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Top Five Biomass Boosters in the U.S. Senate

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- by Erin Voegele, April 3, 2015, Biomass Magazine

A group of five senators recently sent a letter to two subcommittees of the Senate Committee on Appropriations asking them to support funding for programs that bolster the development of thermal and electric biomass energy technologies, supply chains and market opportunities. The letter was signed by Sens. Ron. Wyden, D-Ore.; Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; Angus King, I-Maine; Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.; and Bernard Sanders, I-Vt.

The letter is addressed to Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development; Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., ranking member of the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development; Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chair of the Subcommittee on the Development of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; and Tom Udall, D-N.M., ranking member of the Subcommittee on the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies.

Within the letter, the senators note that domestically produced biomass used to generate heat and electricity is a secure source of renewable energy that creates jobs in rural communities and enhances crucial cash-strapped federal efforts to manage public lands, including forest restoration and wildfire risk reduction. “The forest products industry has used biomass for power and heat for decades, yet its widespread use is relatively recent,” Wyden wrote. “As the scale of bioheat and biopower applications expands, there are new technological and logistical hurdles that must be addressed.”

The senators indicate that the scope of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Bioenergy Technologies is currently limited to biofuels. They advocate that the OBT expand its scope to include bioheat and power. To support that expansion, the letter asks the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development to provide the OBT with $5 million to support the development of techniques for preprocessing biomass for heat and electricity generation, with emphasis on lowering the costs of distributed preprocessing technologies. This includes technologies designed to promote densification, torrefaction and the broader commoditization of bioenergy feedstocks, with the goal of lowering transportation and logistics costs. An addition $5 million is requested to support bioheat and biopower demonstration projects, including innovative projects that address the challenges of retrofitting existing coal-fired power plants to utilize biomass, district energy projects, and combined-heat-and-power (CHP) installations. Finally, the subcommittee is asked to provide $1 million to the OBT to produce additional research and analysis on the environmental, social and economic costs and benefits of the American biopower and bioheat industries, with emphasis on how to improve the performance of supply chains.

The senators also ask both subcommittees to adopt specific report language regarding interagency cooperation. That language reads: “It is the opinion of the committee that success in the advancement of thermal and electric applications of bioenergy will be maximized by coordination and collaboration between the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service. The committee recognizes that there are existing channels of collaboration between the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service regarding the development of bioenergy for transportation fuel applications (biofuels), and directs these two agencies to establish similar formal collaborations on thermal and electric applications of bioenergy.”