Boardman's next life may depend on giant cane
By Sean Meyers, Contributing writer
Arundo donax, also known as giant cane, may hold a key to the future of the Boardman coal plant.
Arundo donax has passed its first test as a possible biofuel alternative to coal being burned at Portland General Electric’s Boardman power plant.
Arundo donax is a bamboo-like grass used worldwide for production of furniture, musical instruments, paper fiber and roofing.
It has been grown in Florida since the 1820s, where yields have approached 60 dry ton per acre, making it the unrivaled option for biofuel production in terms of raw volume, outstripping corn by a more than two-to-one margin and hybrid poplar by 30 percent.
When torrified, or roasted, Arundo donax very much resembles coal and can be stockpiled indefinately. That is of great interest to PGE, which has agreed to stop burning coal at Boardman by 2020.
At peak production, the Boardman coal plant meets about 15 percent of Oregon’s electrical demand. Unlike wind or solar power, coal-fired electricity is “baseload” — can be produced at will and without variation — an option PGE would like to keep in its quiver by converting the plant to biomass.
“A conversion to biomass has many hurdles. It would be the first plant of its kind in the United States. But we feel it’s worth the effort to explore whether it can be done in such a way that is both beneficial to our customers and that serves as a positive leadership example in the development of alternative energies,” said Steve Corson, PGE spokesman.
PGE is contracting with Boardman and Hermiston farmers for a multi-year trial that would ideally culminate with a test-burn at the coal plant in 2014. Why the wait? Arundo donax requires three years to become fully productive.
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