biomass

The Role of Biomass in Achieving Clean Power Plan Goals – A 2016 Workshop to Foster a Constructive Discussion

By Janet McCabe

Since issuing the Clean Power Plan (CPP), states and stakeholders have shown a strong interest in the role biomass can play in state plans to reduce carbon emissions under the rule. Many states are seeking to better understand how maintaining and building on their existing approaches to sound carbon- and greenhouse gas (GHG)-beneficial forestry and land management practices can yield biomass resources that will help them meet their CPP goals, and how to craft plans that will be federally approvable under the final CPP guidelines. To respond to this interest and to support state and stakeholder efforts to incorporate bioenergy in their CPP plans, we will be holding a public workshop in early 2016 for stakeholders to share their successes, experiences and approaches to deploying biomass in ways that have been, and can be, carbon beneficial.

The president’s Climate Action Plan and a range of the administration’s policies recognize that America’s forests and other lands must continue to play an essential role in mitigating the effects of carbon pollution. Biomass derived from land that is managed under programs that ensure the long-term maintenance of healthy forests can serve as an integral part of a broader forestry-based climate strategy, so the CPP expressly includes bioenergy as an option for states and utilities in CPP compliance.  It reflects the fact that, in many cases, biomass and bioenergy products in the power system can be an integral part of state programs and foster responsible land management and renewable energy.

State flexibility is a key component of the CPP. It recognizes the unique circumstances of each state’s energy mix and approaches to energy efficiency and renewable energy.  Many states already have extensive expertise in sound carbon- and GHG-beneficial forestry and land management practices, and the CPP’s flexibility will give states the ability to build in approaches to biomass and bioenergy unique to their forests and land management programs and policies.  It recognizes the importance of forests and other lands for climate resilience – in addition to the carbon benefits of biomass – fostered by a variety of land use policies, renewable energy incentives and standards, and GHG strategies. Working with stakeholders, these states promote viable forestry and agricultural product markets, which help protect and preserve healthy and productive lands and contribute to the continued and improved management of these lands.

That is why the CPP creates a pathway for states to use biomass as part of their plans to meet their emission reduction guidelines, and we expect many states to include biomass as a component in their state plans. We look forward to reviewing plans that incorporate well-developed forestry and other land management programs producing biomass that can qualify under the guidelines laid out in the CPP, and we are confident that the CPP offers sufficient lead time and flexibility for states to develop approvable programs.

So a key goal of the workshop we’ll be holding is to provide an opportunity for states with well-developed forestry and land management practices to share their experiences.  Another is to foster a constructive dialogue about how states can best include biomass in their compliance plans if that is a path they choose to follow.  The workshop will showcase the constructive compliance approaches many states are already implementing or developing.  And to prepare for the workshop, our first step is to reach out to key stakeholders to get ideas on the agenda.

We look forward to working with states and stakeholders to ensure that biomass continues to play an important role in accomplishing our climate change goals. Open lines of communication and sharing information helped shape the final Clean Power Plan, and continued constructive engagement will be vital for us to achieve significant climate and health benefits as we implement the CPP.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

The Magic in Water

by Mindy Lemoine

USEPA Photo by Eric VanceI recently accompanied Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin on a visit to the headquarters of Renmatix, a 2015 winner of the Presidential Green Chemistry Award. You might expect that an award for innovation in green chemistry would involve an unpronounceable compound created through a complex sequence of transformations. Not this time. The solvent and catalyst for the award-winning process is…water!

Widespread adoption of plant-based chemicals to replace petrochemicals has been hampered by the high cost of the process of extracting sugars from biomass (plant material), such as wood. Current processes requiring enzymes or acids can’t compete economically with petrochemical sources. The award-winning innovation is a cheaper way to extract sugars using water. By making plant-based petrochemicals less expensive to produce, this process has the potential to be a game-changer in reducing our dependence on petroleum and other fossil fuels which contribute to climate change.

