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UMFK'S CENTER FOR RURAL SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AND FACULTY RECEIVE GRANT TO STUDY BIOMASS ENGERY IMPACT AND DEMAND

January 14, 2011

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The Center for Rural Sustainable Development at the University of Maine at Fort Kent has received a $45,000 grant to begin a study on the impacts of large-scale biomass energy resource development in the St. John Valley. 

The study, to be conducted by UMFK faculty and staff with collaborators from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and regional stakeholders beginning this semester, and with additional funding of $300,000 over the next three years, also will gauge the level of community acceptance of the biomass technology, along with its potential to meet consumer demand.
 
The federally-funded Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) and Sustainability Solutions Partners (SSP) have approved a planning grant application submitted by the Center. The plan is entitled: Biomass Energy Resources in the St. John Valley: Development Potential, Landscape Implications, and Replication Possibilities.
 
The approved proposal also calls for UMFK researchers to produce a “how-to” guide so that the research gathered in the St. John Valley may be replicated by other stakeholder groups, elsewhere.  The purpose of the research is:
 
·         To better understand the consequences of large-scale biomass energy resource development in the St. John Valley. It proposes to accomplish a land-use mapping research project that will translate the biomass requirements of the community
 
·         The work also will gauge the level of community acceptance and the potential to meet real consumer demand
 
·         Produce a “how-to” guide so that the research gathered may be replicated by others, outside of the St. John Valley
 
“With imported fossil fuels becoming less secure and heating oil prices rising, locally grown, processed, and distributed biomass fuels are becoming increasingly attractive. Using locally sourced biomass fuels will be good for the local economy and better for the environment if sustainable practices are adopted,” said Brian Kermath, director of the Center for Rural Sustainable Development.
 
THE RESEARCH
 
An important first step is to accurately gauge the volume of biomass needed and then to determine where it may be regionally harvested. In the end, researchers will generate maps that will reveal the locations and land use/land covers potentially available for meeting various levels of biomass energy demand.
 
DEMAND AND SUPPLY RESEARCH
 
The work will involve surveys, stakeholder meetings, and basic economic analyses to determine if the community is willing and/or able to achieve the highest sustainable level of biomass energy development in the region. 
 
EDUCATING STAKEHOLDERS
 
The purpose of developing educational materials based on the project is three-fold.
 
·         Accessible to a range of audiences from government administrators, to planners, to business owners and managers for planning and decision-making purposes
 
·         Available to teachers for the development of classroom instruction
 
·         Accurately document the process for replication
 
Spring Semester 2011 PLANNING ACTIVITIES
 
The planning phase of the project will run through August, and will involve collecting the data necessary to complete a three-year integrated research project. It will include designing internships for UMFK students to assist with biomass inventories, beginning in February. The data to be collected includes:
 
·         Accurately determine the amount of energy consumed in the region for thermal applications (i.e., area and/or water heat)
 
·         Determine the likely agricultural and forest resource options for the region
 
·         Identifying and engaging stakeholder groups
 
The information will allow the team to determine the number and kinds of internships to set up during the coming months.
 
The planning effort will: identify key areas of energy consumption; identify and inventory industrial production assets; determine the availability of appliances to serve consumers; determine the willingness of consumers to buy biomass energy resources; and price projections.
 
SUPPLY AND DEMAND RESEARCH
 
Planning also will identify relevant stakeholder groups; determine the best methods for engagement; begin the process of survey design; and determine the kinds of student internships.
 
THE VALUE OF PROJECT’S RESULTS
 
The biomass energy project coincides with UMFK’s move toward a renewable energy future that strongly relies on the use of Maine-based biomass fuels and other renewable energy resources. The results of the project also will be of considerable interest to government agencies, businesses, and landowners.
 
 
EPSCoR is a federal program directed at states that have historically received lesser amounts of federal research and development (R&D) funding. Through the program, states develop partnerships between higher education institutions, industry, government, and others, to effect lasting improvements in their R&D infrastructure, capacity, and national competitiveness.