Towards Sustainable Biomass Energy

Biomass is one of the oldest and simplest ways of getting heat and energy, and it’s starting to make a comeback due to its status as renewable resource. Some, however, aren’t so sure that using more of it would be good for our environment. So, how sustainable is biomass energy really?

biomass-bales

What is Biomass?

Biomass is organic material from plants and animals. It naturally contains energy because plants absorb it from the sun through photosynthesis. When you burn biomass, it releases that energy. It’s also sometimes converted into a liquid or gas form before it is burned.

Biomass includes a wide variety of materials but includes:

About five percent of the United States’ energy comes from biomass. Biomass fuel products such as ethanol make up about 48 percent of that five percent while wood makes up about 41 percent and municipal waste accounts for around 11 percent.

The Benefits of Biomass

Biomass is a renewable resource because the plants that store the energy released when it is burned can be regrown continuously. In theory, if you planted the same amount of vegetation that you burned, it would be carbon neutral because the plants would absorb all of the carbon released. Doing this is, however, much easier said than done.

Another potential is that it serves as a use for waste materials that have are already been created. It adds value to what otherwise would be purely waste.

Additionally, many forms of biomass are also relatively low-tech energy sources, so they may be useful, or even required for older buildings that need an electrical renovation.

Drawbacks of Biomass

A major drawback of using biomass fuel is that it is not an efficient process. In fact, burning it can release even more carbon dioxide than burning the same amount of a fossil fuel.

While you can replenish the organic matter you burn, doing so requires complex crop or forest management and the use of a large amount of land.  Also, some biomass, such as wood, takes a long time to grow back. This amounts to a delay in carbon absorption. Additionally, the harvesting of biomass will likely involve some sort of emissions.

 Is it Sustainable?

So, is biomass energy sustainable? Measuring the environmental impacts of biomass fuel use has proven to be complex due to the high number of variables, which has led to a lot of disagreement about this question.

Some assert that biomass use cannot be carbon neutral, because even if you burned and planted the same amount of organic matter, harvesting it would still result in some emissions. This could perhaps be avoided if you used renewable energy to harvest it. A continuous supply of biomass would likely require it to be transported long distances, worsening the challenge of going carbon neutral.

With careful planning, responsible land management and environmentally friendly harvesting and distribution, biomass could be close to, if not entirely, carbon neutral and sustainable. Given our reliance on fossil fuels, high energy consumption levels and the limited availability of land and other resources, this would be an immense challenge to undertake and require a complete overhaul of our energy use.

How to Improve the Biomass Industry

Biomass could emerge as a major solution to our energy and sustainability issues, but it isn’t likely to be a comprehensive solution. There are some things we can do, though, to make biomass use more sustainable when we do use it.

  • Source locally: Using biomass that comes from the local area reduces the impact of distributing it.
  • Clean distribution: If you do transport biofuel long distances, using an electric or hybrid vehicles powered largely by clean energy would be the most eco-friendly way to do it. This also applies to transporting it short distances.

Measuring the environmental impacts of biomass fuel use is complex due to high number of variables

  • Clean harvesting: Using environmentally friendly, non-emitting means of harvesting can greatly reduce the impact of using biomass. This might also involve electric vehicles.
  • Manage land sustainably: For biomass to be healthy for the ecosystem, you must manage land used to grow it with responsible farming practices.
  • Focus on waste: Waste is likely the most environmentally friendly form of biomass because it uses materials that would otherwise simply decompose and doesn’t require you to grow any new resources for your fuel or energy needs.

Is biomass energy sustainable? It has the potential to be, but doing so would be quite complex and require quite a bit of resources. Any easier way to address the problem is to look at small areas of land and portions of energy use first. First, make that sustainable and then we may be able to expand that model on to a broader scale.

Biogas in Agriculture Sector in India: Key Challenges

Although the conversion of agriculture waste – cattle dung and crop residues –  to biogas and digested slurry is an established and well-proven technology in India, it has been under-used, probably because until recently, firewood was easily available and chemical fertilizer was relatively affordable to most of the farmers in India.

The National Biogas and Manure Management Programme (NBMMP) was put in place to lower the environmental degradation and prevent greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon dioxide and methane, into the atmosphere. However, this objective of the program is less likely to motivate the farmers and their families to install biogas plants.

This program rolled out by Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources (now Ministry of New and Renewable Energy), New Delhi, with heavy subsidies for family-type biogas plants to increase adoption, was successful with lakhs of biogas plants being installed across the country till now.

It was realised that due to poor dissemination of information and unsatisfactory communication about the plant operation & application of the digested biogas slurry, and unable to perceive the return in terms of value resulted in discontinuation of lakhs of biogas plants across the country.