Ordinary water under the extraordinary conditions of high pressure and temperature becomes supercritical water: not quite a liquid, not quite a gas. This supercritical water can extract the sugars from biomass quickly. Then it becomes ordinary water again, ready to be cleaned up through reverse osmosis and returned to the process.

Renmatix is exploring options to extract sugars from a variety of biomass sources other than wood, including switchgrass, corn stover, the empty fruit bunches from palm oil production, and even municipal solid waste. They are also fine-tuning their product for a variety of other uses.

The scientists, engineers, and executives at Renmatix clearly appreciated our visit and EPA’s award as a validation of their innovation. I left the visit inspired by their creativity and energy. Some favorite words from anthropologist and author Loren Eiseley came to mind, “If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”

 

About the Author: Mindy Lemoine is the Pollution Prevention Program Coordinator in EPA Region 3. She previously worked with local governments on protecting Chesapeake Bay and Delaware River watersheds. She lives in the Tookany Creek watershed, and is replacing her lawn with a suburban permaculture including sedges, pawpaws, and nut trees

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Something to Be Thankful For

By Kathleen Stewart

Kathleen Stewart examines a stove.

Kathleen Stewart examines a stove.

On Thanksgiving, stuffed with turkey and pie, I can summon just enough creativity to be thankful for the usual stuff—a roof over my head, food on the table, and my family’s health and happiness. I don’t tend to remember to be thankful for the modern conveniences that make all of the above possible.

This year, I am officially giving thanks for my natural gas heater. Whenever a slip of chill creeps into my drafty old house, warm nights are just a flip of a switch away. With heat so instantaneously available, it’s easy to forget that 3 billion people worldwide rely on wood, dung, charcoal, coal, and biomass (fuel derived from organic matter, usually plants) to cook for their families and warm their homes.

Even on the Navajo Nation, where high voltage transmission lines crisscross the land to bring electricity to Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Los Angeles, approximately 60% of families use coal, coke, or wood to heat their homes. About 30% of families use coal as their primary heating fuel.

In 2010, researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and Dine College (the Navajo Nation’s institute of higher education) surveyed 137 homes in the Navajo town of Shiprock, NM. In this town, with average December/January lows of 19 degrees Fahrenheit, the researchers found that 77% of the homes used stoves primarily for heating, and 25% of families burned coal for heat in stoves that were not specifically designed for coal. They also found that 26% of the stoves were ten or more years old.

Navajo town of Shiprock, NM

Navajo town of Shiprock, NM

The researchers noted that many of the stoves were improperly vented, with visible cracks in the chimneys, or no chimney at all.

The indoor smoke poses serious health risks, particularly for children and the elderly, but there is no easy solution. There are no EPA certified coal stoves, and most newer coal stoves are designed to burn cleaner-burning anthracite coal, not the types (bituminous and subbituminous) available—cheap or free—on the Navajo Nation. With a median household income of $20,000 and limited existing infrastructure, gas and electricity are generally too costly.

That’s why we and our EPA colleagues have teamed up with partners at Dine College to identify and research heating options that will reduce exposure to coal smoke from home heating on the Navajo Nation. The end result will help provide stakeholders with an understanding of the best alternatives to reduce health and environmental impacts from home heating—alternatives that are technically, economically, and culturally feasible.

Last night I fell asleep curled around my home’s heater vent after the kids went to bed. I crave being warm like a snail craves its shell. In fact, I am actually allergic to being cold. Look that allergy up and then be thankful for two new things this Thanksgiving.

Learn more about EPA research and programs on how to heat your home while minimizing the health impacts:

 

About the Author: Environmental scientist Kathleen Stewart helps concerned communities understand risks from indoor and outdoor air pollution. For this project, she is working with Agency research scientist Paul Solomon, who has extensive experience developing ways to measure particulate matter in the air, and to better understand the relationships between air pollution sources and exposure risks.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.