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Swain outlines state's biomass potential

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

BioEnergy Development President Rob Swain (right) spoke to the Clay County Chamber of Commerce Tuesday about the current potential of the biomass industry in Indiana. Looking on during the presentation is Chamber President Ted Paris. Jason Jacobs Photo. [Order this photo]
Rather than letting a falling tree decompose on the ground, an up and coming industry is putting wood waste to an energizing use.

On Tuesday, BioEnergy Development President Rob Swain spoke to the Clay County Chamber of Commerce about Indiana's potential for utilizing the biomass industry.

"There are approximately 4.6 million acres of forest in the state, the majority of which is in Southern Indiana," Swain said. "To put that in perspective, that is larger than the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined."

He added the state's forest area is growing at 1.5 times the pace than it is being harvested.

"Most of the forest is made up of hardwoods, like Maple, Walnut and Oak," he said. "During just the past three years, there has been a growth of about 100,000 acres."

Swain told members of the Chamber there are two types of wood residues. These include residues from harvest, which include tree tops and limbs, and mill residues, which is the focus of his Fishers-based company."

"Some examples of the biomass sources from mill residues are wood chips, sawdust, bark and land clearings," he said.

Before delving into the specifics of his company, which is planning to build a plant near State Road 42 and County Road 500 West, Swain addressed some of the issues and concerns he has heard about the industry.

"I have read and heard some concerns that we will be burning trash and tires, which is completely incorrect," he said. "Biomass is narrowly defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) does not allow tires to be used as fuel. Tires are not a source of renewable energy and our goal is to maintain a renewable portfolio."

Swain explained the $50 million plant would have a generation capacity of 26 megawatts, and has obtained its Title V Air Permit from IDEM.

"We are still in the process of clearing up title issues, but hope to begin construction in the second quarter of this year, and plan to start up operations by the end of the second quarter in 2012," he said. "The total investment will include 200-plus construction jobs on the plant, then have about 20 permanent workers with a total of approximately $1.2 million in wages and benefits.

"The plant will also help create 40 additional jobs, but mainly in the trucking industry. We would like to hire all local residents if at all possible."

The energy created by burning off the biomass will then be sold to Hoosier Energy, in which BioEnergy Development has already entered into a contract with.

Swain also outlined the long-term approach needed to sustain the industry's viability.

"In looking at the amount of biomass created on an annual basis, you could think that four or five of these type of plants would be necessary," he said. "However, in order to keep going, you can't grab it all, so two or three plants in the state would be the best idea for long-term sustainability."

He added the life expectancy of the plant would be approximately 30 years, but it could be refurbished down the line to extend that time period.

"One of the keys to progressing is knowing where you can build and get the most out of an industrial plant, which can be very tricky," Swain told the Chamber. "I am grateful and very appreciative for what your county has done for us by welcoming us in, which is not like some other counties."

The Clay County Chamber of Commerce meets at noon, on the fourth Tuesday of each month, in the lower level of the St. Vincent Clay Hospital Professional Building.

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Isn't this what St Mary of the Woods is doing already??? I would think government officials would go talk to them about the pros and cons of the system before signing on to one coming here.

My fear would be that there would be a temptation to "extend" the usefulness of the plant by "creating" fuel for it that could be contrary to environment. What does SMWC plan to do if and when they run low on fuel? Are there plans to purchase it? Could that be an alternate plan? It's sort of like using the used fry oil from restaurants to run diesel vehicles. If only a few vehicles are using it, the restaurants will give it away as a way to dispose of their "waste" oil, but if more people WANT it, it will start to sell it. I fear that this same thing may happen if there are multiple biomass complexes in the area. SMWC is always asking for people's tree limbs etc now on the radio. Seems it takes a lot of it to keep campus up and running. How much is needed to actually produce and do we really have THAT much consistently available? Just saying....

Ask questions.

-- Posted by Jenny Moore on Wed, Feb 23, 2011, at 7:55 AM

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