In the early days of the U.S. biomass industry, it’s sometimes taken considerable energy just for buyers and sellers to find one another. There’s a sense that the market will need to become better organized before it can grow to maturity.
I paid a visit earlier this week to the Minneapolis Biomass Exchange, a web-based Minnesota start-up that hopes to play a role in streamlining biomass transactions.
The company was founded by software engineer Kevin Triemstra in July 2009. The idea is to become the eBay.com for energy crops, a place where biomass sellers can advertise materials and buyers can place bids or purchase them.
Currently, the site has listings for 1.5 million tons of biomass for sale, from 100,000 tons of fruit pits in Boston, Mass., to 1,000 bales of prairie grass in Owatonna, Minn. Buyers have also placed want ads for another 300,000 tons of material.
Earlier this month, The Exchange started beta testing for a new patent-pending quality control test. It’s partnered with a laboratory to offer sample testing of listed materials, for a fee, at the request of either buyers or sellers. The tests will measure attributes such as ash, BTUs and moisture.
“Buyers’ needs are highly variable,” Triemstra said. Higher ash content could be fine for some industrial customers, but it might clog up smaller burners, he said. And the energy value in wood chips can vary significantly depending on how much bark and moisture they contain, for example.
The quality control test data will be posted directly to the material’s listing page, eliminating the risk of sellers altering or hiding the data. The plan is to eventually incorporate the quality data into a seller rating to boost trust in the market.
The site still functions more like a classifieds site than an auction or exchange — buyers and sellers need to connect offline to complete the transaction. Eventually, though, the site plans to build in features that will let buyers bid on and pay for supplies directly through the site.
“The goal is to make biomass exchange more efficient,” said Triemstra.