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Biomass turns byproducts into energy

Farmers and ranchers look to add value to their products, and using biomass as a source of energy allows them to add value to products that had little to no value before.

Show Me Energy Cooperative in Centerview, Mo., allows farmers to turn low-value grasses and residue into a valued product by turning it into biomass pellets. The cooperative uses a number of materials including switch grass, native grasses, corn stalks, out-of-condition hay and even weeds like cockleburs to make the pellets.

"We take biomass and turn it into pellets, which have a number of uses," says Kurt Herman, chief executive officer of Show Me Energy. "The pellets can be burned for heat, with some poultry producers replacing their propane heaters with biomass heaters. The pellets can also be burned to generate electricity, either by burning it in combination with coal or using the pellets alone as fuel."

Biomass has several advantages over other sources of energy, says Herman. It is a clean, renewable energy, helps reduce the carbon footprint and emissions of plants using biomass and helps reduce American dependence on foreign oil. These attributes make up some of the reasons Herman and other farmers invested in Show Me Energy.

Show Me Energy Cooperative is a non-profit, producer-owned cooperative founded to support the development of renewable biomass energy sources in west central Missouri. The cooperative looks to establish suitable conditions in the field of energy development that incorporate agricultural biomass producers, provide additional revenue streams for farmers and producers, and support local economies through employment and deployment of renewable sustainable technologies.

"We can use increased use of biomass to increase jobs in rural America," says Herman. "Some of the biggest problems in America today include a lack of jobs and a need for more energy."

Herman says according to the U.S. Department of Energy, 200,000 megawatts of power need to be added in the next 20 years. That would take a 500,000 MW plant being built every three weeks over the next 20 years to fulfill those energy needs. To generate enough wind power to meet the energy needs, you would need to build 40 windmills every day for the next 20 years, says Herman. This shows that there may not be one answer to the energy challenge, but there may be many options to ease the burden on energy.

"No one source of alternative energy, whether it be biofuels, wind, solar or biomass, will be the answer, but a combination of all of the above can help reduce dependence on foreign oil," says Herman. "American farmers can continue to feed the world and also play a large role in providing fuel and energy to the world as well."

The increasing role of U.S. farmers as fuel and energy providers will be covered at the Food and Fuel Forum at the Western Farm Show, Feb. 19 to 21. A representative from Show Me Energy will speak at the Forum in Kansas City and discuss the benefits of biomass. To learn more about the Food and Fuel Forum visit www.westernfarmshow.com. To learn more about Show Me Energy and biomass as an energy source visit www.goshowmeenergy.com/index.html.

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