Canadian Biomass Magazine

Features Education
Editorial: Brand Building


May 28, 2009
By Scott Jamieson


Topics

If forest biomass for energy is a brand, we’d best start taking more care in building it. As recent events show, there are factors outside our direct control that may conspire to damage the image of forest biomass as a reliable, consistent alternative to fossil fuels.

If forest biomass for energy is a brand, we’d best start taking more care in building it. As recent events show, there are factors outside our direct control that may conspire to damage the image of forest biomass as a reliable, consistent alternative to fossil fuels.

Most damaging is recent news that would-be biomass brokers New England Pellet will not be able to meet supply obligations made to hundreds of residential customers in the Northeast US relying on them to keep their homes, and families, warm.  The company had taken around $200 a ton from consumers in return for what was to be a sure supply of wood pellets this winter. Now the company is being sued by the attorney general of Connecticut for continuing to pre-sell pellets long after it knew it could not deliver. Many of these pellet consumers are new to the game, having recently given the pellet sector their trust in the face of escalating oil prices. Uncertain when, or if, they will see their pellet supply, these home-owners are not likely to be strong advocates for our industry moving forward. This is all the more unfortunate given what looked like a growing surge of pellet users in the massive Northeast US residential market.

Going forward we’ll likely need a large supplier or coalition of suppliers with the brand power and proven reliability of a Shell Oil or Esso. When you sign a heating oil contract with such players, you may gripe about the price, but the thought of shortages never crosses your mind. If we want to win over the American and Canadian consumer, we’ll need the same clout. 

Then there are more technical issues such as the trials and tribulations of some industrial users in matching biomass fuel with combustion technology. In our greenhouse focus, you’ll read Heather Hager’s article about Lindy’s Flowers’ switch to biomass and its difficulties in getting its boiler to feed and burn well using a variety of agricultural feedstocks. The good news is they seem to have found success with hardwood pellets. Yet they suffered more aggravation than necessary getting there. In some ways this isn’t a forest biomass issue – the early trials were with nonwood-based biomass. Still, to the greenhouse sector at large, it all becomes a problem with using biomass. By default the problem becomes ours.

The issue is education. Biomass pioneers need accurate information to choose the right combustion technology to match the intended fuel source (or sources) and to design a transport, storage, and feeding system to make it all work as simply and painlessly as possible. It behoves our industry to help this education process with such key markets as the greenhouse sector. For that reason, we have invited Dr. Fernando Preto of Natural Resources Canada’s CanmetENERGY to explain the finer points of commercially available combustion systems and have arranged to have this issue reach over 4000 greenhouse contacts through our partners at Greenhouse Canada Magazine. I welcome these readers and encourage them to consider Dr. Preto’s suggestions carefully.

Regardless of the product, it’s all about providing solutions, not new problems.

Scott Jamieson, Editor/Group Publisher
sjamieson@annexweb.com


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