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Emerging Frontiers in Bioenergy: Vermont Bioenergy

Initiative proves biofuel potential for Vermont, concludes ten-year project

By Ellen Kahler

Vermont can produce more of its own biofuel energy, and the environmental and potential economic benefits of local bioenergy have been proven by the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative,a program of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. Since 2005, the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative has invested more than $2.5 million in innovative bioenergy research, projects, and people, so Vermont can locally produce more of the states energy needs, from a variety of agricultural and algal feedstocks.

US Senator Patrick Leahy made the investment at this scale possible through awards from the US Department of Energy (US DOE). The funding concludes in early 2016, at which point a complete impact report will be released by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, which has served as the intermediary between the US DOE and 52 individual Vermont bioenergy projects over the past ten years.

VT Bioenergy Team at  Green Mountain Power’s Energy Innovation Center in Rutland, Vermont – left to right: Chris Callahan of UVM Extension, Kirk Shields of Green Mountain Power,  Christy Sterner of US DOE, Larry Scott of Ekolott Farm, Ellen Kahler of VSJF, John Williamson of Stateline Biofuels

VT Bioenergy Team at Green Mountain Power’s Energy Innovation Center in Rutland, Vermont – left to right: Chris Callahan of UVM Extension, Kirk Shields of Green Mountain Power, Christy Sterner of US DOE, Larry Scott of Ekolott Farm, Ellen Kahler of VSJF, John Williamson of Stateline Biofuels

Research, development, and early stage demonstration projects have included:

  • Investing in two on-farm methane digesters;
  • Building farm-scale infrastructure to turn oilseed crops such as sunflowers into biodiesel to run farm tractors;
  • Growing switchgrass and densifying it into “pucks” that are burned in a high efficiency commercial boiler instead of using propane;
  • Identifying the most lipid producing strains of native Vermont algae which can feed off the excess nutrients from methane digesters and can eventually be harvested to make biodiesel or jet fuel;
  • Developing two “Biomass to Biofuels” college-level courses which run repeatedly at the University of Vermont and Vermont Technical College to inspire and train the next generation of bioenergy experts and technicians;
  • VT Bioenergy Team at Borderview Farm in Alburgh, Vermont – left to right: Roger Rainville of Borderview Farm, Christy Sterner of US DOE, Heather Darby of UVM Extension, Natasha Rainville of Borderview Farm

    VT Bioenergy Team at Borderview Farm in Alburgh, Vermont – left to right: Roger Rainville of Borderview Farm, Christy Sterner of US DOE, Heather Darby of
    UVM Extension, Natasha Rainville of Borderview Farm

    Exploring bulk wood pellet delivery systems to Vermonters’ homes;

  • Organizing a number of learning opportunities and conferences for oilseed, grass and algae researchers, farmers and entrepreneurs to attend;
  • Providing agronomic and engineering support to oilseed and grass farmers;
  • Educating the general public about why the local production of energy crops for local use from Vermont farms and forests makes good economic and ecological sense.

The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative is a unique effort and one that is gaining resonance in other parts of rural America. The initiatives resource website, www.VermontBioenergy.com is utilized by biofuel producers, educators, and technical service providers from across the country.

The work conducted over the past ten years by the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative to conduct research, provide technical assistance, and develop infrastructure in emerging areas of bioenergy will continue with the initiatives partners at UVM Extension and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets. As Vermont moves forward – with innovation and increasingly focus on generating renewable energy from the fields and forests – the research and infrastructure the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative has invested in over the past ten years will endure and spawn the next wave of bioenergy development in the state.

Learn more at www.VermontBioenergy.com.

Ellen Kahler is executive director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, a non-profit organization created by the State of Vermont to help develop Vermonts sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, and forest product businesses.

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