The Reversing Climate Change podcast with Nori
A podcast about the different people, technologies, and organizations that are coming together to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reverse climate change. We also talk about blockchains.

#79 Good Biomass, Bad Biomass: Giant Reed Edition—Wendy Owens of Hexas Biomass

July 23, 2019

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When it comes to biomass, giant reed ticks all the boxes. It’s a perennial grass that grows in marginal soil. It meets renewable fuel standards and sequesters a substantial amount of carbon. Not only that, giant reed revitalizes soil and facilitates an extremely high yield. So, what are its applications? Is there any downside to using it as raw material for products or fuel?

Wendy Owens is the founder and CEO of Hexas Biomass, a producer and distributor of sustainable biomass that can supplement or replace wood in multiple applications. Wendy’s team is dedicated to using sun, water and land to benefit people and the planet through renewable resources. Today, she joins Ross to discuss the process of growing giant reed for use in products or to produce energy. 

Wendy explains why giant reed does not displace food crops, describing how it takes up chemicals in the soil and facilitates carbon capture. She also addresses the trees displaced by giant reed, the concerns around bioremediation, and the risk of giant reed becoming an invasive species. Listen in for insight on how Hexas Biomass serves as an ecospecies bank and learn about their partnership with IKEA to replace a portion of the wood in its particle board with giant reed!

Key Takeaways

[0:54] Wendy’s path to reversing climate change 

  • Experience in materials engineering and biotech
  • Giant reed = ecologically sound plant with multiple applications

[2:13] What attracted Wendy to the giant reed

  • Positive impact on soil and environment
  • Least land necessary for highest biomass
  • Sequesters substantial amount of carbon

[4:30] Why giant reed does not displace food crops

  • Grows in marginal soil, high salt content and wastewater
  • Revitalizes soil and gives farmers income

[5:52] The benefits of producing giant reed

  • Take up chemicals and put nutrients into rhizome
  • Harvest green to use in digestor to produce energy

[7:45] How Hexas Biomass serves as a producer and distributor of giant reed

  • Ecospecies bank of ecotypes
  • Project to replace portion of wood in IKEA particle board

[9:05] Wendy’s insight on the trees displaced by giant reed

  • Wood from public lands (retire trees vs. cut down)

[11:08] A comparison of giant reed vs. tree yields

  • 3K—5K tons per big tree (40-year life cycle)
  • 2K tons per 100 acres of giant reed in single year 
  • 50X more biomass of giant reed in 80 years

[12:27] The perennial nature of giant reed

  • Plant once and harvest multiple times (i.e.: grass in yard)
  • Low maintenance, high yield and pest resistant

[13:47] The potential uses for giant reed

  • Replacement for wood (furniture, flooring, energy pellets)
  • 3X more ethanol per acre than corn

[18:11] The trend in manufacturing around finding nearby fuel sources

  • In service of energy independence
  • Hexas policy to grow within 60 miles of manufacturing facility

[20:38] The Hexas Biomass ecospecies bank

  • Collections of types of giant reed used to growing in certain conditions
  • Apply to new locations that work best (highest yield, fewest resources)

[22:44] How Hexas mitigates the risk of giant reed becoming an invasive species

  • Create buffer zones and monitor with drones
  • Chipped up to point where can’t grow

[27:03] How giant reed crops facilitate carbon capture

  • Rhizome serves as energy storage facility, grow more stalks next year
  • Don’t till soil every year (keeps carbon in ground for 20-year life cycle)

[32:02] The Hexas Biomass business model

  • Find customer wants to use giant reed to replace wood
  • Long-term contract with farmers not using land (rural revitalization)

[34:26] Wendy’s insight on the risks around bioremediation

  • Depends upon application (Will pollutant remain inert?)
  • Effort to apply to new purpose without causing harm

[38:05] What’s next for Hexas Biomass 

  • Promote opportunity to glean more customers
  • Pursue partnerships with timber companies

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Resources

Hexas Biomass

The Land Institute

The Land Institute on RCC EP062

PGE Study on Replacing Coal with Giant Reed

Using Closed-loop Biomass to Displace Coal at Portland General Electric's Boardman Power Planet Carbon Implications

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