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Jan 8, 2011, 2:50:37 PM1/8/11
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Closing the Cottonwood Loop
Biomass supply service offers a closed-loop approach to cottonwood
By Lisa Gibson | January 04, 2011

COTTONWOOD CROP: The Mississippi Delta, where the Mississippi and
Ohio rivers split in Illinois, and the area extending to the Gulf of
Mexico offer prime soil for growing cottonwood trees.

Energy crops have yet to reach their full potential in the U.S., but a
new dedicated woody crop supply service could help them gain
popularity. It offers a closed-loop solution to a continuous supply of
cottonwood feedstock, managed from start to finish by one company.

Virginia-based C2Invest LLC (C2I) is a project development and
management company that added the supply service to its portfolio a
year ago. “What we do is purely afforestation and high-density
plantations,” says Page Gravely, senior director for C2I. “If you’ve
got a utility looking for a dedicated, sure supply of feedstock, we go
out and secure the acres and oversee the specific planting of those
trees for a specific volume over a preferred long-term agreement.”

Many feedstock supply companies hand off the seed to a grower, who
takes the responsibility of growing and often delivering the biomass
to the end user. C2I, however, is involved in the entire life cycle
until it gets to the end-user's door. “Our design is to be more
turnkey and full service,” says Carey Crane, a C2I founder. The
company secures the land for planting, has a hand in the cutting
supply, designs spacing for the plantations, and oversees quality
control of planting, growth, harvesting and delivery. “We’re not only
the supplier, but the project manager, if you will, for that entire
supply chain,” Crane says, adding that C2I works with landowners to
secure acreage.

The crops planted currently are in Louisiana, but prime cottonwood
growing soil is predominantly in the Mississippi Delta, beginning
where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers split in Illinois and extending
to the Gulf of Mexico. The regions include eastern Louisiana, eastern
Arkansas, western Mississippi and western Kentucky. In those areas,
cottonwood can grow 12 to 15 feet per year, allowing for a biennial
harvest, Gravely says. “One of the natural benefits of cottonwood is
that they coppice,” he says. “It is truly and literally a renewable
tree that regrows when it’s harvested.”

Growing biomass coppice is an old practice and in Europe incentives
for dedicated energy crops often surpass that of forest materials. So
pellets or briquettes manufactured using such crops will bring in a
higher price. “It’s a huge benefit,” says Karl-Heinz Schulz, vice
president of technology and engineering for BiEnergy Group LLC, an
engineering and consulting company. “The utilities can pay more for
the pellets than if the feedstock was from [forest-based] woody

BiEnergy Group works with energy-from-biomass projects such as
district heating and combined heat and power, but also does
feasibility, construction, engineering, project development and
equipment acquisition for biomass pellet and briquette operations.
About 90 percent of pellet manufacturers in the U.S. ship their
product to Europe, where the market is better established and
incentivized, Schulz says.

C2I has no contracts in place for the supply service currently, but is
in negotiations with several entities. It’s no secret that securing a
feedstock supply can be one of the toughest aspects of a project,
especially in markets experiencing a rise in competition for material.
“One of the rubs has been how do you have a security of supply?”
Gravely says. “How do you have a consistent supply? That’s where
closed-loop really checks a lot of those boxes.”
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