Harnessing the Power of Biomass Residuals: Opportunities and Challenges for Midwestern Renewable Energy

November 29, 2011

By: Stephen Brick, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Climate and Energy

In addition to more traditional biofuels, the Great Lakes region’s diverse agriculture and forestry base creates a rich array of waste biomass, i.e., residuals. In some cases, these residuals are put to beneficial use. In other cases, however, they represent waste streams, with attendant costs and environmental consequences. While a great deal of attention has been devoted to the production of bioenergy and bioproducts from primary agriculture and forestry crops, less attention has been paid to capturing the benefits of the region’s residuals.  Strategic utilization of waste biomass streams can increase bioenergy production, reduce waste disposal costs, and improve water quality.

A one-year effort funded by the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development is supporting The Chicago Council's research on key untapped residual streams from agriculture and forestry practices and matching them to potential energy conversion technologies in six target states (Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin). The “Managing Great Lakes Agriculture and Forestry Waste Biomass: Opportunities for Renewable Energy, Ecosystem Services and Local Economic Development” project highlights potential strategies to reduce environmental consequences while increasing local economic development within the target region.

Project elements include assembling technical and policy experts to identify the most promising energy conversion technologies and develop technical and policy recommendations, and publishing a Heartland Paper report that will serve as a technical, financial, and policy roadmap for utilizing the region’s biomass residuals. Following publication, the report will be widely disseminated to interested and relevant policymakers, practitioners, and business and civic leaders. A multi-city tour and half-day public symposium will also take place for author Stephen Brick to present the report’s findings.

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