Soaring through the air on biomass

2011-05-25 Ashley Bach

The state of Massachusetts, in essentially ending any biomass industry in the state, has the unfortunate distinction of being the only government to ban a valuable source of renewable energy just when our country needs it the most. And to make things worse, the state’s decision was based on phony information.

Bob Cleaves, the head of the Biomass Power Association, said this week that the decision by Massachusetts sends a troubling message to developers and investors.

Never mind the fact that by displacing biomass, Massachusetts has inadvertently become the largest supporter of baseload coal and natural gas, or that the state’s own study had nothing to do with using forestry residues and byproducts. Investors and developers in all renewable energy sources should be concerned about the underlying message this sends: Come to Massachusetts and invest in our renewable markets, but we can and will change the rules of the game, and we don’t care if you lose your investment based on later policies we enact. We can and will change the rules, regardless of your reasonable expectations based on our representations.

Fortunately, the biomass industry grows by leaps and bounds elsewhere as Massachusetts continues to marginalize itself. According to Biomass Magazine, Japan is likely to turn to biomass as it moves further away from nuclear energy after the tsunami in March.

In Washington state, a coalition of aviation companies and other stakeholders — called Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest — is moving forward on a plan to wean the aviation industry off the oil companies and make fuel from regional feedstock instead, including woody biomass.

The coalition today just released a study that shows Washington, with its aerospace industry and natural resources, could become a leader in biofuels for aviation.

According to the 10-month study, the state’s combination of forests and irrigated farmland makes Washington state a good place to develop biofuels based on a variety of sources, including wood waste, oil seeds, solid waste and algae.

“It’s very clear the Northwest has an opportunity to capitalize on this new direction and get in front. We really have everything we need in the world, we are among the leaders in the world,” said Billy Glover, vice president of environmental strategy for the Boeing Commercial Airplanes division of Chicago-based Boeing Co.

In an op-ed in the Tacoma News Tribune, Ross Macfarlane, a member of the coalition, said Washington has a unique opportunity.

The Northwest can play a significant role in accelerating a key part of the next Industrial Revolution – creating sustainable fuels for the next generation of flight. In doing so, we will address the most critical economic, energy security and environmental challenges facing our region and nation.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources, which is also supporting aviation biofuel, just cited a new Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study that shows using woody biomass as an energy source without changing land use can reduce emissions.

As part of DNR’s Forest Biomass Initiative, aviation biofuel would be the highest and best use for residual forest biomass, as well as a unique opportunity to help efficient technologies get to the marketplace.

Forest biomass is envisioned as a sustainable energy source that can play a meaningful role in Washington’s renewable energy sector. Using forest biomass, such as logging slash or forest health treatment thinnings, doesn’t require changing the current uses of the state’s working forests. It also would help maintain working forests as lands providing jobs, habitat, clean water and other benefits to the public.