Agricultural versus Industrial Waste for Energy: Feedstock Availability, Consistency Are Challenges to Development of Waste-to-Energy Projects

By Ebert, Jessica | Rural Cooperatives, March-April 2008 | Go to article overview

Agricultural versus Industrial Waste for Energy: Feedstock Availability, Consistency Are Challenges to Development of Waste-to-Energy Projects


Ebert, Jessica, Rural Cooperatives


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Any conversation about the challenges of converting waste into energy--regardless of whether the source of the feedstock is agricultural or industrial, and regardless of whether the end products are solid or liquid fuel or electricity--comes down to an issue of feedstock availability.

"I don't care what technology you have. If you don't have the feedstocks, you don't have anything," says Steve Flick, a Missouri farmer and chairman of the Show Me Energy Cooperative board of directors. "We say it's like having the prettiest girl ask you to the dance. If you can't dance, then you might as well not embarrass yourself."

The cooperative, which is made up of more than 400 farmers, is just now stepping out on the renewable energy dance floor with a flexible business model betting it will garner admiration, rather than embarrassment.

Show Me Energy has its origins in west-central Missouri, where a group of farmers and producers with a vision of using cellulose for energy production began meeting monthly until 2004, when they officially organized under the state's New Generation Cooperative law. At that time, the group sanctioned a feasibility study, which in turn determined that the model the group envisioned would be a good fit for producers in western Missouri and eastern Kansas.

"Missouri was a prime state because we have all these dichotomies of scale," says Flick, a seed-company owner and farmer who will be planting six acres of miscanthus this spring. "We have corn farmers in the north, grass-seed farmers in the south, wheat farmers in the west and soybean farmers in the central part of the state. It's a really good fit."

In-house technology used

At the center of the cooperative's model is technology developed in-house that converts agricultural residues into biomass fuel pellets. The farmers who invest in the cooperative sign a market agreement committing them to produce a certain amount of biomass each year.

In addition, co-op members must adhere to high standards of environmental stewardship, Flick says. For corn stover, producers must leave about 30 percent of the residue on their fields. For native grasses, farmers must harvest in the late fall after a killing frost and leave rows around waterways and tributaries.

"We are adamant about making this business model not only profitable, but realistically environmentally friendly," he says.

The farmers that abide by these rules collect and store the residue on their farms in round bales, which are eventually trucked to the cooperative's new pellet-production facility in Centerview, Mo. This is the main drawback to using agricultural residues as an energy feedstock: they are bulky and transporting them becomes economically disadvantageous after a certain distance.

Show Me Energy pays each farmer a certain amount per ton for residue and also pays for the hauling costs within a 100-mile radius of the plant. Farmers outside this area aren't discouraged from participating, but they must pay the transportation fee for any additional distance (anything over 100 miles).

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100,000 tons of pellets The pellet-production facility will produce 100,000 tons of biomass pellets each year. This fuel source will be co-fired at a local utility; five pounds of pellets will be co-fired with every 100 pounds of coal burned.

But that's just Phase One of the cooperative's vision. In Phase Two, Show Me Energy has teamed with Clean Energy Technologies LLC, a Black and Veatch Corp. company, to build a biomass-to-liquid fuel facility next door to the Centerview plant.

This second plant would demonstrate the gasification of biomass pellets for the production of liquid fuels such as ethanol, methanol, synthetic diesel, aviation or other fuels. The team hopes to win a U. …

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