HelioPower tour showcases compelling case for use of biomass to reduce California Ag industry’s energy costs and create additional profits with sale of biochar
Sunshine isn’t nature’s only affordable source of renewable energy.
Biomass is organic fuel, and can offer compelling returns to California growers and food processors.
HelioPower Vice-President of Business Development Tom Millhoff recently took several walnut, pistachio and almond processors on a tour of a 500 kilowatt (kW) biomass facility in Merced to learn how they can turn agriculture waste from a nuisance to a profit.
“Solar isn’t always the answer. My mission is to reduce the energy expense required to produce, transport and store California’s food,” said Millhoff. “We can do that by reducing demand, altering pricing structures, or replacing expensive energy. Biomass becomes compelling when there is readily available high quality feedstock: nut shells and tree trimmings fit the bill.”
“There are many approaches to processing biomass. The pyrolytic (the use of heat to break down complex chemical substances into simpler substances) gasification approach we favor has several advantages – it is small, scalable, efficient and decidedly low-tech, so uptime is high and operating cost is low,” explained Millhoff.
“Emissions are low and we have air quality management board acceptance. The facility is power-dense, generating 20 times as much energy per square foot as a typical solar facility, and the waste heat can be used for drying or to reduce cold storage loads. The facility produces very high quality biochar, which is in high demand from organic farmers and as a filtration agent. We’re seeing IRR’s approaching 20% when excess energy is sold to the utility, higher when energy offsets domestic load.”
“And this is before we consider revenues from biochar sales – these facilities produce very high quality biochar, which is seeing exploding demand from organic farmers and for filtration applications. Revenues from biochar sales can bump IRR’s by 5% or more. It’s amazing – our clients are getting paid to sequester carbon… we’re at grid parity without incentives. Early adopters will really benefit when Cap & Trade comes along.”
The tour was followed by an open lunch discussion of project economics, policies and development challenges. Attendees included nut growers and processors, research scientists from UC Davis and UC Merced, private industry energy researchers, utilities representatives as well as energy professionals.
Future biomass tours are being scheduled. For more information on biomass, biochar or other creative energy solutions, contact Tom at Cell 775.830.0448, eFax 775.548.9819 or Email [email protected].