry Ruestow, from the Catskill Grass Energy Project, reported on eight grass pellet heating demonstration sites – several of which are boiler installations. See their website
for more information. Our take from Jerry’s talk was that a clear front-runner has not yet emerged, but these demo sites are generating extremely valuable real-world experiences for us grass energy folks to learn from.
Another potentially prickly issue is emissions. I won’t attempt to present or summarize the current research findings, except to say that emissions data from grass/ag biomass combustion can be very variable. This variability seemed to perplex some of the researchers who presented at HeatNE, with several possible explanations being offered including, notably, the inherent variability of the raw biomass material. While we certainly can strive for more uniformity in ag biomass, there seemed to be general agreement that this issue would be best addressed by heating appliances that could accommodate the expected variability. It would then be hoped that optimizing of the combustion settings would result in more favorable and consistent emissions results. The ideal biomass heating appliance would automatically ‘sense’ the particular qualities of whatever biomass material being used and adjust the burn accordingly. Science fiction?
So, it seems the two issues are closely related. We need appliances that efficiently and effectively burn grass/ag biomass pellets of widely varying qualities. If we get there, we may have a good part of the emissions issues licked. Even if we do get there, the direction EPA and DEC take on air emissions could still have a huge impact on where ag biomass heating goes.
Another topic of considerable discussion at the conference was yield. Many presenters felt this, too, was a key factor in making ag biomass densification for heating (and other purposes) viable. Speaking from our perspective in the lower Hudson Valley of New York, we have been less focused on this issue. For us, ag biomass densification offers an option to local farmers for low/no value materials – an option that may work some years in some circumstances but not in others. For example, ‘mulch’ hay often would provide a better return to the farmer sold in its baled, undensified form but might, if in ample supply, offer a better opportunity in its ‘value-added’ form as a heating pellet. Ag biomass materials like soybean stubble may offer an even better opportunity as its value in raw form is minimal. The farmer’s key concern will be his bean yield, if he can gain a return on the stubble it’s a ‘win-win’. We understand biomass yield will be important in large scale harvesting/processing endeavors – like CHP – but we do not , in general , expect our farmers to shift their operations towards large scale biomass production. With our smaller fields, fresh-market opportunities and the like, we expect biomass to be more of a sideline for our farmers, but hopefully one that contributes to the diversification and adaptation that likely will be necessary to remain profitable in our agricultural landscape.
For 2012, HVGE will continue refining their equipment line, experimenting with different equipment and biomass materials at area farms, and attempting to develop markets for ag biomass heating. We are also hoping to hire a new Project Manager which will, hopefully, increase the pace of Project accomplishments.
Questions on the Project may be directed to email@example.com
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