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Farm-based power and HVGE’s mobile pellet mill

February 1, 2011

November 8, 2010

The Hudson Valley, like many regions in the Northeast, is faced with loss of local producers and a lack of local energy. In a world economy currently based on the consumption of non-renewable hydrocarbons and faced with imminent Peak Oil, access to locally derived food and energy will be fundamental to our survival. We are fortunate to have so much arable land in the Northeast, now we just need a way to better sustain it. In the valley we are losing an alarming number of farming operations every year. For example, there were 250 dairy farms in Orange County in 1980- now there are 45. It’s entirely possible that there will be none in a matter of years. The reason we are losing so many producers is because it’s often not economical to farm on a smaller scale.

A growing demand and need for local, renewable energy presents an opportunity for producers to create a new revenue source: farm-based power. There is a range of technologies available, from soybean oil presses for biodiesel to anaerobic digesters for biogas energy. Many of these technologies are feasible on a smaller scale. My company’s work focuses on heating fuel pellets made from grasses.

Grass pellets are highly efficient and comparable in energy content to those made of wood. The technology for producing, transporting and combusting grass pellets is already in place thanks to the existing haying and wood pellet industries. The most significant advantage of grass pellets is that they can be made from left-over resources, instead of diverting something that is already in use. One of the biggest issues for grass pellets is that like all biomass, they are very dense and costly to transport. However, we can turn this into an advantage by using a mobile pelleting mill and keeping the resource local.

Hudson Valley Grass Energy (HVGE) is a non-profit operation committed to local, renewable energy and keeping farmers in the Hudson Valley. HVGE operates a fully mobile grass pellet mill, the first of its class to be in operation in the US. By keeping our operations fully mobile we remove the need for a middle man- the stationary mill, and put all profits into our producer’s hands. Our mill takes poor-quality hay and other agricultural byproducts that previously presented little or no value to the farmer, and converts it into high-quality heating fuel pellets. This represents a huge profit margin that can create significant income for producers. At the very least, a farmer can process a couple of tons of left over materials in order to heat their home all winter.

Utilizing grass and other farm-based energies will be a significant way of keeping our energy and economy local in farming regions throughout the Northeast. As with all emerging technologies, however, it is vital to open communication and collaboration between all parties involved in the development of this growing market. I look forward to continuing this conversation with all of you through this blog.

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