The entire biogas technology marketing efforts failed to highlight major advantage – an increased revenue from agriculture with the use of high quality and a low-cost homegrown digested biogas slurry as fertiliser. Another advantage was to help farmers’ understand that their land quality and output per acre will increase over the years by the use of digested biogas slurry which has been degraded from the rampant use of chemical fertiliser and pesticides.

Challenges to be addressed

The farmer’s communities today are required to made to understand that their revenue from agriculture is decreasing year on year due to increasing deforestation, degradation of land quality, rampant use of chemical fertiliser and pesticides, lack of farm cattle, injudicious use of water for irrigation, and use heavy vehicles for ploughing.

These ill-advised decisions have made the farmers poorer, impacted the health of their families and the rural environment of villages. The years ahead are crucial if this trend is not reversed.

Unending benefits of biogas technology

Most of the rural and semi-urban areas have a poor perception of the Anaerobic Digestion (or biogas or biomethanation) technology. This technology offers benefits to all spheres of society but have a particular emphasis on the needs of the farmers in rural areas.

Farmers with dairy animals generally have free access to animal waste (dung), which provide input feed for the biogas digesters. Normally, these farmers stock-pile the dung obtained from their cattle as a plant fertilizer, but this has lower nitrogen content than the digested biogas slurry created by the biogas digestion process, which is odorless and makes a better fertilizer to substitute chemical fertilizers. They can use the gas for cooking or heating, for running power generators. The biogas technology helps farmers reduce their burden to buy LPG and harmful chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

In short, biogas technology is an integrated solution for sustainable agriculture, improving health and lowering environment degradation.

The promise of biogas technology

Biogas technology can help in the following manner:

  • Enhance bio-security for dairy animals – being fully fermented, bio-slurry is odorless and does not attract flies, repels termites and pests that are attracted to raw dung.
  • Provides high quality and low-cost homegrown fertiliser for sustainable agriculture.
  • Reduce energy poverty and ensure energy security.
  • Digested biogas slurry is an excellent soil conditioner with humic acid.
  • Save time for women for education and livelihood activities.
  • Increase forest cover as less firewood would be needed on a daily basis.
  • Reduce weed growth

Importance of Government Efforts

The agriculture sector is playing a major role in India economy and it comprises a huge vote bank. Our government has launched various initiatives like GOBAR-DHAN (Galvanizing Organic Bio-Agro Resources Dhan), Sustainable Alternative towards Affordable Transportation (SATAT), and New National Biogas and Organic Manure Programme (NNBOMP) in attempt to revive interest in biogas technology for farmers and entrepreneurs.

rice-straw-biogas

Agricultural residues, such as rice straw, are an important carbon source for anaerobic digestion

These initiatives are aimed at developmental efforts that would benefit the farmers, vehicle-users, and entrepreneurs. These initiatives also hold a great promise for efficient solid waste management and tackling problems of indoor air pollution caused by use of firewood, deforestation and methane gas release in the atmosphere due to open piling of cattle dung.

These initiatives aren’t marketing the value which solves a major challenge – degradation of agriculture land for farming in rural India. The initiative and efforts are majorly focused on waste management, environment and towards behavioral change. These changes are of global importance and can be managed effortlessly by generating tangible results for farmers.

India has an aspiring young workforce which is moving to urban settlements in hope for better opportunities, therefore, productivity and revenue from agriculture needs to grow. The biogas sector in India can restore agriculture productivity and strengthen revenue to make it attractive.

Biogas from Crop Wastes vs Energy Crops: European Perspectives

Most, if not all of Europe has a suitable climate for biogas production. The specific type of system depends on the regional climate. Regions with harsher winters may rely more on animal waste and other readily available materials compared to warmer climates, which may have access to more crop waste or organic material.

biogas-crop

Regardless of suitability, European opinions vary on the most ethical and appropriate materials to use for biogas production. Multiple proponents argue biogas production should be limited to waste materials derived from crops and animals, while others claim crops should be grown with the intention of being used for biogas production.

Biogas Production From Crops

Europeans in favor of biogas production from energy crops argue the crops improve the quality of the soil. Additionally, they point to the fact that biogas is a renewable energy resource compared to fossil fuels. Crops can be rotated in fields and grown year after year as a sustainable source of fuel.

Extra crops can also improve air quality. Plants respire carbon dioxide and can help reduce harmful greenhouse gasses in the air which contribute to global climate change.

