2008/03/26

Wisconsin Biorefineries: Perception Update

Perhaps I spoke too soon about Wisconsin not investing enough in biorefineries because today I saw a "Clean Energy Wisconsin" article talking about the state's governor announcement of $15 million annually in new energy technologies.

The article I read said:
"...new grants will soon be available from the Department of Commerce for businesses and researchers involved in developing new technologies aimed at reducing the state's dependence on oil. The department expects to award $15 million annually. Interested parties can apply for the first round of funding from April 1 to June 2...."
If a large portion of that $15 million is invested in biorefineries, that improves the government support somewhat for that industry sector, although it's still much less than some states and regions are putting into bioproducts. Because the focus is "reducing the state's dependence on oil", it's likely a significant portion of the $15 million will go toward wind, solar and other non-biorefinery projects.

In addition to hearing about the above funding, I found an informative website related to Wisconsin bioenergy called the Bioenergy Forum. It has some well-written articles and lots of news about bioenergy events.

Maybe the first thing that is needed to coordinate and support biorefinery efforts within the state is the establishment and effective marketing of a biorefinery information and community-building website. There are many websites, both private and public, that talk about various biorefinery issues within Wisconsin. There are thousands of websites talking about biorefinery issues outside the state. However, if you talked with 100 people around the state of Wisconsin who are interested in the biorefinery sector and asked them which the best website is to get a comprehensive picture of the Wisconsin biorefinery scene, you would probably get 50 replies of "I don't know". The other 50 people would probably name 30 different websites as being the best.

People interested in Wisconsin biorefineries don't have the time to read through thousands of websites, or even thirty websites. It would be helpful to have one website agreed upon as the lead biorefinery site for the state, and it needs the funding to develop, maintain and periodically upgrade the site. The site also needs funds for effective marketing so everyone in the Wisconsin biorefinery community knows where to look and where to refer people.

After establishing a biorefinery website as the starting point for learning about this topic in Wisconsin, a comprehensive biorefinery action plan should be developed for Wisconsin. The Office of Energy Independence (OEI) seems to have the charter for developing this plan.

The Wisconsin POWER initiative (Promoting Our Wisconsin Energy Resources) has a website which appears to be the 'home' for the Wisconsin Office of Energy Independence. Among OEI's other goals is "Capturing 10% of the emerging bioindustry and renewable energy market by 2030." Based on this stated goal, this would be a logical website to develop into a defacto starting point for Wisconsin biorefinery info. The site appears to be overwhelmingly focused on bioenergy, but there is a "Bioproducts" section on the website and putting a bit more emphasis on non-energy bioproducts could easily be done.

Another potential lead biorefinery website is the one for the Wisconsin Bio Industry Alliance. However, this website appears to be primarily an industry trade group site with the goal of serving its member companies rather than a goal of providing information and building the state's biorefinery community other than for member companies.

The website for the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) is a relatively well-known website in the Wisconsin biorefinery community, but its focus is not primarily Wisconsin, and the site essentially ignores non-energy bioproducts.

A sort of precursor to the GLBRC website is the Wisconsin Bioenergy Initiative site. I don't know if that site will wither and die now that the GLBRC is up and running, but this initiative, like the GLBRC, appeared to focus only on energy products and was not designed to build the sector community.

The best way to build a biorefinery or bioindustry information and community-building website is likely a joint effort between the Wisconsin Office of Energy Independence, the UW-Madison College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the UW-Extension. They have a Wisconsin focus, they have responsibilities for both bioenergy and non-energy bioproducts and they have an interest in serving the needs of public citizens, the educational system, private companies and the state government.

While it's heartening to hear about the new "Clean Energy Wisconsin" grant program, it is still my impression that Wisconsin still needs to make a lot of changes to be rated as one of the top states or regions for biorefinery innovation. If this impression is wrong, an informational Wisconsin biorefinery website presenting the facts about Wisconsin's leadership in this emerging technology area is a resource this state needs.

My next steps on this topic are:
  1. Contact Molly Jahns, dean of the UW Madison CALS, Judy Ziewacz, executive director of the Wisconsin Office of Energy Independence, and Andrew Dane, UW-Extension, to find out if they know of a defacto standard website for Wisconsin biorefinery or bioindustry information.
  2. If there is not a defacto standard website for providing this information, discuss with Molly, Judy and Andrew the perceived need for such a website, including the marketing to make the website well-known, and suggest they partner to develop and maintain such a site.
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