Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Emerging Frontiers in Bioenergy

Oilseeds, Grass & Algae Each Hold a Place in Vermont’s Renewable Energy Future

By Sarah Galbraith, program manager of the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative

Algae incubation lab at UVM courtesy General Systems Research

The term “bioenergy” refers to renewable energy fuels and feedstocks derived from biological sources and the power resulting from their use. These can be forest and agricultural biomass, liquid biofuels, and biogas to be used for heat, electricity, or vehicle fuel.

Sunflowers grown for making biodiesel or grass grown for heating fuel help farmers to become more self-sufficient, diversify their operation, use marginal land, and lower fuel and feed costs. Algae production and processing for making biofuels can accomplish multiple goals such as wastewater and nutrient management along with producing algal oil for fuel and algae for animal or fish feed.

Some examples of bioenergy feedstocks and fuels being developed in Vermont include switchgrass, hay and other agricultural biomass for heat and power; oilseeds (like canola, sunflower and soybean) and algae for biofuels; and animal waste or food scraps for anaerobic digesters and captured landfill gas to create electricity and biomethane.

Borderview Farm Oil Press courtesy VT Sustainable Jobs Fund

Further definitions and uses can be clarified as:

Oilseeds: Oilseeds such as sunflower, soybean, and canola can be grown and pressed for oil that can be made biodiesel or food-grade oil. The oilseed meal is a co-product that can be used for livestock feed and organic fertilizer.

Grass: Perennial grasses like switchgrass, big bluestem, reed canarygrass, and Miscanthus can be grown and baled or compressed into pellets or briquettes for use as heating fuel.

Algae: Microalgae such as green algae and diatoms can be grown and pressed for oil, fuel, feed, food and fertilizer.

This column will showcase uses, successes, and challenges in Vermont in each of these areas over the upcoming months from the partnerships within the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative. Since 2003 the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative has focused on biodiesel production and distribution for heating and transportation, oil crops for on-farm biodiesel and feed, grass for heating, and algae for biofuels and wastewater management. The program draws the connection between diversified agriculture and local renewable energy production for on-farm and community use by supporting research, technical assistance, and infrastructure development in emerging areas of bioenergy.

The newly launched website offers a series of educational videos centered on crop farming for feedstocks and fuel aiming to help farmers, researchers, educational institutions, and entrepreneurs overcome barriers to diversify operations. The videos, along with renewable energy resources and project development ideas can be used in the classroom, the field, or in advocating for sustainable business ventures.

Switchgrass Harvest at Meach Cove Farm courtesy VT Sustainable Jobs Fund

The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative is a program of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund and partners with other organizations expanding the use of renewable energy in Vermont like Renewable Energy Vermont and the Energy Action Network. The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative also coordinates crossover with the Vermont Farm to Plate Network by providing resources and technical assistance to farmers, facilities, and communities to support energy crops to be grown alongside food production.

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