This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

March 02, 2005

Utilities Pursue Biomass Power in Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia

Photo of a tractor-trailer truck dumping a pile of wood chips on the ground, with a power plant in the background.

A truck dumps wood chips at a biomass power plant in Vermont. A similar plant is planned for Arizona.
Credit: Dave Parsons

Salt River Project (SRP)—a utility providing power to Phoenix, Arizona—announced in February that it will purchase 10 megawatts of power from a wood-fired power plant to be built near Snowflake, in east-central Arizona. Snowflake White Mountain Power, LLC plans to build a 15- to 20-megawatt power plant that will derive at least 80 percent of its power from forest thinnings in Arizona. See the SRP press release.

Atlanta-based Southern Company has been making use of switchgrass—a native prairie grass that grows well in the South—at two of its plants since spring of 2001. In separate tests conducted at Alabama Power's Gadsden power plant and Georgia Power's Mitchell power plant, switchgrass was co-fired with coal to quantify the impact on environmental emissions and to determine the best method for handling it. Based on the successful results achieved from those preliminary tests, Southern Company committed to a three-year demonstration of biomass co-firing at the Gadsden power plant. Southern Company also announced on February 25th that it is working with the Electric Power Research Institute and the Tennessee Valley Authority on a two-year project to test a process for gasifying wood. The project will involve grinding up the wood, feeding it into a high-pressure gasifier, and evaluating the quality of the wood-derived gas, which could be used to power a gas turbine generator. See the Southern Company press release.

Meanwhile, researchers at the State University of New York (SUNY) hope to convert wood into an entirely different form of energy: ethanol fuel. The researchers have developed a process to extract from wood the sugar xylan, which can be fermented into ethanol. The process can also yield acetic acid, a valuable chemical, as a byproduct. See the SUNY press release.