Organic Waste Could Help Power Washington State

Nearly 50 percent of the energy that Washington state residents use now could come from their own backyards, according to a report released by the Department of Ecology in Spokane.

According to the report, Washington state has an annual production of approximately 17 million tons of under-used biomass, which is capable of producing more than 15.5 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of electrical energy, or nearly 1,800 megawatts (MW) of electrical power. “Washingtonians deserve affordable alternative energy sources, and biomass has terrific potential to contribute towards energy independence,” said Governor Chris Gregoire, said to be as interested in alternative energy production as other state leaders. “I am pleased by the results of this report and I look forward to further news on the viability of biomass in our state.” The Biomass Inventory and Bioenergy Assessment was a multi-year project conducted by Washington State University (WSU) in collaboration with and funded by the state’s Department of Ecology. The goal was to determine if enough biomass, or organic-waste materials, were available and if it was economically feasible to use them for energy production in the state. Researchers identified, categorized and mapped 45 potential sources in Washington, which included field residues, animal manures, forestry residues, food packing and processing waste, and municipal wastes. “The abundance and the location of these organic resources should get us thinking even more seriously about developing renewable fuels and energy strategies within our state,” said Ecology Director Jay Manning. “Coincidentally, the way the resources are distributed seems to align geographically with areas of the state where we need new business and new jobs.” Plus, producing the energy where the biomass is located saves transportation costs. “In addition to the environmental benefit, production could lead to decreased dependence on outside energy supplies, and could create market independence and local control, which all make developing these resources of vital interest to our state,” Manning said. “Whether it is from agricultural or forest residues or from perennial grasses and other plants specifically grown as energy crops, there is an emerging opportunity for Washington to contribute substantially to the nation’s energy needs through the production of bioproducts, biopower and biofuels,” said Ralph Cavalieri, director of Washington State University’s Agricultural Research Center. Cavalieri, an associate dean in the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, provides technical guidance to a federal committee that is coordinating research and development of bioenergy and bio-based products. Cellulose or plant materials were by far the most widely available materials reported. Ethanol fuel from cellulose is another key opportunity under consideration.
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