Energy crops can also improve water quality because of plant absorption. Crops grown in otherwise open fields reduce the volume of water runoff which makes it to lakes, streams and rivers. The flow of water and harmful pollutants is impeded by the plants and eventually absorbed into the soil, where it is purified.

Urban residents can also contribute to biogas production by growing rooftop or vertical gardens in their homes. Waste from tomatoes, beans and other vegetables is an excellent source of biogas material. Residents will benefit from improved air quality and improved water quality as well by reducing runoff.

Proponents of biogas production from crops aren’t against using organic waste material for biogas production in addition to crop material. They believe crops offer another means of using more sustainable energy resources.

Biogas Production From Agricultural Waste

Opponents to growing crops for biogas argue the crops used for biogas production degrade soil quality, making it less efficient for growing crops for human consumption. They also argue the overall emissions from biogas production from crops will be higher compared to fossil fuels.

Growing crops can be a labor-intensive process. Land must be cleared, fertilized and then seeded. While crops are growing, pesticides and additional fertilizers may be used to promote crop growth and decrease losses from pests. Excess chemicals can run off of fields and degrade the water quality of streams, lakes and rivers and kill off marine life.

Once crops reach maturity, they must be harvested and processed to be used for biogas material. Biogas is less efficient compared to fossil fuels, which means it requires more material to yield the same amount of energy. Opponents argue that when the entire supply chain is evaluated, biogas from crops creates higher rates of emissions and is more harmful to the environment.

Agricultural residues, such as rice straw, are an important carbon source for anaerobic digestion

In Europe, the supply chain for biogas from agricultural waste is more efficient compared to crop materials. Regardless of whether or not the organic waste is reused, it must be disposed of appropriately to prevent any detrimental environmental impacts. When crop residues are used for biogas production, it creates an economical means of generating useful electricity from material which would otherwise be disposed of.

Rural farms which are further away from the electric grid can create their own sources of energy through biogas production from agriculture wastes as well. The cost of the energy will be less expensive and more eco-friendly as it doesn’t have the associated transportation costs.

Although perspectives differ on the type of materials which should be used for biogas production, both sides agree biogas offers an environmentally friendly and sustainable alternative to using fossil fuels.

Bagasse-Based Cogeneration in Pakistan: Challenges and Opportunities

Considering the fact that Pakistan is among the world’s top-10 sugarcane producers, the potential of generating electricity from bagasse is huge.  Almost all the sugar mills in Pakistan have in-house plants for cogeneration but they are inefficient in the consumption of bagasse. If instead, high pressure boilers are installed then the production capacity can be significantly improved with more efficient utilization of bagasse.

bagasse-pakistan

However, due to several reasons; mostly due to financing issues, the sugar mill owners were not able to set up these plants. Only recently, after financial incentives have been offered and a tariff rate agreed upon between the government and mill owners, are these projects moving ahead.

The sugar mill owners are more than willing to supply excess electricity generated form the in-house power plants to the national grid but were not able to before, because they couldn’t reach an agreement with the government over tariff. The demand for higher tariff was justified because of large investments in setting up new boilers. It would also have saved precious foreign exchange which is spent on imported oil.

By estimating the CDM potential of cogeneration (or CHP) projects based on biofuels, getting financing for these projects would be easier. Renewable energy projects can be developed through Carbon Development Mechanism or any other carbon credit scheme for additional revenue.

Since bagasse is a clean fuel which emits very little carbon emissions it can be financed through Carbon Development Mechanism. One of the reasons high cogeneration power plants are difficult to implement is because of the high amount of costs associated. The payback period for the power plants is unknown which makes the investors reluctant to invest in the high cogeneration project. CDM financing can help improve the rate of return of the project.

Bagasse power plants generate Carbon Emission Reductions in 2 ways; one by replacing electricity produced from fossil fuels.  Secondly if not used as a fuel, it would be otherwise disposed off in an unsafe manner and the methane emissions present in biomass would pollute the environment far more than CO2 does.

Currently there are around 83 sugar mills in Pakistan producing about 3.5 million metric tons of sugar per annum with total crushing capacity 597900 TCD, which can produce approximately 3000 MW during crop season Although it may seem far-fetched at the moment, if the government starts to give more attention to  sugar industry biomass rather than coal, Pakistan can fulfill its energy needs without negative repercussions or damage to the environment.

However some sugar mills are opting to use coal as a secondary fuel since the crushing period of sugarcane lasts only 4 months in Pakistan. The plants would be using coal as the main fuel during the non-crushing season. The CDM effect is reduced with the use of coal. If a high cogeneration plant is using even 80% bagasse and 20% of coal then the CERs are almost nullified. If more than 20% coal is used then the CDM potential is completely lost because the emissions are increased. However some sugar mills are not moving ahead with coal as a secondary fuel because separate tariff rates have to be obtained for electricity generation if coal is being used in the mix which is not easily obtained.

