Biomass Working Group, LLC

Seeking Green Energy Solutions from Crop Residues: Planning & Feasibility

THE CLIENT:
Biomass Working Group, LLC (BWG), was organized as a multistate effort to find commercial uses for residues from corn, wheat, soybeans, and other major crops. The company’s founding members operate in South Dakota, Kansas, Indiana, Nebraska, and Illinois.
 
EXPLORING OPPORTUNITY:
Millions of tons of biomass are left after America’s crops are harvested but few commercially viable uses have been developed. At a time when the country is seeking alternatives to traditional energy sources, could this untapped supply be the answer?
 
While much progress has been made in alternative energy technologies, significant challenges remain. It is possible to make bio-oil, ethanol, syngas, biodiesel, coal substitutes and other products from crop residues; the trick is to do it economically and in quantities sufficient to justify the cost of needed technologies and infrastructure. A feasibility study would determine whether this was a viable possibility.
 
FEASIBILITY STUDY:
Morrison & Company was engaged to perform a feasibility study to research potential uses for crop residues, determine markets for related products, research the availability and readiness of technologies to produce possible products, and determine the financial viability of producing such products.
 
For the more technological aspects of the feasibility study, Morrison & Company engaged and managed the assistance of private technology companies and researchers, universities, and the US Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory, our major partner for technology assessment. Significant assistance for the feasibility study was also provided by National Farmers Organization and the South Dakota Farmers Union.
 
Aside from the technical issues, the collection, harvest, storage, and transportation of both biomass feedstock and finished products is a major challenge. Crop residues are typically left in the field rather than brought to a central location as the result of processing as with rice hulls, nut shells, fruit pits, and other byproducts of food processing. Suitable and economically viable methods of gathering, storing and handling are critical to any effort to use crop residues in large volumes.
 
Our feasibility study explored technologies and markets for biomass feedstocks (e.g., pellets), cellulosic ethanol, syngas, coal substitutes, biopower, and activated carbon. We also assessed crop residue availability and sustainability (e.g., how much crop residue can be removed without interfering with good agricultural practices), storage and transportation issues, regulatory drivers, and available government programs.
 
OUTCOME:
Ultimately, our feasibility study findings indicated a supply and logistics-based business model with the potential to provide both badly needed alternative energy sources and additional income for growers. We look forward to future collaboration with Biomass Working Group to help make this a reality.