Grand Rapids Area Celebrates National Bioenergy Day

By Kristen Bergstrand, Utilization and Marketing Coordinator, Division of Forestry, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR)

On October 18, we celebrated the fifth-annual National Bioenergy day, which occurs annually during National Forest Products week. While we've recognized National Forest Products week since 1960, it's been only since 2012 we've recognized biomass as a renewable energy source. Bioenergy is the use of any organic matter such as forest thinnings, residues, urban wood waste, and agriculture waste to generate heating, cooling, or electricity. Specifically at the Grand Rapids event a group of land managers, university, industry, and forestry folks celebrated wood biomass and its many benefits in providing healthy forests, rural local economic activity, and community sustainability.

The Grand Rapids bioenergy day event kicked off at Lonza, Inc., in Cohasset where 25 people attended a presentation by Natural Resources Research Institute researcher Tim Haggen on work he's done through the Minnesota State Wood Energy Team grant on using wood residues to create process heat and steam in the factory. The group then toured the Lonza plant where they make food and nutrition health supplements and personal care products from larch (tamarack) arabinogalactan. Later, plant manager Todd Jaranson led a tour of the new wood biomass boiler that Lonza recently commissioned to offset the plant's heat and steam requirements.

The group also attended a presentation and tour of Minnesota Power's Rapids Energy Center. Rick Fannin spoke about the logistics of storing, handling, and feeding a mix of wood fuels at the plant. The wood used by the facility consists of mill residues, wood grindings, and wood chips. The tour showed the two twin boilers and the generators which provide UPM Blandin with their steam needs and a portion of their electrical needs.

The event continued with presentations about the importance of biomass to the community such as; reducing dependence on petroleum; providing local fuel sourcing; reducing carbon emissions; providing educational opportunities for students, and the availability of ICC's new wood boiler as a demonstration site. Wood biomass markets affect local economies by creating jobs and cycling money back to the local community. These markets also shape how forests are managed, which in turn influences wildfire risk and forest health. The day concluded with a dedication ceremony and tour of the new wood biomass campus-wide district heating system at Itasca Community College (ICC). A neat twist: instead of cutting the ribbon, everyone present tossed small wood chips into the wood bin of the new boiler system.

Bioenergy is a key part of the U.S. renewable energy portfolio. It is considered renewable because after the carbon in wood is released when burned, living plants absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Also removing low value wood can improve the health, productivity, and value of forestland. Minnesota with its abundant renewable forest resource has potential to increase wood use for bioenergy. Events such as the Grand Rapids Bioenergy Day are important to show how bioenergy affects local sustainability, jobs, and Minnesota's clean energy future.

The event organizers thank the event hosts and supporters, Minnesota Power, Lonza, Itasca Community College, and the Minnesota State Wood Energy Team.

Additional coverage of the 2017 Grand Rapids Area Bioenergy Day event:
Itasca Woody Biomass Project - Presentation and dedication of Itasca Community College's campus-wide wood district heating system, Itasca Community Television.
"Business, Energy and Education combine for fifth annual Bioenergy Day" - Robin Butler, Grand Rapids Herald-Review 10/27/17