International Biomass Conference & Expo: Panelists talk policy priorities

By Lisa Gibson | April 15, 2010
Posted May 6, 2010

Biomass Magazine's International Biomass Conference & Expo drew about 1,700 people and nearly 300 exhibitors to the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis May 4-6.

The event was kicked off by a golf tournament and tours of the Metropolitan Wastewater and Blue Lake Wastewater Treatment Plants and Environmental Wood Supply on May 4.

On May 5, BBI International Vice President Tom Bryan welcomed everyone to the conference and introduced the keynote speaker Jack Oswald, founder and CEO of Syngest Inc , who told the audience about his companies' project to turn biomass into anhydrous ammonia. Following the keynote was a panel discussion about biomass policy objectives and how all the different biomass organizations can work together to educate and influence lawmakers in Washington.

Most representatives on Capitol Hill don't care about biomass, focusing instead on energy independence in general, according to Bob Cleaves, president and CEO of the Biomass Power Association. But without biomass, the country will not reach its renewable goals.

Cleaves was one of six speakers on the general session panel Biomass Priorities on the Hill. Biomass comprises 50 percent of all renewable energy produced in the U.S. but many people don't know what it is, Cleaves told the crowd. The BPA is rolling out a communications strategy to remedy that problem, as biomass's carbon neutrality is under scrutiny. Smokestacks can lead to misinterpretations of the benefits of biomass, as other renewable sources don't employ them, he said.

Another priority of the BPA is to retroactively reinstate the production tax credit, which expired at the end of 2009 and is crucial for development and operation of the industry. Without it, the existing fleet of biomass power facilities will likely fail and the industry will not grow, he said. An extension of the credit is included in the American Workers, State and Business Relief Act.

Also included in the bill is an extension of the biodiesel tax credit. Shelby Neal, director of government affairs for the National Biodiesel Board, said a retroactive reinstatement of the credit claims priorities one, two and three for the NBB. "The credit has been extremely successful," he said, adding that the negative effects of its expiration have been apparent in plants idled, little production, layoffs, and plants teetering on the edge of solvency. Neal encouraged attendees to call their representatives and ask for reinstatement of the credit. Geoff Cooper, vice president of research and analysis for the renewable fuels association said the credit is a priority of his, also, along with extension of the cellulosic ethanol tax credit and the volumetric excise tax credit for ethanol, paid to gasoline vendors who sell it.

Cleaves asked that everyone in the industry get involved, too, saying Congress relies on the private sector to come forward and emphasize needed adjustments. "If we don't fight for it, they're not going to happen," he said. Michael McAdams, president of the Advanced Biofuels Association, agreed and said the industry needs a harmonized voice for change.

Panelist Mary Rosenthal, executive director of the Algal Biomass Organization, said she is advocating algae as a feedstock for biofuels as well as other coproducts. Production mandates similar to the ones for cellulosic ethanol would incentivize algal biomass development and utilization. "We're looking for parity from a feedstock perspective," she said.

Charlie Niebling, chairman of the board of directors for the Biomass Thermal Energy Council, said his organization is also focused on advocacy, but for awareness and recognition of thermal applications of biomass. There's a tremendous opportunity to provide heat and power to residential, industrial and commercial facilities.

With so many priorities to balance, it's important to simplify as much as possible, Neal said. Cleaves added that being practical in the requests is crucial, ensuring the industry isn't asking for too much at once. "Sometimes we feel like we're just hanging on for the ride," Rosenthal said, adding that the Algal Biomass Association is aiming to have full-time representation in Washington by next year. "I suggest we walk before we run and pick a no-brainer," Niebling said.

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