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Monday, February 14, 2011

Bio Mass for fuel

Using biomass for fuel is in the news and literature a lot.  The idea has lots of merit because it seems we leave a lot of energy in the field.  Also, we have forest and grassland that has potential to contribute to our huge appetite for energy.  CRP land has potential as well, but there are political issues with CRP. 

Disadvantages of biomass are that it is relatively bulky.  That makes transport a problem unless we convert it to a higher energy product near the source.  Right now, the inoculant needed to convert biomass to alcohol is not available. Another option would be smaller power plants designed to burn local biomass. 

What about the source.  Crop residues could be used, but right now the residue helps to maintain organic mater content of soils which is important for tilth and nutrients.  Perennial grasses could be grown on more marginal lands.  Things like miscanthus and switchgrass are being considered.  I prefer native species like switchgrass.  There are fast growing timber species that might be useful as biomass fuel.  In the timber realm, I like the idea of using up slash in the forest, but there again you are removing nutrients and organic matter that will eventually return to the soil. 

The problem with using CRP land is that the wildlife lobby does not want to lose cover.  I see potential compromises, but I am not sure they are possible.  I would rather have the land stay in permanent cover than give it up to corn production.

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