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Biomass picking up steam worldwide

Duffy Hayes

SUMMIT COUNTY – Whether the world is drowsily waking up from its dependence on fossil fuels for sources of energy remains to be seen. But Summit County county’s commissioners appear to be ahead of the curve.The county is proposing an ambitious project to heat several governments buildings in Frisco with boilers that burn wood waste and other forest debris, foregoing traditional natural gas.Societies around the world are just now taking biomass technology seriously, and more and more biofuels projects are springing up across the globe.”One thing that is important to recognize is that the use of biofuels is in its infancy,” said Steve Hill, the county’s special projects manager researching the proposed project. “As to use of biofuels within the nation and world, we’ve got some real experience we can count on and use.”Europe leads the world in biomass experience. Countries from Scandinavia to central Europe are increasingly using alternative sources of energy.In Austria, where the alpine environment resembles Summit and Eagle counties, nearly 70 percent of domestically-produced power came from renewable sources in 2003, the most recent data available. Biomass accounted for 11.2 percent of the country’s total primary energy supply and 21 percent of heat production, according to the International Energy Agency. And at one of Austria’s leading ski resorts, Lech, a biomass plant provides 90 percent of the town’s heat.In Sweden, 29 “waste-to-energy” plants are currently operational, burning more than 3.1 million tons of waste per year and generating more than 9 billion kilowatt-hours of power and thermal energy.Common to both Austria and Sweden is governmental support for biomass. Both countries highly subsidize investments in biofuels technology. And Sweden’s politicians have set a goal of being fossil-fuel free by 2020.Other countries are jumping aboard as well. Biomass projects are springing up in Belgium and Scotland is on course to develop a “Biomass Action Plan” that calls for 18 percent of its energy to come from renewable sources by 2010, 40 percent by 2020.The European Union also is trying to develop alternative energy, including biomass. It recently adopted a comprehensive “EU Strategy for Biofuels,” which builds on a biomass action plan adopted in 2005.Chronic polluter China aims to boost renewable energies to 15 percent of their total energy production by 2020. India, another heavy polluter, has recently commissioned seven thermal biomass projects.Here in the good-old U.S. of A., which may be the world’s biggest polluter, a number of states – including Colorado – are taking a hard look at biofuels.Biomass projects are finding funding in Maine, Nebraska and Massachusetts. Colorado, though, seems particularly piqued by the prospect of burning biofuels for energy.The Colorado House of Representatives recently formed a renewable energy committee chaired by House Majority Leader Alice Madden, a Democrat from Boulder. That group will study the technological possibilities of biomass and other alternative energies.In Boulder County, a wood-chip fired biofuels boiler heats the hot water system for a complex of four buildings. And in Walden, a biomass generator powers a greenhouse at North Park High School.Nearby Nederland has also installed a biomass plant fueled by wood chips to heat a local community center. There, maintenance and manpower issues have led town officials to basically abandon the project, and system components today are on the sales block.Vail, Colorado


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