11/21/2012 11:49


In the last half century, science and technology have picked us up and moved us into changes we never could have imagined. If you are old enough, you might recall the early years of the electronics that we now take for granted. 

                New paths have been opened for obtaining the stored fossil fuels on which we depend so heavily. Certainly good news but experience should warn us that we must heed reasonable environmental concerns. And we always need to be reminded that there is a limit to stored fossil fuel and that the search for renewable fuels must continue.

                Hydroelectric power has a long history of providing alternative energy. Over time we have discovered that altering drainage patterns and land and water usage has had some unpleasant consequences. Now we are developing solar power, wind power, biofuels, nuclear energy, wave and tidal power, geothermal, and perhaps more sources yet to be discovered.

                One alternative we have experienced in the Upper Mississippi Watershed where we live is biomass as a source for energy. We have witnessed our abundant corn harvest profitably producing liquid fuel. Now many other sources for biomass are in the early stages of being processed into fuels. Typical biomass fuels include a wide variety of material. Some common fuels besides corn are grasses, forestry by-products, agricultural wastes, municipal wastes, landfill gas, and synthetic natural gas.

                Ethanol and biodiesel plants around the country use materials (known as feedstock) from sources other than corn. In Pittsboro, North Carolina, Piedmont Biofuels opened in the fall of 2006 using virgin soybean oil produced nearby. When the price of soybeans made the soybean oil cost prohibitive, Piedmont retooled and turned to poultry fat for their feedstock. Then poultry fat became cost prohibitive as a biodiesel feed stock, and Piedmont reinvented the process to run on craps – cooking oil from restaurants and the waste from industrial processes including oils from the food ingredients industry, the food supplements industry, and the makeup production industry. From November 2012 issue of Biomass Products and Technology,

                KiOR, a renewable fuel start-up in Pasadena, Texas has produced a crude oil from wood chips, reports Matthew L. Wald in a blog in the November 6, 2012 New York Times about Energy and the Environment. KiOR is expecting to refine this oil into gasoline and diesel and sell it commercially. To produce the crude oil from the wood chips, they had to develop a proprietary technology.

                We can all look for ways to be consumers of alternative energy including energy from biomass.

The early years of biomass energy may have growing pains but it is moving forward as one alternative energy source.  

                You can learn more about biomass and renewable energy at


Della Moen, Earth Team Volunteer, NRCS/Stephenson Soil and Water Conservation District, an equal opportunity provider and employer, 11/21/12 (for publication on 11/24/12 in the Journal Standard, Freeport, Illinois) Della can be reached at