Pakistan has huge untapped potential for bagasse-based power generation

One of the incentives being offered by the State Bank of Pakistan is that if a project qualifies as a renewable project it is eligible to get loan at 6% instead of 12%. However ones drawback is that, in order to qualify as a renewable project, CDM registration of a project is not taken into account.

Although Pakistan is on the right track by setting up high cogeneration power plants, the use of coal as a secondary fuel remains debatable.  The issue that remains to be addressed is that with such huge amounts of investment on these plants, how to use these plants efficiently during non-crushing period when bagasse is not available. It seems almost counter-productive to use coal on plants which are supposed to be based on biofuels.

Conclusion

With the demand for energy in Pakistan growing, the country is finally exploring alternatives to expand its power production. Pakistan has to rely largely on fossils for their energy needs since electricity generation from biomass energy sources is considered to be an expensive option despite abundance of natural resources. However by focusing on growing its alternate energy options such as bagasse-based cogeneration, the country will not only mitigate climate change but also tap the unharnessed energy potential of sugar industry biomass.

Bioethanol Sector in India: Major Challenges To Overcome

Global demand for fuel efficiency, environmental quality and energy security have elicited global attention towards liquid biofuels, such as bioethanol and biodiesel. Around the world, governments have introduced various policy measurements, mandatory fuel blending programmes, incentives for flex fuel vehicles and agricultural subsidies for the farmers.

In India, the government launched Ethanol Blended Petrol (EBP) programme in January 2013 for 5% ethanol blended petrol. The policy had significant focus on India’s opportunity to agricultural and industrial sectors with motive of boosting biofuel (bioethanol and biodiesel) usage and reducing the existing dependency on fossil fuel.

bioethanol india

The Government of India initiated significant investments in improving storage and blending infrastructure. The National Policy on Biofuels has set a target of 20% blending of biofuel by 2017. However, India has managed to achieve only 5% by September 2016 due to certain technical, market and regulatory hurdles.

In India, sugarcane molasses is the major resource for bioethanol production and inconsistency of raw material supply holds the major liability for sluggish response to blending targets.  Technically speaking, blend wall and transportation-storage are the major challenges towards the biofuel targets. Blending wall is the maximum percent of ethanol that can be blended to fuel without decreasing the fuel efficiency.

Various vehicles are adaptable to various blending ratio based on the flexibility of engines. The technology for the engine modification for flex fuel is not new but making the engines available in India along with the supply chain and calibrating the engine for Indian conditions is the halting phase. The commonly used motor vehicles in the country are not effectual with flex fuel.

Sugarcane molasses is the most common feedstock for bioethanol production in India

Sugarcane molasses is the most common feedstock for bioethanol production in India

Ethanol being a highly flammable liquid marks obligatory safety and risk assessment measures during all phases of production, storage and transportation. The non-uniform distribution of raw material throughout the country, demands a compulsory transportation and storage, especially inter-state movement, encountering diverse climatic and topographic conditions.

Major bioethanol consumers in India are potable liquor sector (45%), alcohol based chemical industry (40%), the rest for blending and other purposes. The yearly profit elevation in major sectors is a dare to an economical ethanol supply for Ethanol Blending Programme. Drastic fluctuation in pricing of sugar cane farming and sugar milling resulted to huge debt to farmers by mill owners. Gradually the farmers shifted from sugarcane cultivation other crops.

Regulatory and policy approaches on excise duty on storage and transportation of ethanol and pricing strategy of ethanol compared to crude oil are to be revised and implemented effectively. Diversifying the feedstocks (especially use of lignocellulosic biomass) and advanced technology for domestic ethanol production in blending sectors are to be fetched out from research laboratories to commercial scale. Above all the knowledge of economic and environmental benefits of biofuel like reduction in pollutants and import bills and more R&D into drop-in biofuels, need to be amplified for the common man.

How to Reduce the Establishment Costs of Miscanthus

Miscanthus has been lauded as a dynamic high potential biomass energy crop for some time now due to its high yields, low input requirements and perennial nature. Miscanthus is commonly used as a biomass fuel to produce heat and electricity through combustion, but studies have found that miscanthus can produce similar biogas yields to maize when harvested at certain times of the year.  Miscanthus is a C4 grass closely related to maize and sugarcane, it can grow to heights of three metres in a single growing season.

