Is Biomass Heat a Future Enterprise for Your Farm?
The Show Me Energy Co-operative (www.goshowmeenergy.com) in Centerview, Missouri, was toured in early October by Scott Banks and Ian McDonald, OMAFRA, along with Dr. Bill Deen and Ken Janovicek, from the University of Guelph. What the Show Me Energy Co-operative is accomplishing is a bright example of how farmers and rural communities can seize opportunities to benefit from the emerging bioeconomy.
Biomass Pelletization Plant
At the Co-operative, 400 producers have each invested a minimum of $2,500 to build a biomass pelletization plant. Approximately $8 million was capitalized to build the plant with the capacity to process 150,000 tons per year of biomass into pellets. The plant was started in May 2007 and shipped its first pellets in July 2008. Members are on track to recoup their investment by the end of the second year.
Two qualities of pellets are produced at the plant. The pellets for the home owner market are bagged in 40 lb (18 kg) plastic bags. A more industrial pellet product is shipped in bulk or in large totes. Customers include home owners and small businesses who have installed pellet stoves, furnaces or boilers alone or in tandem with their current heating system, to reduce their heating costs. Larger customers include a University that has installed large biomass burners for their campus heating system. An electrical utility is also purchasing pellets to co-fire with coal to produce electricity.
The Show Me Co-op has some very forward thinking and shrewd people on their Board. They are planning to develop a company that can sell the concept as a turn-key operation to other farmer groups throughout North America.
The Co-op only accepts biomass from its members. Members can deliver any biomass source, but are obligated to tell the plant what the biomass is and deliver it to the plant as required. Any biomass shortfalls are made up by out-sourcing. Typical feedstock includes poor quality round bale hay, grain, soybean straw, corn stover, and seed cleanings. The members are getting $70 per ton plus delivery. The most interesting off-farm source of biomass received was ground up currency from the US Federal Reserve. The members are all located within 80 miles of the plant, but a much closer radius of biomass supply would support the plant.
The biochemistry of the feedstocks has been studied to enable recipes to be made from the different feedstocks available that will produce the pellet quality they are targeting. Three large coverall sheds are filled with different types of biomass. Each has a large hopper at the end that is kept full by a front end loader. The hay is processed through a grinder and blower system. The control room can meter the volumes of various feedstock sources to the mixer. This ensures that the right volumes of the various materials come together to give the consistency of feedstock into the pelletizers in order to form the best pellets possible. Two big Swedish pelletizers, each driven by two 200 hp electric motors, extrude the pellets.
Another very positive aspect of the Co-op is their philosophy on sustainability. They believe the health of the land is critical to the long term sustainability of their enterprise. They are working with the University of Missouri to determine the level of residue removal from the fields that is sustainable. Considerations include feedstock type, soil type, and topography. The members are required to sign a contract ensuring a specified level of residue cover on their fields is maintained. Checks are made by the Co-op to ensure members are adhering to their commitment.
Heating requirements for buildings and hot water across Ontario are huge. Solid fuels could be used to meet these heating needs by creating farm and farmer Co-op based enterprises within local and regional communities. Some Ontario farmers are already looking at these types of markets to broaden their farm enterprises. With the high level of need in rural communities alone, there is a great opportunity to expand the pelleted biomass fuel concept across Ontario.
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