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Renewable Accounts: A New Column

My job at NDSU is to develop (research) and provide science-based knowledge on the economics of producing, transporting, converting and marketing biomass into bioproducts.

By David Ripplinger, Bioproducts and Bioenergy Economist and Assistant Professor

Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics

I’d like to welcome you to a new column on bioenergy and bioproducts. I was hired as North Dakota’s bioenergy and bioproduct economist. The position was created by the 2007 Legislature to support the state’s renewable industry.

While there is a great deal of activity in the field of renewables that I’ll speak to, I thought it would be best to start by introducing a few vocabulary terms. The first is the mother of them all when it comes to bioenergy and bioproducts: biomass.

Biomass is organic material. It’s a very broad term. Biomass is not just dedicated energy crops, such as switchgrass, with which you may be familiar. Your Corn Flakes, the lumber holding the ceiling above your head, your cattle and even you are biomass. Mankind has been using biomass since the beginning but now there is a common term for science and industry to use for organic material.

Biomass is classified by its source as primary, secondary or tertiary. Primary biomass is organic material that has not been processed. It includes such items as wheat in the field, corn in the bin and trees in the forest.

Secondary biomass is the material that remains after processing. It includes things such as sawdust, sunflower hulls and even manure. While secondary biomass often is referred to as a byproduct, as an economist, the word co-product is preferred. While the material may not be the primary profit generating stream, it still has value (positive or negative). In many cases, with a little research and development, value from those streams can be captured and mean the difference between making ends meet in trying times and shuttering a facility.

Tertiary biomass is post-consumer material. It includes things such as municipal solid waste, construction debris, as well as fats, oils and greases.

From biomass we produce bioproducts, which also is referred to as bio-based products. Bioproducts are any material made in whole or part with biomass. The list includes food, feed, fiber and building materials. Traditional uses of biomass, as well as biofuels, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals are growing in importance.

The definitions for bioenergy and biofuels are energy or fuel derived from biomass. These terms have become common during the last decade because ethanol and biodiesel have become major blending stocks for transportation fuels. However, remembering the broad scope of terms and the importance of traditional uses, we shouldn’t forget about the firewood that millions of Americans continue to use to heat their homes.

There you have them, the definitions for biomass, bioproducts, bioenergy and biofuels. My job at NDSU is to develop (research) and provide science-based knowledge (Extension Service) on the economics of producing, transporting, converting and marketing biomass into bioproducts that will assist farmers, developers, investors, bankers, businesses, communities and policymakers navigate the renewable economy.

NDSU Agriculture Communication – May 31, 2013

Source:David Ripplinger, (701) 231-5265, david.ripplinger@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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