Miscanthus-Elephant-Grass

High Establishment Costs

However, The high cost of growing miscanthus has impeded its popularity. High establishment costs of miscanthus are as a result of the sterile nature of the crop, which means that miscanthus cannot be propagated from seed and instead must be propagated from vegetative material.

The vegetative material commonly used is taken from the root structure known as rhizomes; rhizome harvesting is a laborious process and when combined with low multiplication rates, results in a high cost for miscanthus rhizomes. The current figure based on Irish figures is €1,900 ha for rhizomes.

Promising Breakthrough

Research conducted in Teagasc Oak Park Carlow Ireland, suggests that there may be a cost effective of method of propagating miscanthus by using the stem as the vegetative material rather than having to dig up expensive rhizomes. The system has been proven in a field setting over two growing seasons and plants have been shown to be perennial.

A prototype miscanthus planter suitable for commercial up scaling has been developed to sow stem segments of miscanthus. Initial costs are predicted at €130 ha for plant material. The image below shows the initial stem that was planted in a field setting and the shoots, roots, and rhizome developed by the stem at the end of the first growing season.

miscanthus-stem

Feedstock for AD Plants

Switching from maize to miscanthus as a feedstock for anaerobic digestion plants would increase profitability and boost the GHG abatement credentials of the systems. Miscanthus is a perennial crop which would provide a harvest every year once established for 20 years in a row without having to be replanted compared to maize which is replanted every year. This would provide an obvious economic saving as well as allowing carbon sequestration in the undisturbed soil.

There would be further GHG savings from the reduced diesel consumption required for the single planting as opposed to carrying out heavy seedbed cultivation each year for maize. Miscanthus harvested as an AD feedstock would also alleviate soil compaction problems associated with maize production through an earlier harvest in more favourable conditions.

Future Perspectives

Miscanthus is a nutrient efficient crop due to nutrient cycling. With the onset of senescence nutrients in the stem are transferred back to the rhizome and over-wintered for the following year’s growth. However the optimum date to harvest biomass to produce biogas is before senescence.

This would mean that a significant proportion of the plants nutrient stores would be removed which would need to be replaced. Fertiliser in the form of digestate generated from a biogas plant could be land spread to bridge nutrient deficiencies. However additional more readily available chemical N fertiliser may have to be applied.

Some work at Oak Park on September harvested miscanthus crops has seen significant responses from a range of N application rates. With dwindling subsidies to support anaerobic digestion finding a low cost perennial high yielding feedstock could be key to ensuring economic viability.

How Farmers Are Using Water Conservation

There is a quote attributed to Mark Twain: “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.” Water has always been the first and most precious resource for any community.

Mark Twain would have seen this along the Mississippi River and the towns and farms it supplied. Then he would observe the role water played in the West when he followed the pioneers out to California and Nevada in the 1860s.

In modern times, no one knows better how vital water is to all of us than farmers. They need to keep their crops alive and flourishing but also be sure they are protecting their water source for all the dry seasons to come.

Farms, both big and small, are becoming examples for harnessing and preserving this life-giving resource.

100 Years of Water Use in Northern California

Farmers have come a long way in their ability to use water wisely. Take a typical family in Northern California. Many from this region have been farming the same 100 acres of land on the Sacramento River for 105 years.

Through three generations, the family has had horses, grapes, apples, nectarines, and apricots on the property. But the main crop has only changed once: peaches until the 1950s, and prunes to the current day.

The current farmers have a particular interest in water conservation. They have educated themselves on the best irrigation methods for crops in this area of the country.

Flooding the Crop

In the beginning, like all the farms in the area, farmers would water their crops with flood irrigation when the ground was dry. A pump would deliver water from a well into one field at a time. Water would stay in the field inside boundaries of built-up earth, and seep down to the roots.

Flood irrigation is simple and requires minimal equipment, but for most crops, it is an inefficient use of water. Often, it used about four acre-feet of water per year.

Sprinklers

To use less water and gain a little more precision about where the water went, farmers switched to a system of pipes and sprinklers. Workers would move large metal pipes from one section of the orchard to the next. They hooked the pipes up to the pump and pointed the spray directly onto the trees.

The sprinkler method used about three acre-feet of water per year. A significant improvement, but still not as efficient as they would like to be in a place where water supply is always at risk.

Hose and Drip

Now, the orchards used drip irrigation. The farmers lay flexible black roll pipe directly along the rows of trees, lining up the holes with the tree roots. Water goes only to the trees and is no longer watering all the weeds in the spaces between the rows.

The drip irrigation system has reduced water use to one acre-foot of water per year on some California farms. Combine this simple but efficient system with modern sensors to measure real-time water output, and every single drop of water is put to work.

