April 22, 2009, The Daily Mail: Biomass heat equipment gains favor, large resource in Catskills

Biomass heat equipment gains favor

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State researchers and local businessmen are seeing green by seeing green.

Last fall, the state began an incentive program to support and improve biomass-fired heating equipment. The program was designed to foster the development of manufacturing jobs and the betterment of environmental performance of biomass technology.

New York State Energy Research and Development Authority Spokesman Sal Graven said that the initiative encouraged two pellet boiler manufacturers to relocated to New York, one to Dunkirk, on Lake Erie, and the other to Schenectady. They market a European outdoor wood-burning boiler, which, he said, operates about 80 percent more efficiently and produces less than five percent of the particulate emissions than a standard outdoor wood boiler.

“A house is now burning a renewable fuel instead of fossil fuels,” he said.

Graven said the project also encourages businesses to produce fuels grown in-state.

And the business potential is enough to excite Cairo businessman John Deschaine.

Deschaine, who runs a logging company, would like to add chipping capabilities to his logging business on Route 32.

Deschaine would join the roughly 30 logging companies in the state that produce chips as part of what DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino calls integrated harvesting operations.

Most of the companies are located in Northern New York.

Chips can be pressed into pellets, briquettes or used for fuel as they are.

Deschaine is optimistic about the possibilities of chipping wood closer to home.

“We have a large resource here in the Catskills,” he said, “I want to tap into that.”

Marilyn Wyman, program coordinator at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Greene County Agroforestry Center, in Acra, oversaw an open forum on issues surrounding biofuels earlier this month.

She said the discussion focused on the potential of woody plants found locally, such as willow.

Willow, she said, grows in wet areas as a harvested crop.

The roughly 30 participants in the dialogue were curious about business opportunities and the factors involved with producing biofuels.

“I think there was a lot of interest in this,” she said.

Zywia Wojnar, of Pace University, also attended the Acra meeting.

Wojnar is the project manager of the renewable fuels roadmap, a project coordinated by Cornell Cooperative Extension and Pace University, NYSERDA, the state Department of Agriculture and Markets and the state Department of Environmental Conservation that was created earlier this year.

The roadmap was recommended by the Renewable Energy Task Force, created by Gov. David A. Paterson in 2008.

The roadmap, which is expected to be completed later this year, will provide guidance to those working on how to reduce dependence on foreign oil and harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Wojnar said the initiative focuses more on biofuels that are made from non-food crops in order to avoid entering into the debate between growing a crop for food versus growing it for fuel.

“We try to steer away from that,” she said.

Wojnar explained that poplar can also be grown for fuel. Once the trees are mature, she said, they can be cut back — but not to the ground — and regrow. After three years, wood can be harvested again, she said.

She said that most of the woodfuel used by New York companies is produced in New York.

Currently, fuelwood pellets are manufactured for residential use in five location in the state, in Delaware, Herkimer, Jefferson, Stueben and Wyoming counties, Lori Severino, a DEC spokeswoman said in an e-mail last week.

She said two more plant will open, in Massena and Saratoga County, shortly.

Severino said that many sawmills use wood chips for space heaters and to run lumber dry-kilns and two coal-fired facilities in Niagara and Yates counties have begun to co-fire with wood.

Two electric/cogenerating plants, in Franklin and Lewis counties, use wood feedstocks exclusively, she said.

But chip and pellet production for large-scale operations still has room to evolve.

John Deschaine explained that the pellets are more expensive to produce than chips because wood needs to be stripped of its bark before it can be pressed into a pellet or briquette.

Zywia Wojnar said that biomass needs to be commoditized, before the industry can grow.

A number of variable factors including moisture content, size and weight need to be standardized in order to a customer to know exactly how much product is needed, she said.

“I would not say it is a very established market,” she said.

To reach reporter Susan Campriello, please call (518) 943-2100, ext. 3333, or e-mail [email protected].

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