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Expert: U.P. prime area for biomass production

November 21, 2008
By MIRIAM MOELLER, Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE - Robert Froese, assistant professor of biometrics at Michigan Tech University, said the Upper Peninsula has great potential to harvest biomass from wood and use it as an energy source.

"I'm confident that biomass could contribute a major portion of the U.P. energy demand, (electricity and vehicle fuel), and it already meets many people's needs in the form of firewood," Froese said. "Add wind and other renewables, and we're crazy to keep burning coal and petroleum."

The U.P. could supply 45 percent of the state's biomass, Froese said. Yet, what is this magical product?

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"Biomass is biological matter," Froese said. "Biomass usually means plant matter, which could include agricultural crops like corn, beets or soybeans, but also the woody parts of those crops like corn stalks (stover), wheat straw and oat hulls."

Wood, bark and switchgrass are other types of biomass that Froese refers to as woody biomass.

"We often include derivative products and waste in the definition of biomass, such as used pallets, construction and demolition waste, yard waste including lawn clippings, etcetera," he said. "However, clearly in Michigan the largest pool of biomass is in our forests."

In fact, Froese said Michigan is cutting less than a third of the wood that grows every year.

"If we doubled our harvest rate in Michigan, we would still cut less wood than we grow," he said, adding that this could be an opportunity for biomass production.

In the light of efforts in the U.P. and lower Michigan to use biomass to generate power, the topic has become important to industry and government leaders. Renewafuel, a company planning to produce biomass cubes at a new K.I. Sawyer plant beginning early next year, will supply the Marquette Board of Light and Power with fuel. Northern Michigan University is also interested in biomass to provide a portion of the fuel for its proposed combined heat and power plant.

Froese said biomass can help the state and the nation in three main ways: It can help cut fossil fuel dependency, lower energy prices and help reduce carbon dioxide emissions.



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