2015 IBCE commences with updates from association leaders

By Katie Fletcher | April 21, 2015

The 2015 International Biomass Conference & Expo kicked off on the morning of April 21, with conversations amongst industry association leadership. Executive Editor of Biomass Magazine, Tim Portz, led the conversation with a number of association leaders in the biomass industry to share the past year’s activities in the sectors they champion.

The opening general session panel was broken into three groups of conversations. The first discussion provided some international insight with Gustav Melin, president of AEBIOM, European Biomass Association, and Seth Ginther, executive director of the U.S. Industrial Pellet Association. The dialogue flowed from talk of the harmonization of standards to the future for pellet production and consumption in Europe.

The next talk was with Joseph Seymour, executive director of the Biomass Thermal Energy Council and Jennifer Hedrick, executive director of the Pellet Fuels Institute. Questions pertaining to the Sustainability Biomass Partnership, Biomass Thermal Utilization Act, and EPA’s New Source Performance Standards were answered by these two industry leaders.

The general session panel rounded off with a discussion with Bernard Sheff, chairman of the board of the American Biogas Council and Carrie Annand, vice president of external affairs with the Biomass Power Association—sitting in for Bob Cleaves, president and CEO of BPA. The renewable fuel standard’s (RFS) inclusion of biomass for cellulosic fuels, the Biogas Roadmap, National Bioenergy Day, EPA’s stance on biogenic emissions, and more were brought to light.

Melin was the first to speak during the general session, articulating some of the work occurring in Europe under the EBA. He mentioned that the association has had a successful past year, and that the European Pellet Council has also been very successful. Amongst other activities, the EPC coordinates the ENplus quality certification and constantly adopts this system based on market needs.

Melin said the pellet industry depends on policy frequently, giving the example of the Dutch market coming back as quite a large pellet market now, after its lack of presence for a number of years.

Ginther underscored the importance of the harmonization of standards. “This is something near and dear to the industry’s heart,” he said. “What we’ve been working on over the past few years is harmonizing the sustainability criteria, encouraging the European Union to step in and harmonize those criteria, so that you have a one size fits all for all markets.”

Ginther spoke about progress with the SBP. He said members are undergoing the certification process with SBP now, and he expects them to be fully certified within the next 12 to 18 months. “It’s really an exciting time for the industry,” Ginther said.

The wood pellet industry has been working on developing sustainability criteria for solid biomass in the European Union. Ginther made mention that transparency in these processes is key, but that the Dutch chose not to be. “The only way to classify the Dutch process for setting their sustainability criteria is frustrating,” he said.

Ginther said the Dutch violated the Technical Barriers Trade Agreement during their entire process. In contrast to the United Kingdom, which ran a very open process, the Dutch operated behind closed doors without any availability for input.

Ginther wrapped up the first conversation of the general session panel by stressing the importance that industry stakeholders understand and can see the efforts that are being made. “I think it is critically important that all of us are in this business to displace coal, to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change,” he said.

Seymour and Hedrick took part in the panel’s second conversation. Seymour began by saying that over the past year it has been a tale of two markets, or two heating seasons. “Coming off of 2014 with a record high for propane prices, especially in the northwest, there was a lot of optimism going into this heating season—sales reflected that,” Seymour said. “As we saw with the fall of oil prices in the spring and this winter a lot of enthusiasm has dropped off as a number of consumers have taken, of no fault of their own, a short term look at their heating fuels, and unfortunately that has put a damper on the market as we end this heating season.”

Reflecting on the past year, Hedrick believes it has been another strong year for pellets. “There was not as much inventory going into 2014, and so a lot of manufacturers were working hard throughout the season to ensure that consumers had fuel through the end of the season,” she said. “I think if you talk to really any pellet manufacturer they would say that for the industry it has been overall been a good heating season.”

The inclusion of thermal energy in the recent White House Executive Order to reduce GHG emissions was discussed amongst Hedrick and Seymour. Hedrick said that it shows the industry there is commitment to supporting thermal technology from the administration. “This executive order addresses sustainability for the next 10 years,” she said. “I think a key component of that is their commitment to 25 percent of renewable energy technologies focusing on thermal applications.”

The BTU Act was also discussed, which has currently been referred to the senate finance committee. “The BTU Act is essentially a reincarnation of several legislative attempts to right the wrong of how biomass thermal technologies were left out of the business investment tax code and residential renewable energy tax code,” Seymour said.

Supply concern in the northeast, EPA’s NSPS and new wood chip heating standards rounded off the second chat during the opening IBCE panel.

The general session panel concluded with a roundup of work occurring within the biogas and biomass power sectors. Sheff from ABC and Annand with BPA relayed the main activities that have occurred over the past year for their constituents. “For our members we’ve had a good year,” Annand said. “We’ve had not a lot of growth, but some important developments.”

Annand mentioned the 60 MW ReEnergy Black River bioenergy facility at Fort Drum near Watertown, New York, as one development. BPA also completed its second National Bioenergy Day, doubling from the previous year.

Sheff mentioned ABC’s push to get the EPA’s RFS to expand cellulosic fuel pathways to include CNG and LNG from biogas created in landfills, municipal wastewater treatment plant digesters, agricultural digesters and separated municipal solid waste digesters.

He also mentioned the Biogas Roadmap, issued by the DOE, EPA and Department of Agriculture. Sheff referred to it as a tremendous document, and that the White House issued the roadmap to the United Nations, resulting in some momentum. In addition, Sheff shared that the council is working on standardizing the quality of digestate. He expressed excitement to get to a point where the ABC can put its stamp of approval on fertilizer products made with digestate from biogas projects.

All sectors of the biomass industry were represented with industry association leaders to kick off 2015 IBCE, sharing insight on the past year, and an outlook as to what is to come.