Introduction to Supply Chain
For those of you who are unsure of what supply chain involves, Wikipedia defines this as “a system of organizations, people, technology, activities, information and resources involved in moving a product or service from supplier to customer” (“Supply Chain”, 2012). This entails the approaches taken to transform a raw material into the desired product which is then distributed to the consumer for purchasing.
- Investors, financiers and developers
- Manufacturers of materials, components and integrated systems
- Construction industry and building trades
- Landowners, farmers and growers
- Professional services sectors
- Waste industry
- Infrastructure engineers
During our visits to Germany and Sweden I focused on two primary categories of the supply chain process, inputs and products.
Germany Overview and Applicability in United States
Anaerobic digestion, which is a major part of Germany’s move toward more sustainable energy, is very dependent on these two factors. The inputs, or feedstock, is the basis of the anaerobic digester. Most of the anaerobic digesters that were seen took in local energy crops, whether the farmers’ crops or community grass clippings, or even municipal waste to be used as their inputs. Also, local manure from nearby livestock was used as a buffer and supplied microbes to the digester. The products that were produced by anaerobic digesters, heat and electricity mostly with a by-product of compost, were supplied either to the industry with the anaerobic digester, local businesses, or to the community.
During our visit to the Montabaur Anaerobic Digestion Plant, Frank Riedel made the point to say that energy crops are not best suited for this kind of technology. With the never ending debate of fuel versus food, I couldn’t agree more. For this reason anaerobic digestion would best be utilized in the United States if municipal waste was used as the input for this technology. “In 2010, Americans generated about 250 million tons of trash and recycled and composted over 85 million tons of this material” (“Municipal Solid Waste”, 2012). With these values, that leaves 165 million tons of municipal waste that was sent to local landfills to emit carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Rather than having this material literally go to waste, it would be best used if sent to anaerobic digesters to produce biogas for electricity and heat.
Sweden Overview and Applicability in United States
Although using different inputs and technologies, Sweden had a similar outcome in comparison with Germany. Surrounded by mass amounts of trees, Sweden took advantage of the bountiful woody biomass. In fact, companies, like SunPine, actually used the by-products of other corportations to produce their commodity.
The more interesting part of this supply chain process is the products. Simply from woody biomass were companies capable of producing multiple products. From this material companies like Smurfit-Kappa Kraftliner supplied not only paper products, but black liquor, tall oil, district heating, and electricity. Some of the by-products as mentioned earlier are then able to be converted further into an energy source, such as the conversion of tall oil into biodiesel as was witnessed at SunPine.
The possibility of using woody biomass in the United States would have a market and sustainable supply chain. “In 2006, there are approximately 450 paper mills in the United States” (“Pulp and paper”, 2011). With the number of paper mills being relatively high, this would then mean that these companies have the potential for a market with their by-products in the bioenergy department. These companies, in order to be successful, would need to follow a similar path to that of Smurfit-Kappa Kraftliner. With having the black liquor as a by-product of this production would mean vast market opportunities, including biofuel processing companies like SunPine that would further push the United States towards a more greener future.
Along with improving the companies themselves, the United States would also have to establish some sort of policy to ensure the sustainability of tree harvesting without deteriorating the ecosystem involved. “Bob Cleaves, president of the Biomass Power Association, a group in Portland, Maine, that represents about 80 plant-burning incinerators in 16 states, says available raw material would allow the industry to double its output” (Gies, 2009). With this in mind, it is apparent that there is a definite market for this technology in the United States that should be taken into consideration.
In the end, the technology that was witnessed overseas can benefit the United States beyond what is imagined. Not only does our country have the necessary resources to start up production, but the products that would be made would promote the concepts of sustainability. No longer would there be the everyday worries of foreign fuel and climate change. This technology does require the financial and social support to be as effective as the European technology, but the United States is already making small steps towards this possible future.
On the following page are brief explanations of the products and inputs each site visit entailed while abroad.
“Biomass Technologies.” RESCO. Web. 08 June 2012. <http://www.resco.org.uk/biomass-technologies/>.
Gies, Erica. “Potential Grows for Biomass Energy.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 21 Oct. 2009. Web. 08 June 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/21/business/global/21renforest.html?pagewanted=all>.
“Municipal Solid Waste.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, 3 Apr. 2012. Web. 08 June 2012. <http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/municipal/index.htm>.
“Pulp and Paper Industry in the United States.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 30 July 2011. Web. 08 June 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulp_and_paper_industry_in_the_United_States>.
“Supply Chain.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 05 June 2012. Web. 08 June 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supply_chain>.
Media References (In order from top, down; left, right)
1.”Biomass Technologies.” RESCO. Web. 08 June 2012. <http://www.resco.org.uk/biomass-technologies/>.
2. Frank and Compost, Germany. Personal photograph by author. 2012
3. Ropa Anaerobic Digester and Harvest Equipment, Germany. Personal photograph by author. 2012
4. UTS Farm Anarobic Digester, Germany. Personal photograph by author. 2012
5. Loader at Zoo, Germany. Personal photograph by author. 2012
6. Log Pile, Sweden. Personal photograph by author. 2012
7. Smurfit-Kappa Kraftliner Products, Sweden. Personal photograph by author. 2012
8. SunPine Biodiesel Plant, Sweden. Personal photograph by author. 2012