Using Modern Tools to Measure Water

Finding the right method of water delivery for the land is the first and most significant step to managing your water source wisely. But modern-day farmers don’t stop there.

Tracking Where the Water Is

Farmers across the country use tools installed on their property to understand what the water is doing precisely on their land.

Ground sensors at one, two, three, and four feet deep in the soil track where the water level is below the surface. Ground sensors can be part of a tool such as a DTN ag weather station, which can send current moisture data and weather readings from each field.

A weather station can also tell the farmer what the soil temperature is, and how quickly the water is leaving their land and crops through evapotranspiration.

A pressure bomb can tell a farmer exactly how much water is available to a tree. Just before dawn, he takes a piece of plant and puts it inside the pressure bomb chamber. He then slowly adds pressurized gas until water comes out of the leaf or plant.

If it took too long for the pressure to extract water, the farmer knows his plants are not getting the supply they need. Taking a measurement predawn is usually the most indicative of how much moisture the plant has access to overall. However, farmers will often take a sample midday to learn about the stress level of the plant when the sun is the hottest.

Using Tools to Know the Weather

Every farmer knows the most valuable tool they have in conserving water is understanding the weather patterns in their area. The most efficient irrigation system is still wasting water if they spend one day saturating their crop, then watch the rain falling for free the next.

Organizations like the California Irrigation Management Information System will give access to weather data collected from a system of weather stations throughout a designated area. Farmers can learn things like:

  • How much water their kind of crop has used in their area
  • What the precipitation pattern has been in the past
  • What the weather is likely to do next.

Many farms see value in investing in weather stations directly on their property. Knowing precisely what the crop needs, and whether there will be rain soon, can save the farm thousands of dollars each day. And as more farmers become experts on what the water is doing on their land, they can work together to preserve the water in their area.

Taking Advantage of Water Education in Nebraska

The states of the Great Plains know how precious water can be. Eight states draw their water from the Ogallala Aquifer, stretching across 175,000 square miles. The U.S. Geological Survey states the aquifer level has dropped an average of 16 feet in the last several decades.

When the aquifer was being formed about 10 million years ago, it was fed by runoff into its western edge by the Rockies. That water source has since been closed off by erosion, and the water level depends solely on precipitation.

Farmers are Becoming Experts on Water Behavior

The farmers who depend on the Ogallala Aquifer know the urgency of using the water they have wisely. That’s why 1,500 farmers and cooperators have joined the Nebraska Agricultural Water Management Network (NAWMN).

The NAWMN is a knowledge-sharing group that tests out water-saving technologies. They share their experiences with types of irrigation, water sensors, erosion-reducing crops, and soil, among many other water-related topics. They are educating each other, and everyone who draws from the Ogallala aquifer will benefit.

Many farms in Nebraska use pivot irrigation to bring water to their crops. Long pipes on wheels suspended over that crop rotate around a center pivot, creating the circular fields easy to spot from an airplane.

Pivot irrigation has been around for 50 years, but low-pressure nozzles and water sensors in the ground are making them more efficient than ever before.

When the surface of the ground starts to look dry, it’s natural to think it’s time to begin supplementing the crop’s water supply. But if ground sensors are saying the roots are still drinking, the sprinklers can wait a few more days.

A farmer can save about $2,000 for every 2 inches of water he doesn’t use. And that water stays where it is, ready to use on an even drier day.

Backing up Instinct

Strong instinct has always been an indispensable trait of a successful farmer. Farmers who know their land, their crops and their weather will have a much better chance of success. Today’s farmers know that. They still rely on their gut, but thanks to modern technologies, they can make informed decisions better than ever before.

Top Technologies and Practices for Sustainable Forestry and Agriculture

Innovative technologies can help improve the resilience of different industries. Agriculture and forestry are no exception. In this piece, you will find out whether you can take care of the health of the fields, detect common tree diseases promptly and save resources without harming the environment.

Sustainability and Technologies

At first glance, digital technologies and environmental sustainability are mutually exclusive concepts since common development factors do not link them. Technological changes are aimed at increasing production efficiency using artificial intelligence, IoT, and robotics. Environmental sustainability is promoted by a combination of several factors associated with geopolitical instability, deteriorating climatic conditions, and the environment.

The business will not cover all the needs of a growing population for food and services by simply increasing production. Social and environmental problems of the modern world can be solved only with the help of innovative technologies. The combination of digital innovation and environmental sustainability can help address these challenges. In addition, this combination is an excellent way for a business to stand out and consolidate its viability among clients and related organizations. Indeed, sustainable practices and digital technologies may be an integral part of any business. This combination can provide the company with higher income at lower costs while providing a positive customer experience.

