Native Plants Fuel Ethanol Plant

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Applied Ecological Services, The Earth Partners, LP, and POET team up to apply science to industry: Cross-sector demonstration showcases the potential of conservation biomass as an alternative energy source.

It’s a very good week for the United States alternative energy industry, and an even better day for conservation and biodiversity. After three years in the planning, native prairie and wetland plants have been test burned to evaluate their value for power production.

As a step towards commercializing native plant biomass as an alternative energy source, another goal of the demonstration project was to assess cost factors needed to finalize business models.

The demonstration was conducted by a unique partnership that includes The Earth Partners, LP, Applied Ecological Services (AES), and POET, the largest ethanol producer in the U.S. Project partners conducted the processing and test-burn of the native plants in a solid fuel boiler at POET’s Chancellor, South Dakota, ethanol plant. At this facility, the energy derived from this ‘conservation biomass’ was used to generate power to run the ethanol production process.

“We tested the ease in handling the material and moisture content of the fuel. As makers of renewable fuel, we think it’s important to also explore multiple options for renewable power sources,” according to Fran Swain, POET Business Development and Scouting Manager. “This conservation biomass is especially intriguing because of its inherent sustainability and conservation story.”

Chas Taylor, Business Development Manager of The Earth Partners, added, “We are happy with the initial results which suggest that the conservation biomass can be burned in large volumes in solid fuel boilers such as POET’s facility in Chancellor. We also learned technically how to prepare the harvest for this use and about the handling of the large volume of materials needed.”

AES’ in-house native plant nursery, Taylor Creek Restoration Nurseries, grew the plants, harvested, baled, and delivered the plant materials from their Wisconsin location for the series of tests. Nursery manager Corrine Daniels and scientists from AES confirmed the conservation value of the demonstration.

“The deep-rooted and long-lived native plants require no fertilizers, herbicides, or irrigation and can contribute significant environmental benefits,” said Daniels. “Even during extreme drought, our nursery grows lush and green with hundreds of native plant species while neighboring fields are full of brown corn and soybeans suffering from drought.”

Conservation entities and government programs have been planting native grasses for years, and many of these native grasses have been studied for their bioenergy potential.

David Tepper, CEO of The Earth Partners, stated, “Native perennial grasses and other plant species can be a large-scale, cost-competitive, long-term bioenergy feedstock that can be sourced from areas not suitable for agriculture. These would be ag lands where farmers are struggling and on properties targeted by USDA and other agencies for conservation use, including for water quality programs.”

Areas targeted for biomass production by The Earth Partners include the floodplains of the Midwest and the coastal grasslands on the Gulf Coast.

The native plant species selected for conservation biomass are well suited to rebuild soil organic matter and reduce atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide. These native species are unique in their environmental, cultural, and economic benefits to rural landowners—especially on marginal and under-utilized lands.

AES senior ecologist Steve Apfelbaum summed up the value of native species, “Perhaps the future could involve large-scale native ecosystem restorations from which some percentage of the biomass can be harvested annually. And, because we will be testing perhaps over a hundred species, we have only begun to understand the value of diverse native restored ecosystems for energy production.”

More information is available about The Earth Partners, LP, at http://www.theearthpartners.com. Information about Applied Ecological Services can be found at http://www.appliedeco.com and in the books authored by Apfelbaum: Restoring Ecological Health to Your Land series, and the award-winning book, Nature’s Second Chance, and Soil Carbon Management—economic, environmental and societal benefits, all available at http://www.amazon.com.

For additional information on the conservation biomass demonstration, contact Chas Taylor (chas(dot)taylor(at)teplp(dot)com).

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