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Georgia leads in the bio-energy revolution

Bioenergy is energy derived from biofuels, produced directly or indirectly from organic material called biomass. It is the single largest renewable energy source today, providing 10% of the world’s primary energy supply. Traditional unprocessed biomass such as fuelwood, charcoal and animal dung accounts for most of this and represents the main source of energy for a large number of people in developing countries who use it mainly for cooking and heating. More advanced and efficient conversion technologies now allow the extraction of biofuels from materials such as wood, crops and waste material. Biofuels can be solid, gaseous or liquid, even though the term is often used in reference to liquid biofuels for transport. Many American consumers are familiar with biofuel through their use of gasoline blended with corn-based ethanol.

Georgia is a leader in the bio-energy revolution; in 2015, Forbes ranked Georgia third in the nation for potential biomass energy as measured by the amount of biomass available in the state. Georgia boasts an abundance of crops that can be converted to energy resources, including traditional feedstocks, such as corn and soybeans, and non-traditional feedstocks, such as switch grass and pine trees.

Processing wood as biomass is considered carbon-neutral since the resultant emissions equal the carbon dioxide absorbed by the trees as they mature. With almost 24 million acres of forestland, much of Georgia’s biomass is derived from low-grade wood waste like woodchips, wood pellets and tree limbs resulting from tree-thinning activities. An abundant fiber supply located in close proximity to coastal transportation has created a fertile environment for companies specializing in the production of wood pellets, which can be used as fuels for power generation, commercial or residential heating, and cooking. Georgia Biomass LLC, based in Waycross, opened in 2010 and now is the largest pellet producer in the world with a design capacity of 750,000 metric tons per year.

The majority of Georgia Biomass’s production is intended to power Europe’s energy generating plants, but Georgia’s energy plants are also looking to the resource to help meet their own renewable energy goals. Georgia Power has incorporated into its Green Power Program more than 280 megawatts of power purchase agreements with various Biomass Proxy Qualified Facilities, including a 30-year, 53.5 megawatt capacity contract with biomass facility Piedmont Green Power, LLC, a woody biomass facility in Barnesville.

Landfill gas is a type of biomass energy categorized as “waste energy.” The process of decomposition—when organic material is broken down by microorganisms—generates methane gas. Most landfills simply burn off this gas, but through innovative Green Energy initiatives, some power companies have partnered with landfills to turn garbage into kilowatts. To produce power, gas wells slowly draw methane from the landfill and pipe it to a facility where it’s burned to turn engines or turbines and create electricity.

In 2010, Georgia Power partnered with Waste Management and its Superior Landfill in Savannah to add 6.4 megawatts of clean, renewable energy to the grid. Four years later, Environmental services provider Advanced Disposal partnered with Energy Systems Group (ESG), an energy services provider, to design, build, own and operate the landfill gas-to-electricity plant at the Pecan Row Landfill.

Landfill gas can also be used as renewable fuel. ESG has partnered with DeKalb County and the Clean Cities Atlanta Petroleum Reduction to convert emissions from the Seminole Hills Landfill to compressed natural gas (CNG), which is used to power DeKalb’s sanitation vehicles. Surplus gas will be inserted into the natural gas pipeline to be transported to other CNG stations or sold as renewable natural gas. ESG operates additional landfill facilities at the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany and the Live Oak Gas to Energy Facility in Atlanta.

Georgia’s ample resources for biomass could not attract companies willing to invest in the production of biofuel without Georgia’s entrepreneurial-friendly policies, reduced taxes on bioscience energy companies, and expedited environmental permits for biofuel plants. The state currently has over $2 billion worth of active renewable energy-related projects that are projected to drive nearly $5 billion dollars into the state’s economy over the next 10 years. Georgia also maintains an avid “brain trust” of university research and development. The University of Georgia, with its extensive laboratories and agricultural experiment stations, is world-renowned for research in fermentation, enzymes and genetic engineering. Its Athens campus boasts a pilot scale model biorefinery, where feedstocks are tested to produce bio-oil, syngas, char, and a variety of industrial chemicals. The Georgia Institute of Technology is home to the Strategic Energy Institute, which conducts research on biomass gasification and biochemistry, and is a leader in industrial process engineering. The Herty Advanced Materials Development Center, a $150-million-dollar non-profit research center, turned its focus from the pulp and paper industry to embrace biomass commercialization.

With copious biomass resources, innovative technology and research on biomass conversion, and state-level incentives to help green companies succeed, Georgia will continue to be an influential leader in the world-wide bio-energy revolution.

Forbes: Georgia 3rd state in nation for biomass energy (Creative Loafing, Friday, 11 July 2008)

Georgia is a Leader in Biomass (Renewable Energy World, Monday, 5 April 2010)

Georgia Power, Waste Management partner on landfill gas projects (Electric Light & Power, Tuesday, 30 March 2010)

Landfill gas-to-energy plant opens in Georgia (BioEnergy Insight, Tuesday, 6 May 2014)