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Nation Turns to ND For Biomass Insight This Week

July 19, 2010

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - What we used to call trash or waste is now being explored as a substantial energy source in this country. Biomass is anything from yard waste to egg shells, and this week experts from the U.S. and Canada are convening in North Dakota to talk about it. Biomass '10 will look at the latest ways biomass is being turned into power, transportation fuels and chemicals.

Chris Zygarlicke, technical director of the Biomass '10 workshop, says the process could replace a third of our fossil fuel demand one day.

"We're not going to eliminate all of our fossil fuel diet, but within five or 10 years we definitely could eliminate the need for oil from a couple of countries in the Middle East - if we just got our act together."

Processing biomass for fuel has its downside, however. It produces black carbon, seen as a major contributor to global warming.

Zygarlicke says using certain kinds of grasses in electricity generation is another area where biomass can make its mark.

"They do this in Denmark, up to about maybe 20 percent of their electricity. You can just burn wheat straw or switch grass, using a baseload biomass as baseload fuel - in other words, you have it whenever you need it."

Zygarlicke says among the hundreds expected to be on hand for Biomass '10 are developers and investors, more than a few of whom come with cautious optimism because of concerns about the biomass bottom line.

"They're also scared because ethanol and biodiesel went a little too crazy. The investment and the rush to Wall Street markets was a little too fast; several banks got burned on those."

Biomass '10 happens July 20-21 at the Alerus Center, Grand Forks.

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - ND