California faces a broad set of challenges when it comes to reducing wildfires, which have been increasingly frequent and intense over the last decade — impacting the lives of those dealing with the threat, not to mention effects on the economy and environment. Separately, the state has been working to reduce transportation-related pollution and incentivize the development and use of a wide array of alternative fuels. Yosemite Clean Energy (YCE), which announced plans for its first plant site in late 2021, has an approach it says will not only make the state a cleaner and safer place but also foster the development of new transportation fuels. In today’s RBN blog, we look at YCE’s plans to turn wood waste into renewable fuels, how its unique “Stump to Pump” approach relies on partnerships with local communities, and the green hydrogen and renewable natural gas it plans to produce at sites across California.
As we noted in Space Oddity, a previous blog that examined ways to turn California’s biomass problem into an energy solution, the state had more than 60 biomass-fueled power plants operating as recently as the 1990s, but there are only about 30 direct-combustion plants running today, according to the California Energy Commission. The biomass sector has been hurt over the past decade by a combination of low natural gas prices, expiring power purchase agreements (PPAs), and the greatly expanded use of less-expensive wind and solar, as well as concerns about emissions from the traditional method of burning biomass.
With fewer alternatives to dispose of agricultural waste, some farmers have opted to just burn it instead, putting even more greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) voted last year to phase out all agricultural waste burning in the state’s Central Valley by 2025, so finding an outlet for that material is a priority. Overall safety is another concern. The biomass plants still operating in the state largely rely on the smaller trees and brush that can fuel wildfires, which have been especially frequent and severe recently, burning about 40% of the state’s national forest acreage over the past decade. But with fewer plants in operation, it has been difficult to successfully manage the state’s forests and reduce that fire risk. California’s total estimated biomass resource potential is 35 million bone dry tons (BDT — yes, that’s a real unit of measurement) of forest and farm wood waste per year, according to YCE, but the state’s existing plants can handle just a fraction of that, with the rest left to burn, decay and decompose — all of which releases GHGs — which means there’s a lot of potential to do more.
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