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(704h) A Participatory Pilot Study On Awareness of Biomass Pyrolysis: Feedback From Two Upper-Cumberland Counties

Murillo, J. D., Tennessee Technological University
Biernacki, J. J., Tennessee Technological University

Government mandates and initiatives have prompted growth in all areas of the renewable energy sector in hopes of attaining national energy security, economic growth, and environmental sustainability. Of the various renewable energy resources, biomass-based energy is still the only meaningful route for producing liquid fuels, still in high-demand for transportation purposes. In addition to producing fuels, biomass-based processes are being honed to produce renewable chemicals for the lucrative and ever-expanding bioproducts industry, which is displacing many petroleum-based products. As technological advances in processing cellulosic biomass become a reality, a higher demand for various biomass feedstocks raises questions about supply logistics and sustainability. The new front-runners for biomass feedstock are waste products from agriculture, forestry, and municipalities; and energy crops, such as switchgrass, poplar, and camelina, which have to be grown, harvested and pre-processed. With all of the components that are factored into making biofuels from biomass, the most important and contentious questions are rarely raised. For instance, who will grow and provide these much needed feedstocks? And how will they be compensated? Somewhere along the logistical pathway to biofuels, the Nation’s farmer, its rural community, and agriculture were left out of the biofuels equation.  To explore the current knowledge and awareness of biofuels, 28 farmers and 14 facilitators from local farming communities in Tennessee provided information through informal question and answer sessions, and in questionnaire format.

                   A two-tiered participatory approach was taken to gather information from Scott and Putnam county farmers. The main goal of participatory research is to involve those who will be affected in all stages of the research; therefore, a focus group of 14 local conservationists was formed to uncover relevant questions and concerns that local growers may have with respect to changes brought about by a shift to a biofuels-centered agro-economy. The information gathered from the focus group was incorporated into a questionnaire administered at District Conservation meetings in Scott and Putnam counties following a brief presentation on biofuels given by the researcher. Many farmers were very aware of first generation biomass feedstock and fuels. However, the production of chemicals and non-ethanolic fuels were less familiar to the group. Many participants in both, the focus and community groups, were not familiar with pyrolysis as a biomass conversion process to fuel. The possibility of economic growth to their farming enterprise was the main driver for willingness to supply biomass residues and feedstock for biofuels production. Overall, this research showed that the farming community is open to the opportunity to participate if approached with transparency and equality.