Old and New at the Keystone Farm Show
by Joanne Ivancic* (Advanced Biofuels USA) Advanced Biofuels USA has three overlapping reasons to attend and exhibit at the Keystone Farm Show: Educate attendees; Educate ourselves; Connect with people interested in joining the biofuels world.
For one, the organizers, Lee Publications, invite us to be there to provide information about biofuels to attendees. This is absolutely in tune with our educational mission and we thank them for the opportunity. We have developed some puzzle pages about the carbon cycle for the young students visiting the show; and provide older students with information about the resources on our website and answers all manner of questions from them and from the adults coming by.
When we began exhibiting in 2012 many visitors were hostile to biofuels and made a point to come by to tell us about the terrible things they had heard about biofuels. Some were curious. Others came by to talk about good experiences or expressed hope and appreciation of biofuels as energy security, energy independence. In the mid-Atlantic, biorefineries are few and far between, so few had direct contact with biofuels back in 2012.
Such a contrast to the conversations this year. Farmers were pleased to consider that if they were growing “corn and beans,” some of the oil extracted from the soybeans to make animal feed was likely used for biodiesel. Dairy farmers had looked into anaerobic digestion as part of their manure management options. Most found it too expensive now, but hadn’t ruled it out of their futures.
We also get the chance to visit the extensive “farm show for farmers” located in all the York Fairgrounds buildings plus some large tents. This year Bob Kozak observed more ventilation equipment displays, especially for dairy and poultry buildings. We planted seeds of thoughts with the solar exhibitors. Surely, these two groups should join together. With solar panels on the long building roofs powering the ventilation, there could be less stress on the grid and potential cost savings or income for the farms.
This year we were pleased with the number of people who had visited in previous years who returned to our booth to talk about the Delmarva energy beet-to-jetfuel project that was the subject of a USDA economic feasibility study we completed in 2017. A number of farmers are interested in planting energy beets for fuel and are eager for the research and infrastructure to be completed.
Others mentioned efforts a few years ago in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to establish sugar beets for ethanol production. The timing of that project with seeking financing coinciding with the fall in oil prices couldn’t have been good for that project. In addition, we pointed out that they planned to use only the sucrose from sugar beets as a feedstock, and did not include the cellulose, hemicellulose and pectin parts of the beet pulp that would be converted under the Delmarva proposal.
The mid-Atlantic has also looked at switchgrass as feedstock for biofuels. At the conference, we met with Will Brandeau of the Association of Warm Season Grass Producers. Although many grass growers are looking at a future market for biofuels and have studied the progress of gasification and pyrolysis projects, because those remain pre-commercial, growers have looked to selling switchgrass for animal bedding, poultry house bedding and to burn in boilers for heat. Brandeau sent a link to a US Department of Energy video from member Fred D. Circle, President and CEO of FDC Enterprises Inc. It highlights a project taking place around Elkton and Nottoway County, Virginia growing switchgrass as an alternative to growing tobacco as an environmental and economic benefit to the region.
It is always refreshing and renewing to start the year talking with so many savvy small business owners and employees, with students and people who bring interesting questions and fascinating stories to our table at the Keystone Farm Show. This year was no different.
*Joanne Ivancic serves as the executive director of Advanced Biofuels USA.
Photos: J. Ivancic