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Mighty Mississippi

Mississippi is poised to take advantage of its abundant biomass resources.
By Anna Austin | February 22, 2011

Soon, Mississippi may be known as a biomass energy hub, as its wide availability of low-cost resources is being highly recognized and developing projects are plentiful.


For example, a biomass power project proposed in Port Gibson in southwestern Mississippi has generated a lot of attention. National Clean Fuels Inc. has partnered with the Center for Environment, Commerce & Energy and the City of Port Gibson to build a 10-megawatt biomass power facility that will gasify sawdust and wood chips.


With this and many other biomass projects, Mississippi officials have realized there eventually needs to be a cap on its resources to ensure sustainability. Currently, there is no estimate to quantify the capacity potential of biomass energy in the state. To remedy that situation, the Mississippi Development Authority’s Energy Division announced it was making $400,000 available to develop a biomass feasibility study. Submission of proposals were due in December; the final report is due in 2012.


According to the Mississippi Technology Alliance Strategic Biomass Initiative, an organization that tracks renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, there are almost 50 biomass-related projects in the state, says director Sumesh Arora.


Brent Bailey of the 25 x ’25 Alliance says the major biomass resource in Mississippi is its forestlands, which covers about 65 percent of the state’s land area. “Other resources include municipal solid waste, animal manure, agricultural products and residues, and poultry litter, as nearly 8,000 poultry houses exist around in the state,” he says.


Biomass developers are also attracted to Mississippi because of its excellent transportation system. The state is surrounded by waterways—the Mississippi River, the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and the Gulf of Mexico. Each has superior port and navigational attributes that are key for material import and export, says Pete Weisenberger, president of the Mississippi Biomass Renewable Energy Council.
Weisenberger says the state has outstanding university research support and several state incentive programs have been developed to spur research, development and commercially viable utilization of renewables.


In order to attract the private equity capital needed to support the industry, Weisenberger says investors must be able to pencil in solid and stable rates of return on investment. “The state’s taxpayers have demonstrated their willingness to tee it up and front the costs of attracting many of these companies to Mississippi, putting us at the forefront of the industry,” he says. “In the long run, private investment has to take the lead and run with it.”


In short, Mississippi needs a long-term, comprehensive energy plan that makes biomass a significant component of the state’s energy portfolio. “Mississippi and the mid-South is the sweet spot for biomass resources, and we have the people, the raw material, the research facilities, the know-how and the willingness to put all the parts together for success in this industry,” Bailey says.

—Anna Austin

 

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