Biomass an untapped resource in N.J., BPU told

TRENTON – The practice of obtaining energy from organic material – food scraps, forest residue, animal waste – is an untapped resource for New Jersey.

A group of experts has recommended that the state take action – either through private companies or public-private partnerships – to spur development in two to three years of renewable biomass operations to generate electricity or provide vehicle fuel.

The group, which issued its recommendations after Gov. Chris Christie released his draft Energy Master Plan earlier this year, said that such approaches have been successful elsewhere in the United States and overseas, but New Jersey has some catching up to do in this area.

“The state should take a role to kind of jump-start this industry,’’ said Committee co-chair Gail Richardson while being cognizant of the budget constraints governments face nowadays.

A study done in 2007 by Rutgers estimated that N.J. biomass resources could provide up to 9 percent of the state’s electricity or up to 5 percent of its highway vehicle fuel.

The committee that researched this area for the Energy Master Plan said that no new taxes would be needed, and New Jersey could turn to the expertise of in-state universities to develop the program.

Richardson, vice president for Programs at Energy Vision, said one key aspect of the plan is that it includes a shift to natural gas for vehicles.

Richardson pointed out that New Jersey has a high concentration of companies involved in producing fuel from biogas, and she referenced the hearing site itself, the Rutgers EcoComplex, as an example of the kind of forward-thinking resource the state needs.

The EcoComplex is a 10-year-old institution dedicated to the development of ‘green’ business and environmentally innovative technologies.

Committee co-chair David Specca, assistant director of the EcoComplex, said that with nearly 2 million acres of state-owned or managed land, there is a huge opportunity to produce sustainable energy crops.

However, he pointed out that farmers do not usually pay disposal fees for organic waste, and they can get a better price for food and feed than for bioenergy feedstock.

As a consequence, the state must conduct a study into the economic availability of biomass, he said.

“This is really the opportunity to stand up and play a leadership role in this arena,’’ Richardson said of the unique situation facing the state.

“There are pioneers right here in New Jersey, although plants are not up and running,’’ she added.

Biomass an untapped resource in N.J., BPU told