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West Virginia Finds Boon in Biomass

The Mountain State showcases its entrepreneurial foundation by investing in biomass research and technology that is expanding its energy portfolio.

Area Development Online Research Desk (2/9/2011)
West Virginia is taking advantage of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) three-year moratorium on greenhouse gas permit requirements associated with burning biofuels. As a result, the state is investing time, talent, and dollars in biomass fuel research and technologies, according to an article in the Register-Herald of Beckley, West Virginia.

Known for its history of coal mining, the state is utilizing existing, unused coal mines to plan its next generation of sustainable energy projects - especially biomass.

EPA Postponement
The EPA decided in January to defer for three years applications for pre-construction permitting requirements for biomass carbon dioxide emissions. This time will allow the EPA to research the scientific and technical concerns of biogenic carbon dioxide emissions.

Besides using the deferment to investigate biofuels, West Virginia is pursuing additional government avenues towards research and development. At West Virginia University (WVU), researchers studying the combination of wood biomass with coal are seeking a Department of Energy grant that will fund a project on co-gasification, which transforms a combination of wood and coal into transportation fuel.

State Energy Perspective
The state's energy industry remains diversified, but it is vigorously pursuing biomass. At Marshall University, the Center for Environmental, Geotechnical and Applied Sciences (CEGAS) is partnering with the West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center and the West Virginia Office of Coalfield Community Development to reclaim old coal surface mines for sustainable energy projects.

Building on its coal-mining past, research is underway to see if vegetation used for biomass fuel can grow on land that once supported mines, and if biomass can be combined with coal.

"The idea there is that this [giant reeds] is another type of biomass crop that might be able to grow on surface mines sites where you have poor soil conditions," George Carico, CEGAS environmental manager and West Virginia Brownfields Assistance program coordinator tells the Register-Herald.

Additionally, "You could actually blend it with the existing coal that is going into the power plants," Carico says.

WVU is conducting its own research on combining coal and wood into an eco-friendly fuel. Staffers there say the new fuel form could provide a double antidote that helps alleviate global warming and creates jobs.

"We have a lot of biomass here, a renewable resource, and a lot of coal," Jingxin Wang, a WVU associate professor and research team member, tells the Register-Herald. "Biomass can mitigate greenhouse gas emission with coal. There's a lot of potential."
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