Biomass Conference Takeaways

By Rona Johnson | May 23, 2011

The 2011 Biomass Conference & Expo was a huge success and provided tons of information, contacts and food for thought. The conference was held May 2-5 at the America’s Center in St. Louis.

After taking in the event and listening to speakers and attendees, it seems to me that everyone in the industry is really looking for certainty as it applies to policies and incentives, regulations, feedstock supplies and technology. Although there are a lot of uncertainties now, I believe that in time, as legislators and the general public get a clearer picture of the opportunities that biomass-based energy present, those uncertainties will start to melt away.

At the conference, I got a lot of questions about the availability and market for biomass. We tried to answer some of those questions in a panel titled Eyeing Future Markets for Biomass Commodities, which I moderated. The presenters were William Perritt of RISI, Brodie Govan of Argus Media Inc., Dean McCraw of McCraw Energy LLC, and Charles Brettell of Energy Asset Advisors LLC. While they are all well-connected and had excellent presentations, when it comes to markets there are no certainties. For example, who could have predicted the earthquake in Japan or the tornadoes that devastated parts of the U.S.? That being said, you may want to put these guys on your speed dial to keep up with all the market ups and downs.

My favorite presentation at the conference titled Key Issues of Pellet Market Development in Sweden was by Bengt-Erik Löfgren, CEO of ÄFAB Älvdalens Fastbränsle AB-Sweden. Löfgren pointed out that the Swedish look at the Earth like it’s a company and they have to pay to use coal and oil, not just the cost of digging and drilling for it. And not surprisingly, as the country’s CO2 emissions have been reduced, its gross domestic product has increased. “We have earned money using biomass,” he said. Since 1990, the country’s GDP has increased 48 percent, 35,000 jobs have been created in rural areas, $18.2 billion has stayed in the local economy and its CO2 emissions have been lowered by 31 million metric tons (31 percent).

Löfgren predicts that if the U.S. were to follow in Sweden’s footsteps, its GDP would rise rapidly, 25 million new jobs would be created and $46 billion dollars would stay in the U.S. economy.

That presentation really made my day and truly validates the noble efforts of everyone involved in the bioenergy industry.

To read more about the fourth annual International Biomass Conference & Expo, read Associate Editor Lisa Gibson’s feature “Gateway to Biomass” (page 28) and go to our website