Sustainable Forestry

Humanity needs the resources that the forest provides. Sustainable forestry involves  forest management and caring for its health. It is vital to save the forest as a separate ecosystem and habitat for many animals and so that the essential resources remain for future generations.

sustainable forestry

1. Forest Health and Forest Management

Various sustainable forest management practices are tailored for each area. One of the basic methods is to check the regeneration. It means that you need to make sure you have enough tree sprouts, natural seeds and seedlings.  Excessive populations of certain species of animals can lead to the destruction of young trees as they eat them. In such cases, people can install a fence. If there is little sunlight in the forest, some trees can be removed, as can weeds, which grow and take up a significant portion of the nutrients or water.

Sustainable forestry practices also include caring for wet areas and forest streams. Do not allow much soil to enter the water, as it can harm aquatic organisms. Large pipes should control rain flow to prevent erosion of exposed soil in areas where trees have been felled.

Caring for the health of the forest is another challenge for sustainable forest management. The extinction of a large number of trees testifies to the health problems of the woods. They can be caused by insect pests, diseases, wildfires, or unfavorable weather conditions. Sustainable forestry is concerned with promoting health and reducing negative health factors.

2. Precision Forestry

Precision forestry relies on various innovative technologies, including drones, soil sensors, drones, and laser scanning. However, this concept is not limited only to the introduction of technologies. Still, it means a transition from an analog control system to a system with operational control and digital data collection.

The technologies of precision forestry are designed to improve management. With their help, you can optimize the decision-making process, relying on advanced analytics. Better data collection goes hand in hand with more control over various operations, automation of production, and better meeting the needs of the forest, for example, when it comes to nutrients or soil moisture.

Sustainable Agriculture

The agricultural sector, as well as the use of forest resources, is necessary for humanity. However, the use of harmful farming practices, including the release of agricultural waste, is detrimental to the environment. Sustainable agriculture exists to minimize the negative impact on the environment. It offers the use of environmentally friendly technologies and methods.

compost-organic-waste-farming

The concept of safe food using organic waste generated compost is getting traction.

1. Irrigation

Smart irrigation systems can go beyond just providing timely watering and reporting soil moisture levels and temperatures so growers can effectively care for their crops. Many plants have specific requirements for these parameters. Special sensors inform farmers about the need to change the growing environment depending on the temperature conditions while reducing water loss.

2. Biotechnology

Thanks to biotechnology, breeders can develop plants with specific traits using more precise methods with faster results. Scientists are also working on plants that use water more efficiently and can thrive even in drought conditions. Biotechnology also contributes to higher yields, as breeders by editing the genes of plants make them more resistant to various diseases. It also has great potential in animal husbandry.

sustainable agriculture

3. Data and Software

The Internet of Things has a significant impact on the sustainability of agriculture, and it is through this technology, farmers can use intelligent irrigation systems or livestock health trackers. Software and sensors transmit data to a central system, from where farmers receive information. You can make more effective decisions based on the obtained data regarding the health of the crops, and therefore save resources.

How to Minimize Air Pollution While Growing Cannabis

As the medical marijuana, recreational marijuana and CBD markets each grow into multi-billion dollar industries, the demand for cannabis is at an all-time high — and canny entrepreneurs across the country are starting commercial cannabis grow operations in earnest. However, institutions like the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) are studying the potential effects of cannabis farms on air pollution and finding worrying results.

Aurora, Colorado, which is the second most popular locality in the nation for commercial cannabis farming operations, currently has the country’s 8th worst air quality according to the American Lung Association. The CDPHE asserts that this has much to do with cannabis farms and their output of what are known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.

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What are VOCs, and why are they a problem?

VOCs are naturally released by a wide range of plant life, and are generally harmless on their own. An example of well-known VOCs are terpenes, which are present in everything from lavender to black peppercorns. The terpene profiles of different cannabis strains give them their respective identities, like the Lime OG strain which is incredibly popular among consumers.

The problem with VOCs occurs when they combine with combustion gases and become harmful to the ozone. Cannabis farms are commonly positioned along stretches of highway, with frequent car traffic through all times of day. This makes them uniquely problematic, as unlike other VOC-emitting plants like lavender, they are positioned to release VOCs en masse to combine with automobile exhaust and produce air pollution.

We can’t alter the release of VOCs in agriculturally and industrially-grown crops like marijuana at present, but there are ways farmers can offset these emissions with the use of environmentally-friendly alternatives to onsite operations. In this post, we go over three important examples of how cannabis farms can reduce or counter their own VOC emissions with little to no impact on productivity.

