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Bioenergy is a form of energy derived from biological materials such as plant matter and animal waste. These materials are referred to as biomass and represent stored solar energy. Unlike fossil fuels which require millions of years to replenish, biomass fuels can be produced and consumed quickly and are considered a renewable energy source. Biomass fuel or biofuels include agricultural crops, agricultural residues and process wastes, wood wastes, forest residues, pulp/paper mill residue, municipal solid waste, landfill methane, and animal waste. These materials can be used to produce electricity, heat, steam, gas and liquid fuels, as well as other consumer and industrial products.

Washington biomass is already producing electricity, steam and fuels while creating jobs from clean, sustainable sources of energy. The forest industry is responsible for most of the bioenergy produced in the state, but opportunities exist to expand this market to include other biomass resources. In particular, Washington farmers and ranchers can play a role. Growing bioenergy crops or recovering and processing biomass could offer rural communities a new economic market for their products, while generating a significant percentage of our states’ energy and fuel needs.

In 2004, biomass was the leading source of renewable energy in the United States, providing 2.9 Quadrillion Btu of energy. Biomass was the source for 47% of all renewable energy or 4% of the total energy produced in the United States. By comparison, Washington generates about 1.1% of its electricity, and only a fractional percent of its fuel from biomass.

As the lead agency for managing Washington’s solid waste stream, the Washington State Department of Ecology has developed the Beyond Waste program. What it means to move "beyond waste" is captured in the vision statement:

We can transition to a society that views wastes as inefficient uses of resources and believes that most wastes can be eliminated.
Eliminating wastes will contribute to environmental, economic and social vitality.

The project's aim is to develop strategic plans for properly handling both hazardous and solid wastes. A key element of this effort is to promote alternatives to disposal of solid waste materials. These alternatives can include the production of electricity, fuels and bioproducts. To learn more about the Beyond Waste program and the kind of projects that Ecology is promoting visit their Beyond Waste website.

The Washington State University Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources (CSANR) is also engaged in transforming agricultural crops and waste materials into marketable products including liquid fuels, power and bioproducts. The CSANR Triple BIO™ program is a source of information for biofuels and high-value bioproducts. The CSANR Climate Friendly Farming project is a source of information for irrigated and dryland cropping systems (including the Paterson Biofuel Variety Trials), anaerobic digestion / methane, and greenhouse gas implications of biofuels.

Recently, the Washington State University CSANR program collaborated with the Department of Ecology to begin quantifying the biomass potential within the State. This collaboration resulted in the Washington State Biomass Inventory.

Washington State Biomass Inventory

Washington State has a vast supply of renewable biomass which could be used to produce power, fuels and other products. The Department of Ecology and the Washington State University recently completed a study to inventory Washington’s biomass resources and provide a preliminary assessment of its potential for producing bioenergy. The report is entitled Biomass Inventory and Bioenergy Assessment: An Evaluation of Organic Material Resources for Bioenergy Production in Washington State. An interactive county by county biomass resource mapping database can be viewed at the Pacific Regional Biomass Energy website.

The focus of this study was to look at underutilized biomass or biomass wastes. Up to 45 unique organic resources were identified, including field residues, animal manure, forestry residues, food packaging/processing wastes and municipal wastes. These resources were categorized and mapped at the county level and were then converted to potential energy production using anaerobic digestion and simple combustion as representative conversion technologies.

The results of this study show that Washington State has an annual production of over 16.9 million tons of underutilized biomass, which is capable of producing over 15.5 billion kWh of electrical energy or 1.769 MW of electrical power. This power total, assuming complete utilization of the inventoried biomass, is equivalent to about 50% of Washington State’s annual residential electrical consumption. While the majority of this biomass resource is found in woody wastes -timber and field residues- which are more difficult to collect and convert into energy, about 15% of the available biomass is in the form of more readily biodegradable and concentrated waste streams.

The majority of this biomass resource is found in woody wastes -timber and field residues- which are more difficult to collect and convert into energy. Therefore, much of this resource may be impractical to convert to energy at this time. However, about 15% of the available biomass is in the form of more readily biodegradable and concentrated waste streams which could be used for energy production now . It should also be noted that this inventory is only looking at organic waste streams and does not consider the potential resource available through growing energy crops. These crops could include oilseeds, switchgrass, hybrid poplars and other crops grown specifically for energy production purposes.

Additional Resources

Washington Dairies and Digesters (October 2011) Report on dairies and digesters of Washington by the Washington Department of Agriculture. This report provides details about Washington’s dairy farms, profiles of the six operating digesters, and other valuable information, including a map of the dairies and digesters. For a map that shows the utility service territories of the dairies and digesters of Washington, click here.

Assessment of Potential for Conversion of Pulp and Paper Sludge to Ethanol Fuel in the Pacific Northwest.

Wheat Straw for Ethanol Production in Washington: A Resource, Technical, and Economic Assessment

Logging and Agricultural Residue Supply Curves for the Pacific Northwest

Roadmap for Agriculture Biomass Feedstock Supply in the United States

25 x ‘25 America’s Energy Future

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