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MU study finds small biomass power plants could help rural economies

MU study finds small biomass power plants could help rural economies

A recent MU study found that harnessing bioenergy through biomass power plants small enough to fit on farms could benefit people in rural areas.

Creating a power grid from a group of small biomass power plants in rural areas could decrease farmers’ electric bills and relieve the national power grid.

“Transporting power through power lines to remote, rural areas is very inefficient and can be expensive for farmers and other rural citizens,” MU agricultural economics professor Tom Johnson said. “If [farmers] had access to small biomass power plants, they could become close to self-sustaining in terms of power.”

Johnson said farmers have plenty of biomass left over after each harvest season, making a biomass power plant a cost-effective way of producing power. With an improved grid, the small power plants could even provide power to people outside each farm, which could stimulate rural economies.

Right now, Johnson’s idea for a rural bioeconomy is only hypothetical. He said before rural citizens could become bioenergy producers, policymakers must work with residents to grow infrastructure in rural areas.

If the bioeconomy were to be created, Johnson said safeguards would need to be put in place to protect renewable resources like biomass from farm waste. The distribution of investment rewards would also need to be monitored to prevent local citizens from becoming impoverished by biomass destruction or environmental degradation.

Johnson outlined the details of his biomass study in a paper entitled “Rural development opportunities in the bioeconomy,” which was published in the April 2014 edition of the journal Biomass and Bioenergy.

In addition to serving as a professor in MU’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and the Truman School of Public Affairs, Johnson also serves as the director of the Community Policy Analysis Center, which brings together expertise from CAFNR, the College of Business and the Extension to study economic and social decision-making in rural areas.

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