Strategic Positioning of Cannabis Farms Using Road Hierarchy

The first and most obvious step that can be taken to reduce the harmful interaction of VOCs produced by cannabis farms with motor vehicle exhaust is to position them along less traffic-intensive roads. The current road hierarchy within the United States and Canada is as follows:

  • Freeways are categorized as interstate or intercity roads, limited access roads and on- and off-ramps.
  • Arterial roads are designed to accommodate plenty of traffic throughout the day, and are subdivided into minor and major arterials for urban and rural areas respectively.
  • Collector roads are the convergence points for local roads, ultimately distributing local street traffic to different arterials.
  • Local roads carry low traffic volume and can typically be found in residential areas or specialized districts. In rural areas, these are sometimes unpaved depending on budgetary constraints or development timelines.

Cannabis-friendly states like California, Oregon and Colorado would benefit from the creation of more specialized farming counties and districts, where cannabis farms are positioned along local roads connected to a single collector a respectable distance away. This would prevent anything other than essential traffic, such as transport or supply vehicles to and from the farms themselves, from being in frequent proximity to the VOCs produced by onsite crops.

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Use of Biofuels in Tractors, Tillers & Other Onsite Utility Vehicles

Continuing on from the concept of using road hierarchy in positioning cannabis farms: the risk of VOC conversion from approaching transport or supply vehicles could be further diminished if they were either electric vehicles (EVs) or made use of currently available biofuels.

This also applies to utility vehicles operated onsite, such as tractors, diggers and tillers, all of whose emissions are in contact with VOCs far more often than those from logistics vehicles.

Green Energy to Power Onsite Machine Processes

While they may not yet have the output specifications to effectively power entire farms, solar panels can provide ample energy for common onsite machine processes, such as the extraction of cannabinoids and terpenes to make isolates or the wet-mixing of hemp hurds to make hempcrete.

Depending on the products onsite facilities are purposed to manufacture, the use of green energy could be feasible for several farms across the country that haven’t already made the switch.

Biomass Energy and Sustainability

Biomass energy systems offer significant possibilities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions due to their immense potential to replace fossil fuels in energy production. Biomass reduces emissions and enhances carbon sequestration since short-rotation crops or forests established on abandoned agricultural land accumulate carbon in the soil. Biomass energy usually provides an irreversible mitigation effect by reducing carbon dioxide at source, but it may emit more carbon per unit of energy than fossil fuels unless biomass fuels are produced in a sustainable manner.

Biomass resources can play a major role in reducing the reliance on fossil fuels by making use of thermo-chemical conversion technologies. In addition, the increased utilization of biomass-based fuels will be instrumental in safeguarding the environment, generation of new job opportunities, sustainable development and health improvements in rural areas.

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The development of efficient biomass handling technology, improvement of agro-forestry systems and establishment of small and large-scale biomass-based power plants can play a major role in sustainable development of rural as well as urban areas. Biomass energy could also aid in modernizing the agricultural economy and creating significant job opportunities.

Harvesting practices remove only a small portion of branches and tops leaving sufficient biomass to conserve organic matter and nutrients. Moreover, the ash obtained after combustion of biomass compensates for nutrient losses by fertilizing the soil periodically in natural forests as well as fields.

The impact of forest biomass utilization on the ecology and biodiversity has been found to be insignificant. Infact, forest residues are environmentally beneficial because of their potential to replace fossil fuels as an energy source.

A quick glance at popular biomass resources

A quick glance at popular biomass resources

Plantation of energy crops on abandoned agricultural land will lead to an increase in species diversity. The creation of structurally and species diverse forests helps in reducing the impacts of insects, diseases and weeds. Similarly the artificial creation of diversity is essential when genetically modified or genetically identical species are being planted.

Short-rotation crops give higher yields than forests so smaller tracts are needed to produce biomass which results in the reduction of area under intensive forest management. An intelligent approach in forest management will go a long way in the realization of sustainability goals.

Improvements in agricultural practices promises to increased biomass yields, reductions in cultivation costs, and improved environmental quality. Extensive research in the fields of plant genetics, analytical techniques, remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS) will immensely help in increasing the energy potential of biomass feedstock.

A large amount of energy is expended in the cultivation and processing of crops like sugarcane, coconut, and rice which can met by utilizing energy-rich residues for electricity production. The integration of biomass-fueled gasifiers in coal-fired power stations would be advantageous in terms of improved flexibility in response to fluctuations in biomass availability and lower investment costs. The growth of the biomass energy industry can also be achieved by laying more stress on green power marketing.