From Ponds to Fuel Tanks: The Role of Algae in our Energy Future
By Ellen Kahler
The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative’s work to uncover potential for a Vermont bioenergy market sector began in 2003. At that time, there was no such thing as a bioenergy industry in the state and producing locally made biodiesel from locally grown oilseed crops was just starting to be thought of as something worth exploring. Now, ten years later, thanks to a partnership with UVM Extension and funding support from the US Department of Energy and the Office of Senator Patrick Leahy, the notion that fuel and heat can be produced from bioenergy sources such as oilseed crops, switchgrass, and algae is gaining more traction.
By systematically funding research and demonstration projects, the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative has been able to demonstrate:
- Vermont farmers can produce a portion of their fuel needs from locally produced sources;
- Vermont commercial boilers can be fueled with straight switchgrass or wood-switchgrass blends;
- Vermont researchers are on track developing new processes for turning algal oil into a wide range of applications, perhaps even at local waste water treatment facilities.
Ten years into helping to establish Vermont’s bioenergy industry, funding has been provided to over 30 farms, researchers, and small businesses and has fostered a body of work that can serve as a strong foundation for a more robust bioenergy future. The successes, challenges, lessons learned, and bioenergy viability reports and case studies (for both Vermont and replication in other rural communities in North America) are available for free use at www.VermontBioenergy.com. The website offers educational videos, renewable energy resources, and project development ideas to be used in the field, classroom, or in advocating for sustainable business ventures and showcases the range of possibilities; from research and crop farming to feedstocks and fuel.
One new project is a regulatory review of the bioenergy sector (specifically oilseeds, grass and algae) which is being conducted by the VermontLawSchool. This review will provide information for farmers and entrepreneurs regarding regulations and policies to pay attention to and production activity thresholds. The final cohort of Vermont Bioenergy Initiative grantees will be completing their projects through the end of 2015 and will be updated on the website as well.
The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative will also be partnering more with the Vermont Farm to Plate Network’s Energy Cross-cutting Team to further communicate local production for local use models for on-farm energy production.
Ellen Kahler is executive director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, a non-profit organization created by the State of Vermont to help develop Vermont’s sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, and forest product market sectors. The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative is a program of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.