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Teru Talk News

Teru Talk Newsletter

Volume II, Issue 4, January 23, 2012 
Teru Talk by Michael Theroux (pronounced "Terú")  

Teru's Trash Talk

Let's take a look at some of the more gnarly aspects of growing biomass feedstock and get "down in the weeds" on the details. This isn't about using food plants, or the straw and other residuals; this is biomass you intentionally crop for electricity, fuels, and other commodities. It seems so simple: just grow a lot of some kind of plant, so you (or someone else) can mush it up and chemically treat it, or feed it to microbes, or heat it until it comes all apart. There's a rather silly term for growing and then harvesting plants for energy and fuels; they call it "biocropping". Yeah, well, what sort of agriculture ISN'T "biocropping"? I guess we need to call this something, so "biocropping" it is. What makes a good Biocrop? It mostly depends on what you want to do with it. If you intend to squeeze all the oil out of it for biodiesel, you grow and harvest something with lots of oil. Is fermentation to alcohol more your thing? Then you need to grow something with lots of sugar, or at least lots of starch you can turn into sugar. If all you want is heat, grow plants with little moisture, maybe some volatile tars, and lots of dense wood. So far, so good…


Now, a really good Biocrop has to be able to make a lot of biomass in a short amount of time, with very little fussing from its caretaker, and do all that growing on crappy soil. Here's where we start to run into problems. If a plant can grow on anything with next to no care, it has all the characteristics of what we'd otherwise recognize as a Weed, or even as an Invasive Plant, the anathema of both native vegetation and agriculture alike. We've got LAWS against spreading around plants like that. And the better a plant is for Biocropping, the more characteristics it has in common with those Botanical Outlaws. How ya gonna keep 'em down on the (biocrop) farm when with every breeze, they send a gazillon little seeds everywhere? And every time you cut 'em up, the bits you drop start sprouting? And those Special Species you've engineered? They just seem to snicker a little, and slip off into the rest of the Environment.


Energy is like that, whether we're talking electricity, heat or fuel: the better something is at providing what we need, the more risk there is in handling it. And this isn't anything new: I'll wager the first few cavemen to harness fire spent as much time nursing burned fingers as cooking. It's taken us a few hundred years to figure out how to get and use petroleum as a source of energy, and well, we're still not that good at it. So we shouldn't be surprised that Biocropping can be a bit dicey to manage. Then again, it isn't the sharpness of the tool, but the clumsiness of the worker that is the biggest concern. Do the work, but be careful out there, people.

Hey Rube!

There's a particularly cool program called the Clean Energy Challenge running annually that scares up some of the darndest ideas. We've covered the program's activities recently in both the student category and for contestants from the emerging small business community. We are focused of course on our personal favorites, the entrants that in some way offer waste conversion related advances. The ranks are thinning now, down to semi-finalists and finalists, and winners will emerge over the next couple months. Take a little time to look over the young companies vying for the awards; the Top Dogs will certainly be fascinating, but the runners-up are already well worth a look-see.

The Week's News

AWS Burdens Installing Base Biogas Storage Sphere at Wales AD Plant Headquartered in Bristol, United Kingdom, Base Structures Ltd has announced sale of a 25 cubic meter "plug and play" biogas storage sphere to Welsh-based anaerobic digestion (AD) specialists AWS Burdens Environmental. 01/22/2012


USDA Conditional Loan Guarantee Supports Fiberight Advanced Biorefinery The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved a $25 million conditional loan guarantee in support of an advanced biorefinery being developed by Fiberight LLC in Blairstown, Iowa. 01/22/2012


Element Markets Selected for Ohio Landfill Gas to Biomethane Project Texas biomethane development and environmental credit trading company Element Markets has been selected to develop a landfill gas utilization project at the Apex Sanitary Landfill in Jefferson and Harrison Counties, Ohio. 01/21/2012


Wheelabrator Finalizes Purchase of Hudson Falls Waste to Energy Plant Wheelabrator Technologies, Inc, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Waste Management Inc, has completed the purchase of a waste to energy facility in Hudson Falls, New York from the Industrial Development Agency (IDA) of Washington and Warran Counties, New York (WWIDA). 01/21/2012


Chesterfield BioGas Secures Biomethane Upgrading Contract

Pressure Technologies plc (PT) has announced that its subsidiary Chesterfield BioGas Ltd (CBG) has secured a contract to supply and install biomethane upgrading facilities at a major food waste anaerobic digestion (AD) plant in Stockport, just outside of Manchester England. 01/19/2012


New USDA Web Portal Improves Access to National Renewable Energy Data  Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack announced this week that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has developed and launched a new data portal streamlining access to national energy efficiency and renewable energy development and investment data. 01/19/2012


Joule Closes 3rd Funding Round with $70MM Private Equity Investments  Massachusetts based Joule Unlimited has now closed its $70 million third financing round and will utilize the new support to complete construction, commission, and start operations at its Hobbs, New Mexico, biofuels testing and optimization facility. 01/18/2012


Enval Secures Funding to Commercialize Recovery of Unrecyclables  United Kingdom's advanced recycling and waste processing company Enval Limited has secured funding to scale up its existing pilot operations to a commercial scale laminate packaging recycling plant. 01/18/2012


First Biodiesel Sustainability Symposium Set for February 8, 2012  The first Sustainability Symposium on Biodiesel is set for February 8, 2012 on the last day of the National Biodiesel Conference and Expo in Orlando, Florida. The symposium is being presented by the National Biodiesel Education Program, sponsored by US Department of Agriculture (USDA). 01/18/2012


Abengoa Selected for Brazilian Sugar Cane Bagasse to Biofuel Project  Global biofuels firm Abengoa has been selected to develop a second generation ethanol facility in Brazil to produce bioethanol and biobutanol from sugar cane straw and bagasse. 01/17/2012


Starwood Secures Interest in 100 MWe Gainesville Renewable Energy Center  Connecticut-based Starwood Energy Group Global, LLC (Starwood Energy) has announced acquisition of partial ownership interest in the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center ("GREC") from Tyr Energy, Inc. 01/17/2012


HyperSolar's Solar-Nano System Cleans Wastewater, Produce Hydrogen  Inspired by photosynthesis, Santa Barbara-based HyperSolar Inc. has announced a breakthrough in wastewater treatment for production of fuel-grade hydrogen, clean water and an array of pure bi-products. 01/17/2012


SWANA Issues White Paper on Economic Benefits of Waste to Energy  The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) has announced the availability of a new white paper illustrating the socio-economic benefits of waste to energy (WtE) facilities. 01/16/2012


PDM Group to Expand ReFood Anaerobic Digestion Facility Program in 2012  The United Kingdom's (UK) food industry giant Prosper De Mulder Ltd (PDM Group) has announced plans for a £40 million expansion of its ReFood anaerobic digestion (AD) facility network with construction of two new plants to be located in Widnes and East London. 01/16/2012


PERC Releases Vermont Case Study on Biomass Heating

The Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) has published a case study of biomass heating utilization in Vermont's schools and commercial buildings entitled, "Vermont Schools the Nation in Woody Biomass Heating". 01/16/2012


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Teru Talk is an online publication of JDMT, Inc with the goal of opening the dialogue and providing current news and commentary on issues and successes associated with waste conversion to renewable energy, biofuels and other bio-based products for resource recovery.

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The Teru Talk Newsletter is published weekly or more or less frequently, primarily depending on what is going on in the world of waste conversion or ours.