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Biofuels A Michigan coal-fired power plant is converting to biomass.

Published on November 30th, 2009 | by Tina Casey

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Another One Bites the Dust: Michigan Coal Plant Converts to Biomass

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November 30th, 2009 by  

A Michigan coal-fired power plant is converting to biomass.In yet another indication that the days of king coal are numbered, another coal-fired power plant in the U.S. is converting to biomass.  Michigan’s L’Anse Warden Electric Company purchased an existing coal, oil, and natural gas power plant and promptly made the switch in order to engage in some sustainable synergy with a nearby manufacturing operation of the CertainTeed Corporation.

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The CertainTeed facility will get the benefit of using electricity with a lower carbon footprint than coal.  It will also give something back.  The factory will recycle its formerly landfilled scrap by sending it to the Warden power plant for fuel, and that’s just the tip of the sustainable iceberg.

CertainTeed and Coal-to-Biomass

Aside from the Michigan plant, CertainTeed has 6,000 employees in more than 65 factories in the U.S. and Canada.  Its home base, though, is in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.  The location is significant because Pennsylvania is coal country, and when one of a coal state’s major corporate citizens gives coal the brush-off, it’s a clear indication that fossil fuels are losing their stranglehold on the rest of the industrial community.

CertainTeed and Sustainability

CertainTeed is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, and it provides a glimpse into a more sustainable future for manufacturing.  In addition to biomass electricity, CertainTeed’s Michigan plant will get excess steam from the Warden facility for its production process, replacing the natural gas it previously used to manufacture ceiling tiles.  But wait, there’s more.  In 2008  the factory produced more than 7,600 tons of soil booster for farms, the result of recycling inert sludge instead of sending it to landfills.  The plant also has a lifecycle approach to ceiling tile manufacturing, mixing a slurry made of old recycled ceiling tiles with virgin materials.

Coal vs. Biomass

Biomass is not without a carbon footprint of its own, but it can be a significantly smaller one than coal and it boasts a number of advantages that coal cannot claim.  For example, a coal-to-biomass conversion in Hawaii will help reduce energy-churning shipments of coal to the islands, while relieving a solid waste crisis by diverting local agricultural waste from landfills. And, a new biomass plant in Texas is expected to yield ash that is safe to recycle as soil booster – a far cry from the coal ash that is causing so many problems elsewhere.

Image: Open pit coal mine by Jen SFO-BCO on flickr.com.

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About the Author

Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



  • Steve

    Anybody that still thinks ethanol from corn, sugar, or cellulose is good and sustainable has their head in the sand. Think about this for a second. If all of these acres used to grow this biomass were instead reforested and we continued to burn fossil fuels, we would have a reduction in carbon emissions rather than an increase like this would cause. To even put a dent in the use of coal with biomass we would have to chop down every forest in the U.S. to turn into farmland. Sound sustainable?

  • Steve

    Anybody that still thinks ethanol from corn, sugar, or cellulose is good and sustainable has their head in the sand. Think about this for a second. If all of these acres used to grow this biomass were instead reforested and we continued to burn fossil fuels, we would have a reduction in carbon emissions rather than an increase like this would cause. To even put a dent in the use of coal with biomass we would have to chop down every forest in the U.S. to turn into farmland. Sound sustainable?

  • http://jimspaulding.wordpress.com Jim Spaulding

    All drawbacks aside, I say amen!

  • http://jimspaulding.wordpress.com Jim Spaulding

    All drawbacks aside, I say amen!

  • Mike Goldman

    BP)-Uses (VRNM)Proprietary Tech because =

    Three to four times more cellulosic ethanol

    from every acre of feedstock.combination

    SPEECH BY PHILIP NEW, CEO-(BP)-Bio-Fuels

    ETHANOL 2009 CONFERENCE, PARIS,

    BIOFUELS_THE ROLE OF ADVANCED BIOFUELS_AND WHY

    WE NEED TO GET THERE SOONER

    Thank you for the opportunity to join the

    discussion today on behalf of Biofuels.

    We believe this is necessary if biofuels are to

    fulfil their potential. Biofuels have a

    great future in the long term.

    Looking to cellulosic options, we have formed a

    JV called Vercipia Biofuels with

    Verenium Corporation,centred on the technology

    Verenium has developed to release the sugars

    locked up in the cell walls of the plant.

    It uses speciality enzymes and proprietary

    fermentation organisms to break solid

    cellulose down to a six-carbon sugar

    while five-carbon sugar is processed

    separately as a liquid. This enables us to use

    as much of the crop as possible.

    We’re also using very tall, high yielding

    grasses.

    This combination to deliver

    three to four times more cellulosic ethanol

    from every acre of feedstock.

    We are planning a commercial scale facility at

    Highlands Country Florida where

    we will produce 135m litres (36m gallons) a

    year from crops which we expect to

    yield 18-20 dry tonnes an acre.

    We expect to break ground in 2010 and be

    operating by 2012

  • Mike Goldman

    BP)-Uses (VRNM)Proprietary Tech because =

    Three to four times more cellulosic ethanol

    from every acre of feedstock.combination

    SPEECH BY PHILIP NEW, CEO-(BP)-Bio-Fuels

    ETHANOL 2009 CONFERENCE, PARIS,

    BIOFUELS_THE ROLE OF ADVANCED BIOFUELS_AND WHY

    WE NEED TO GET THERE SOONER

    Thank you for the opportunity to join the

    discussion today on behalf of Biofuels.

    We believe this is necessary if biofuels are to

    fulfil their potential. Biofuels have a

    great future in the long term.

    Looking to cellulosic options, we have formed a

    JV called Vercipia Biofuels with

    Verenium Corporation,centred on the technology

    Verenium has developed to release the sugars

    locked up in the cell walls of the plant.

    It uses speciality enzymes and proprietary

    fermentation organisms to break solid

    cellulose down to a six-carbon sugar

    while five-carbon sugar is processed

    separately as a liquid. This enables us to use

    as much of the crop as possible.

    We’re also using very tall, high yielding

    grasses.

    This combination to deliver

    three to four times more cellulosic ethanol

    from every acre of feedstock.

    We are planning a commercial scale facility at

    Highlands Country Florida where

    we will produce 135m litres (36m gallons) a

    year from crops which we expect to

    yield 18-20 dry tonnes an acre.

    We expect to break ground in 2010 and be

    operating by 2012

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